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The Optimist/Pessimist take on the Maple Leafs’ great November – Pension Plan Puppets



Every now and then, I like to split my Leafs’ fan brain in two and hash out how I’m feeling. This is one of those times. Let’s start with the forwards.

The Forwards

Optimist: Well, after an early slump, it looks like the Leafs have begun to settle in nicely. That low shooting percentage was never going to persist long, and a team this talented—

Pessimist: Shut the fuck up!

Optimist: What?

Pessimist: Stop it! Stop it! Shut the fuck up.

Optimist: Look, we have to do the bit here. Come on man.

Pessimist: I can’t do this anymore. I can’t take this again. I’m seriously going to go out of my mind.

Optimist: They had a really good November!

Pessimist: THAT’S THE PROBLEM. Of course they did! They were really good almost the entire month! All the best players scored. The supporting cast all outperformed their salaries, except Nick Ritchie, but he tripped Brad Marchand so honestly give him a raise. Jack Campbell—

Optimist: Hey, we’re just trying to do the forwards here, there’s a format.

Pessimist: I DON’T CARE ABOUT THE FORMAT. Jack Campbell absolutely stood on his generous, beneficent head and played like the best goalie on the planet. The Leafs didn’t even make his job that hard most nights. They actually shut down teams! I didn’t even know that was allowed! If there was a dark spot it was that Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl—

The Defence

Pessimist: —as I was saying, it was that Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl look somewhat off their previous heights, but they haven’t really been awful. Morgan Rielly and T.J. Brodie have played just fine and Rasmus Sandin is having a coming out party as a fancy stat king. Timothy Liljegren has at least revived his expectations to the point of looking like a third-pair NHL defender, and he’s still only 22. He still has time to improve!

Optimist: You’re really throwing me off here. You’re supposed to say things that make me feel bad, and that I disagree with. That’s the whole premise.

Pessimist: Don’t you realize when you’re being set up?

Optimist: Oh.

Pessimist: The whole reason for Leaf pessimism is because every time something has seemed to go well for the team, the universe has pulled the rug out from under us to reveal a snake pit, and we drop down to be eaten by vipers. All the least funny people in the world shout “1967” for another summer, and then we start again, and the universe shows us another very fine rug and invites us to stand on it.

Optimist: More or less.

Pessimist: So when you see a month that’s been as good as this one, as indisputably positive, that means the universe has really decided to ruin us this time.

Optimist: Nothing’s going to be worse than losing to Montreal.

Pessimist: Won’t it? What if the Leafs lose in the playoffs to a bottom-feeder on a goalie run?

Optimist: I mean they basically did.

Pessimist: What if they lose to an AHL team? Or even worse, the Vancouver Canucks? What if they lose in so utterly demoralizing a fashion that Kyle Dubas gets sent to prison? What if all of the shittiest guys I went to law school with form a hockey team in between their jobs at Fraud & Tax Evasion LLC and beat the Leafs in Round 1? What if I wake up and it’s the first day of school again and I can’t find my pants?

Optimist: I feel like this may be more of a recurring dream issue for you.

Pessimist: The point is that yes, the Leafs have actually looked good, but they’ve looked good before, and look how that turned out. And further to that: the biggest driver in them looking so good has actually been Jack Campbell, who is a goalie.

[ominous music]


Optimist: [turning off ominous music] So? All good teams have good goaltending, except when the Red Wings won Cups with Chris Osgood just to give themselves a challenge.

Pessimist: Right, but imagine it now. Jack Campbell, universally agreed to be a sweetheart, who has heroically led this team up the standings, has never played 35 games in an NHL season before. Does that not sound like the perfect setup for heartbreak once this cursed and self-destructive franchise finally pushes him past his limits?

Optimist: So essentially, your reason for pessimism now is that everything is going too well.

Pessimist: It’s certainly a concern.

Optimist: You are insane.

Pessimist: Okay, here’s my sane reason, then:

Forwards (Again)

Pessimist: The real thing that frightens me about this team is that it’s reliant very heavily on four players to score, and we’re coming off two post-seasons where those four players have, for different reasons, not totaled enough goals to win a series. Yes, David Kämpf and Ondřej Kaše have been both a lot of fun and remarkably effective, but that’s a combination of a centre who generates near-zero offence on his own and a winger whose history and playstyle make him feel like Mr. Glass from Unbreakable. (If you haven’t seen the movie, Mr. Glass is not the character described in the title.) On that note, the candidates for 3LW are respectively:

  • going to rush but never score on those rushes (Ilya Mikheyev)
  • going to rush and then float a wrister into the goalie’s crest from the other side of the city (Pierre Engvall)
  • Nick Ritchie (Nick Ritchie)

And so we’re left with the same question that’s been inherent in this team’s roster construction since they decided to give four undeniably excellent players more money than God. Can you win with a forward lineup this top-heavy? You can win in the regular season, and of course they could have won in any of the last four playoff series. Any team that gets to a Game 7 (or a Qualifying Round Game 5) has a real chance if for no other reason than hockey is 50% pinball. But the real reason that no one’s as excited about this team as their record and their xG suggest they ought to be is that nagging fear that they’re a Goliath heading for a slingshot tournament.

Optimist: Is there anything the Leafs could do to convince you they’re going to win in the playoffs short of them winning in the playoffs?

Pessimist: There’s not much. But I’m going to remind you of something. Back before the Leafs went on this November heater, they played a game against a Pittsburgh Penguins team that had approximately zero of the star players you associate with the Pittsburgh Penguins. And they got their asses beat. 7-1, in case you’ve forgotten. The heat map for that game looked like this.

This map shows where each team’s shots were coming from on offence: the Toronto Maple Leafs on the left, and the understudies playing the role of the Pittsburgh Penguins on the right. Normally, when the Leafs are going, their heat map looks a lot like the Pens did: they have a big, terrifying splotch of red from the slot. That’s what you want: that’s where the goals are, and when the Leafs are firing on all cylinders, that’s where they get them. When the Leafs are getting shut down, it looks a lot more like the Leafs’ map did that night: as if they can’t or won’t go where the goals are. That, by the way, is how they fell to the Montreal Canadiens.

Optimist: Okay, so is the goal to have a team that never has a bad game? The standard is to win or at least look good every single night in a sport as random as hockey? That adds up for an eternal pessimist, because no team ever, including the dynasties, has met that bar over a season.

Yes, that Leafs-Pens game was awful. The fact you had to reach back five weeks for your example is a sign of just how well things have gone since, because the Leafs have been getting to the slot, including against some teams much more formidable than half the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Calgary Flames, who are probably the best defensive team in the NHL, who are coached by Checking Cowboy Darryl Sutter, couldn’t keep them away from there. Not coincidentally, the Leafs won the game.

The Leafs are the best team in the NHL by scoring chances now, as per NST. Their stars have started putting up points again, and they’ve gotten enough out of their complementary players, as you said. I’ll indulge the eye-test here, since as a split personality you and I have the same eyes: the Leafs cleanly outplayed several good teams in this stretch, to the point where they made victories over teams like Nashville seem downright boring. The Leafs have been good before. Have they ever been so good they could actually make it seem like victory was a foregone conclusion? Because this past month they’ve done it more than once.

What you’re asking for, essentially, is proof that the Leafs aren’t going to fall apart in the playoffs again. There really is no way for them to win May games in November, not even if they push the Deserve To Win O Meter to 100. The losses to Columbus and Montreal sucked, but they happened, and now they’re over. If you want to find bad games or worrying patterns, you’ll always be able to, because the game is too random. The Leafs are going to have bad games and bad stretches. At some point this year they’ll have a losing streak; hopefully a short one.

But what are they in the aggregate? They’re a good fucking hockey team. The wins, the points, the underlying stats, the star production, the goaltending, they’re all there and they all really did happen. Imagine this team were the Seattle Kraken, coming in with no history.

Pessimist: How did the Seattle Kraken get Auston Matthews?

Optimist: Just go with me on this. If this team had no history, they would be at the top of the power rankings, they’d be admired as a complete threat. Potential playoff opponents would be hoping to avoid them. They would see them rationally based on how well they’ve been playing. To be optimistic about the Leafs, that’s all you really have to do.

Pessimist: They’re more flawed than that. But more to the point: you can’t throw out the playoff history because that’s where teams are measured. Until this team actually proves something in the playoffs, I’m always going to have an argument you can’t really answer. And it’ll always hang over any number of nice regular season wins.

Optimist: Then I’ll say it: I think this is the year that argument gets put to bed.


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Never mind the disallowed goal, Flames couldn’t keep up with the Oilers’ track meet –



The Calgary Flames built their reputation on Darryl Sutter Hockey – that heavy-forechecking, quality-defending style that smothers opponents and wins back pucks, which makes the burden of creating offence a struggle for their opposition. On the backs of that plan, the Flames allowed the third-fewest goals during the regular season. They were a force.

The Edmonton Oilers can be given no greater compliment than the way the Flames were reduced to playing in the Battle of Alberta, chasing more and more offence to try to keep up with an Oilers top-six that simply could not be stopped. There was a desperation there that we hadn’t seen from the Flames, and by Game 5 I kept thinking, “Just catch the pass and shoot it” rather than trying to rush a one-timer on a hot pass or on one that was in a bad spot. Their usual poise disappeared.

A look at a few of those fanned one-timers in Game 5:

By the end, little of the Flames’ identity was left, not the physical play, not the elite goaltending, or the line of Gaudreau-Lindholm-Tkachuk, which was arguably the best in the league in 2021-22.

The Flames played with offensive impatience, which left room for the Oilers to fly back the other way. Too often it became a track meet, and with that style imposed on the series, the Flames, ironically, were cooked. Rush chances were 11-3 for the Oilers in Game 5.

Apparently, there was also a goal disallowed, but the things below are about how the Oilers got the Flames in a position where one play not going their way could mean the end of the series, and their season.

How did the Oilers do it?


I was tempted to skip over this obvious point because you, the reader, are well aware of what Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl do. But I just couldn’t. How could I? Everything about the Oilers hinged on this, with two players combining for **checks stats** – no, that can’t be right – **checks again** 29 points in five games. They set all kinds of records.

The Flames got much better at slowing down McDavid in Games 4 and 5, but it took all their focus and attention, which opened them up everywhere else.

Depth contributions from Kane, Hyman, RNH

In Game 5, Zach Hyman had one goal and two assists for three points, he was plus-4, he had seven shots, he played nearly 24 minutes, he led the team in hits, he had a big blocked shot, there’s just not much more I can say about this guy.

In the summer, I use a plastic oar to stir my kids’ kiddie pool and get the water going in a “whirlpool,” and that’s what happens when Hyman is on the ice. He’s an oar, and he gets the play going in the direction he’s skating whenever he’s out there.

With McDavid and Draisaitl sucking up all the attention – as they have in years past – the question was asked of the Oilers depth: when those guys see all the best defending, can you capitalize on your extra space or weaker opposition?

Hyman said yes. Evander Kane said yes; he’s on pace to threaten the all-time playoff goals record of 19 (he has 12, so if they Oilers play two more rounds … ?). Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had six points in five games; the Nuge said yes too.

McDavid and Draisaitl were like a collective boxer doing so much damage to the body in the early rounds that their opposition starts to drop their hands, while these guys were suddenly free to take shots at the head.

Good coaching

I thought Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft showed a willingness to be flexible and go away from what’s worked if it wasn’t working on a given night. Case in point: Kane had been on an unbelievable run alongside McDavid, as mentioned above. It would’ve been easy to leave him in that role, no matter what. This is speculation on my part, but I don’t think the Oil loved how Kane defended a Flames set breakout early in the game, followed by his positioning on the Andrew Mangiapane goal. Whether it was that or something else, Woodcroft bumped Kane off that line for Hyman, who did … all the things I mentioned in the section above. It was the perfect change in a game McDavid didn’t have an inch of room and couldn’t create much or drive play. Hyman did it for that line at times.

I also given Woodcroft credit for sticking with what would give the team the best chance in the big picture: Mike Smith over Mikko Koskinen. After Game 1, he could’ve bailed on Smith and been justified. Then Game 2 starts with two softies, where you’d think he’d have a hair trigger, but he stuck with Smith yet again. The roller coaster Mike Smith Experience includes the type of highs you need to get by great opponents, and Woodcroft gave their team the chance to see that through.

An exposed weakness, and a surprise goaltending slump

Flames coach Darryl Sutter gave a telling response in a post-game when he talked about their “inexperienced defence.” They don’t have guys who’ve seen deep runs playing D for them, and, in the end, the little defensive gaffes made just enough room for the Oilers (a miscommunication with Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm on the OT winner cost them) to expose them. In Game 5, the Oilers had 18 slot shots to the Flames’ nine.

The Flames needed goaltending to bail them out, but Edmonton has had Jacob Markstrom’s number all year. He ended up posting just an .852 save percentage in the series, and the crease was supposed to be where the Flames had a clear advantage. I haven’t heard it said much lately, but McDavid is in an awkward body position on that OT winner and doesn’t get a ton on it. They needed a few more saves from Markstrom.

When all is said and done, the Battle of Alberta was decided because the Oilers’ best players had their ‘A’ games, and that dictated everything that came next from the Flames. Calgary was reduced to counterpunching, when it had been used to coming out swinging.

In the NHL, the sport’s all-time greats almost always find their way to a championship, as at some level they become all their opponents can think about and the team around them is free to rise up. That’s what’s been happening for the Oilers, and no matter who their next opponent is, that game plan has every chance of being effective in yet another round.

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Rangers focused on forcing Hurricanes to deciding game –



The New York Rangers return home knowing they need a win at home to keep their post-season going. The Carolina Hurricanes are still looking for their first road victory in these playoffs.

After Carolina won 3-1 on Thursday night to take a 3-2 series lead, the Rangers will be looking to force a deciding game in the second-round series when they host the Hurricanes in Game 6 on Saturday night (8 p.m. EDT, ESPN) on Sportsnet.

“We lost a game and we didn’t play as well as we could have, so I was disappointed,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said Friday. “That’s playoffs, that’s the way she goes. We’ll be ready to go tomorrow night and that’s what we’re looking forward to.

“Just worry about tomorrow and take care of business.”

A must-win game is nothing new for these Rangers. They trailed 3-1 against Pittsburgh in the first round, then won three straight — becoming the first team in NHL history to rally from a deficit in three consecutive elimination games — to advance.

“We’ve been in this position before,” New York forward Ryan Strome said. “I like our chances on home ice. … We’re familiar with the situation. Got a chance at home to push it to (Game) 7 and that’s all we’re worried about now.”

The Rangers also trailed in this series after losing the first two games in Carolina. They returned home and won Games 3 and 4 to even the series. Now, they have to win at home again to tie the series one more time.

“The feel in that dressing room is super confident at all times and I think the first series helped a little bit,” Strome said. “And having to win Games 3 and 4 (in this series), those are pretty must-win games and we did a pretty good job. We can draw from those experiences.”

And what those experiences have taught the Rangers is to have a singular focus on the task at hand, and not worry about the series or deficits.

“Well, your backs are against the wall,” Gallant said. “You go out and you play your game. You know if you lose this game there’s no tomorrow. We did that real well last series, hopefully we can do it again tomorrow. I don’t think we change anything strategy-wise. We just go out there and play our game.”

Forward Chris Kreider agreed, adding: “We’ve got to win one game. … Lot of things we could take from (Game 5 loss) and do a better job of. Learn from that and win one game. Win the first shift, win the first period and go from there.”

The Hurricanes are also trying to win one game — on the road, for the first time in the post-season. After their latest victory, they improved to 7-0 at home, but are 0-5 on the road.

Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour isn’t concerned by the team’s lack of road wins, though he acknowledges people talk a lot about it.

“That’s a non-issue,” he said. “It’s all I hear about endlessly. We haven’t played poorly on the road. Our game’s been fine. There’s a couple of things that have gone squirrelly. … We’re playing good teams. That’s how it goes.”

The Hurricanes regained the series lead with a strong defensive effort in Game 5, limiting the Rangers to 17 shots on goal — including five in each of the first two periods.

“Does it transfer over, obviously we hope so,” Brind’Amour said. “I don’t usually take a lot of stock one game into the next, good or bad. It’s always about the next game and it takes a life of it’s own but definitely the way we want to do it.”

If the Hurricanes keep up their trend this post-season, the deciding Game 7 would be Monday night at home. But that’s not something they want to think about right now.

“We’re going to give it our best,” Brind’Amour said. “We’re going to try to win (Saturday). We do every night. Nothing really changes. Obviously, we don’t want to come back (home) and have another game. We’re going to do everything we can to win tomorrow night.”

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Warriors top Mavs in Game 5, advance to NBA Finals – TSN



SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — As the clock ticked down the final seconds, Klay Thompson began dancing on the sideline before nearly being moved to tears during a celebration with his teammates.

After two major surgeries and two years of grueling rehabilitation, Thompson is rounding back into form and shot the Golden State Warriors back into the NBA Finals.

Thompson shimmied his way to 32 points and the Warriors advanced to their sixth finals in the past eight seasons by beating the Dallas Mavericks 120-110 in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals on Thursday night.

“It’s hard to put into words really,” Thompson said. “This time last year, I was just starting to jog again and get up and down the court. Now to be feeling like myself, feeling explosive, feeling sure in my movements, I’m just grateful.”

Thompson tore his left ACL during a season-ending Game 6 loss in the 2019 NBA Finals against Toronto and then tore his right Achilles’ tendon just before the start of the 2020-21 season. After Golden State missed the postseason in both seasons he was sidelined, Thompson finally returned to action in January.

The performance against the Mavericks showed he is getting close to returning to his old level of stardom.

Thompson scored 19 points in the first half, including a 3-pointer that he punctuated with teammate Stephen Curry‘s signature shake as the Warriors raced out to a 17-point halftime lead and coasted the rest of the way.

“You could see how much was missing the last couple of years,” Draymond Green said. ”We’re lucky to have the Klay Thompson we know back because we know how good he is.”

Andrew Wiggins added 18 points and 10 rebounds, Green scored 17 points and Curry had 15 points and nine assists. He was named the MVP of the series.

Luka Doncic overcame a slow start to score 28 points for the Mavericks. Spencer Dinwiddie added 26.

After missing the playoffs in 2020 and ’21 in back-to back injury-plagued seasons, the Warriors are returning to a familiar stage. They join the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls of the 1990s, Magic Johnson’s Lakers in the 1980s and Bill Russell’s Celtics in the 1950s and ’60s as the only franchises to make it to the NBA Finals at least six times in an eight-year span.

“For our team, our guys, especially the core group, to be part of that six times in eight years, I don’t even know what to say,” coach Steve Kerr said. “It just takes an enormous amount of skill and determination and work.”

Golden State will host the winner of the Eastern Conference finals between Boston and Miami on June 2 in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. The Celtics hold a 3-2 lead heading into Game 6 at home on Friday night.

The Warriors followed their pattern from the first two rounds by bouncing back after squandering a chance to end a series on the road by winning at home. Golden State is now 9-0 at the Chase Center this postseason, tying the 2017 team for the the most consecutive home wins in a single postseason in NBA history.

After making just seven 3-pointers in the first four games of the series, Thompson had eight this game for the record-setting fifth time in the playoffs.

The last two have come in clinchers the last two rounds against Memphis and Dallas, prompting the question on whether his nickname should switch from “Game 6 Klay” for his history in that game to “Clinching Klay.”

“I’m satisfied with ‘Game 6 Klay.’ I don’t need another nickname,” Thompson said with a smile. “It’s nice not having to bring him out yet.”

Thompson gave the Warriors a 13-point lead in the first half when he hit one from the corner before dancing and added two early in the third quarter for a 23-point lead.

Dallas cut a 25-point deficit down to eight in the final minute of the third quarter but couldn’t get over the hump in the fourth.

“I don’t like losing, especially not like this,” Doncic said. “I played terrible. But if we’re talking about our season, I’m really proud of this team. … Nobody had us here. But I promise we fought until the end.”


Doncic had a rough start, shooting 2 for 10 in the first quarter. His eight misses were tied for the most in the opening quarter of a playoff game since LeBron James missed all nine of his attempts in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals against Atlanta in 2015.

Doncic was held to six points in the first half, his lowest opening half of his postseason career, on 2-for-12 shooting before finding his stroke in the third quarter.

“We need Luka to go big a lot of nights just to give us a chance, and unfortunately the ball just didn’t go for him tonight,” coach Jason Kidd said. “I think he carries the load as well as anyone, and I think for us as an organization, we’ll help lighten that load as we go forward.”


With Otto Porter (left foot) sidelined for a second straight game, the Warriors got a big boost in the first half from 19-year-old rookie Moses Moody.

Moody scored all of his seven points in the second quarter with his 3-pointer giving Golden State a 56-38 lead. Moody scored just six points the first three games of this series for the Warriors before scoring 17 the past two games with Porter sidelined.


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