Here we go again. In one week The Toronto Maple Leafs have gone from Chumps to Champs. Just when we were talking about these guys hitting rock bottom, they've put together another mini point streak. A week ago they lost, in horrible fashion to the worst team in the league. Not only did they lose to the Carolina Hurricanes, they did it by surrendering the lead twice, giving up a goal with three seconds left and then losing in a shoot-out. The game before they squandered a lead to the Ottawa Senators and went on to lose to them. The Leafs had lost FIVE in a row! We were living a nightmare, and we couldn't wake up.
Well the nightmare may be over. It appears the boys in Blue and White have woken up, and fans are cheering again. Since that terrible night in Carolina, the Leafs have beat Washington in a shoot-out, lost in a shoot-out against the Islanders, and beat Tampa and Florida on the road. That's 8 points out of a possible 10. Not bad for a team with no skill, and for the record, I still believe they're a team desperately in need of skilled players.
What this team lacks in skill, they sure make up for in heart. Sounds like another cliche doesn't it? Well think about this. So far this month the Leafs have out shot their opponents 40-22 against Calgary, 45-32 against Carolina, and recorded 61 shots to the Islanders 21. They lost all 3 of those games. This was the perfect opportunity for Leaf players to lose heart. Who could blame them? The fact is they didn't quit. They don't seem to know the meaning of the word. Add to these stats the fact that they blew a 3 goal lead in Tampa, and fell behind 2-0 in Florida in less time than it took for the P.A. announcer to read out the scorers to the crowd. Instead of folding the tent, they fought back and won both those games on the road.
Not only have they been racking up some points, they've been doing it with style. Phil the Highlight Reel Kessel, has been treating fans to plays we haven't seen since Gilmour, Sundin and Andreychuk were carrying this team. He can flat out play, and it doesn't seem to matter who they put on his line. It appears a well, that Kessel isn't the only leafs forward who can find the back of the net. Niklas Hagman has stepped up his play with some flashy breakaways and nice goals of his own. Another reason to cheer has been the play of Carl Gunnarsson. He's averaged twenty minutes a game since being called up and has shown an offensive flair while managing to be solid in his own end.
None of this means this team is playoff bound. It's still a huge long shot at best. As good as it's been these last 5 games, they did lose 5 in a row leading up to them. What it does mean however, is they may have enough to keep us interested during another rebuild. The question is what's next? Which team will show up Monday against Buffalo? We know Kessel will continue to thrill, but what about the rest. Is Hagman on his way to a career year or is this just another hot streak. Will Gunnarsson continue to improve or is he just another 7th round flash in the pan. We can only guess at the answers, but what we do know is this team will be entertaining. They may lose more times than not, but if they continue to battle the way they have been, fans will still have reason to cheer.