Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What a Difference a Week Makes!

A little over a week ago the Toronto Maple Leafs had just thrashed the Detroit Red Wings, moved out of last place, and positioned themselves to start challenging for a playoff spot. They had a 7 game points streak and had won 2 games in a row.  Fans were talking playoffs and actually had reason to believe it might happen.  Ron Wilson was sleeping at night.  His players were finally listening.

Ten days have passed since then.  The Leafs have lost 4 games  in  a row and are back to the style of play that had critics calling them pretenders rather than contenders.  This past week and a half, has seen our Leafs lose to Minnesota, Chicago, Calgary, and Ottawa.  Based on their play this year even the most optimistic fan could never have expected them to win all of those games, but a split was definitely achievable.  Those much needed 4 points would have put them within striking distance of 8th spot and one step closer to respectability.  Instead their back in last place and back out of playoff contention.  Worst of all it appears they've reverted back to playing the undisciplined hockey that almost left them 0 for October.

It's no secret the Leafs are a little short on talent and skill.  They still need better goaltending and much better play from almost all of their forwards.  With the exception of Kessel, Kaberle and White, every player on this team has under-achieved.  Gustavsson may be entitled to a pass as he's still making the adjustment to the NHL and while Schenn is a huge dissapointment this year,  it's not completely unexpected due to his age and inexperience.  The same cannot be said for the rest. 

We could go up and down the roster rhyming off numbers, showing how unproductive the forwards have been.  We could blame Toskala for his inconsistent play and habit of giving up at least one soft goal a game.  We could talk about needless penalties and their inability to kill them off.  The fact of the matter is they have been scoring goals (well Kessel has anyway).  The penalty kill has looked better.  Our defense has been more responsible and Toskala has looked much better since the emergence of The Monster.  So why do we keep losing.

The Leafs are losing because they've forgotten how to win!  They have completely abandoned the system Ron Wilson has been trying to get them to play since he took control of this team.  Why this bunch of talent starved skaters think they can play run and gun hockey is a mystery to me.  Watching Phil Kessel pick the puck up at his blueline and blast past everyone on the ice is a thing of beauty.  The way he can explode over the opponents blueline and wrist a laser into the net gives me chills.  Unfortunately,  Kessel is only one player and nobody else on this team has anything close to his scoring ability.  So far no one, not even Ron Wilson has been able to convince them of that.  The Leafs have stopped playing like a team.  It's like watching five skaters flying around trying to win the game on their own.

The effort is there.  If it hadn't been for some good goaltending by Calgary and Ottawa, they may have indeed split their last 4 games.  Well a loss is a loss no matter how well they looked.  With all these losses fans and media have begun to ask who is to blame.  So far most fingers point to Ron Wilson.  Should he be fired?  Who knows?  It can't be all his fault.  He's only the coach.  If the players don't play, what can he do?  Sure he can bench players and limit ice time,  but with everyone playing as poorly as they are, how will this help?   One thing is for sure.  Ron Wilson IS THE COACH.  That means it's his job to teach the system he wants his players to play.  If they aren't listening he has to find a way to make them.  That's his job, his responsibilty.  Hall of Fame Coach or not, if he can't find a way to make them listen to him, his days will be numbered, and rightly so.

Give me your impression.  Agree or disagree?  Can Wilson make  this team a winner? Are these players good enough?  Is this all a bunch of dribble?   I'd love to know what you think.

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