Saturday, November 14, 2009

Will the Real Toronto Maple Leafs Please Stand UP!

The Jekyll and Hyde show continued Friday night in Chicago, as the Leafs dropped their second in a row 3-2 to the Blackhawks.  It looks as though the stinker they served up against Minnesota was not a mere blip in the midst of a remarkable turnaround.  It's possible it was an example of what Leaf fans should expect for the rest of the season.

A team is never as bad as they appear during a losing streak, and never as good as they look on a winning streak.  The Leafs proved this again Friday night.  Last night Vesa Toskala showed he can be much better than he's been over the first part of the season.  It's debatable whether Patrick Kane's wrist-shot over Toskala's glove should have been stopped, but it was point blank, so maybe we'll cut Vesa some slack.  What shouldn't be argued was the rest of his play.  He looked much more confident and competitive.  There were no softies Friday night.  He made some huge saves and looked very quick going post to post all night.  If we resign ourselves to considering Toskala as a backup goalie, the effort looked even better.

More good news was provided by the play of Phil Kessel.  At least 1 of his two beauties was worthy of a highlight reel and couldn't be duplicated by anyone currently on the Leaf roster. His 4 goals in five games and points in all but 1 of them is quickly helping fans forget the 3 picks they gave up to get him.

Only in Leaf land can see good news in a loss.  Now for the reality check.  For the second game in a row we wasted strong goaltending performances.  The Leafs have looked terrible in the first period in both games this week.  Other than Kessel nobody is generating any offense.  Worst of all, the Leafs have abandoned the style of play that got us thinking playoffs again.

Let's face it Chicago is a better team than Toronto right now.  They were the favorite going into last nights game on home ice.  We were without Komisarek which finally sounds like a bad thing.  Our second string goalie was in net.  These are all valid excuses, but can't be used when looking at Tuesdays game at home against an inferior Minnesota team.  The fact is we haven't played well since that great game against Detroit.  If the Maple Leafs hope to dig themselves out of the hole they dug in October they can't squander any more games.

Back to the good news.  Tonight The Monster is back in net.  Phil Kessel is playing well and making other players around him play better.  Mike Komisarek may be gone for the next three weeks, but they have 3 or 4 players salivating for a chance to prove their worth.  Finally as bad as they've been this week, all indications show their is a quick fix.

When they were earning points, they were doing it with simple, old fashioned hockey.  Ron Wilson knows his team is a little starved for talent.  He also knows he has some solid veteran defensemen and some pretty good young ones too.  He also know his team is fast, very fast in fact.

We know Gustavsson needs to work on rebound control.  His defense has to help gobble them up like they were doing prior to this mini-slump.  The defense has to grab those rebounds and either look for the quick pass to a forward or dump the puck into the neutral zone.  No more carrying the puck, Kaberle is the only Leaf D-man who can do it (sorry Ian White but you're not there yet).  Luke Schenn should only be allowed have possesion for 2 seconds at a time ... get the puck, pass the puck or get it over the blueline.  Sorry but  making plays like he did against Chicago is only going to kill his already shattered confidence.

Finally the Leafs need to use their speed to their advantage.  They've played their best hockey by beating their opponents up ice and winning the battles on the boards.  Last Saturday they dominated Detroit by limiting the play to the outside in their own end and making those short quick up-ice passes.  For years we've seen slow footed Leaf players take lazy, holding penalties between the blue lines because the opposition was so much faster.  They can finally turn the table and force other teams to take those penalties.  We know they can play this way and we know it works for them.  Ron Wilson has the right plan to make these guys winners again, hopefully they're listening.

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