Saturday, December 12, 2009

Leafs are Listening to Wilson.

     The last time I checked the standings, the Toronto Maple Leafs were still in second last place.  They still had to overtake six teams to achieve a play-off berth, and they were still a sub five hundred hockey team.  After acknowledging these thing I asked myself, "Why am I smiling?"  The answer was was right in front of me.
     A closer look at the standings showed our Toronto Maple Leafs with 10 wins  in their last 23.  In six of those losses they gained  a point because the game went to overtime.  This still doesn't make them a five hundred team, but it does give Leaf fans hope for seeing them play at least one round in the playoffs.
     The Leafs picked a very good time to play their best hockey.  December's schedule is brutal.  They play 13 games between the first and the 23rd.  They don't have more than one night off during that stretch and end the months schedule with three games in five nights between Boxing Day and New Year's Eve.  Of those 16 games, 13 will have been against a conference opponent.  Six of those games are against teams within 7 points of the Leafs in the Eastern Conference.  A good month means a legitimate shot at the playoffs.  So far it's been a good month.  Except for two losses to a very good Boston Bruins team, they've been very good.  The Leafs started the month with a shut-out win against the hated Habs, very convincing wins against Columbus and Atlanta and a good character builder against the Islanders where they squandered a 2 goal lead, but went on to win.  Going into tonight's game against Alex Ovechkin's Washington Capitals, they are 6 and 2 in the month of December.
      So why are the Leafs looking like a team on a mission?  It might be because Francois Beauchemin and Mike Komisarek have finally found their games.  Maybe it's because Jason Blake has found his scoring touch.  Might it be a result of Stajan, Grabovski, and Kulemin.  All three of these Leafs are playing their best hockey this season.  Matt Stajan is even emerging a team leader again.  Vesa Toskala is stopping pucks and even Luke Schenn is starting to come out of the funk that has been tempting fans to call for his demotion to the minors.  Most significant in this is we can finally praise the play of Leaf players without mentioning Niklas Hagman and Phil Kessel.  Both players are clearly their most gifted forwards, but with the help of the aforementioned players, they don't have to carry this team any longer.
     As good as the players have looked recently, the most credit should go to their coach.  Thank goodness it's an Olympic year.  Had it not been, Ron Wilson may have been fired in October.  Wilson wasn't fired obviously and like his team he didn't quit either.  Instead he kept preaching his system to the struggling Leafs.  Wilson convinced his team they could win by simplifying their game.  He knows the kind of team he has.  A good, tough, defensive core, with speed to burn upfront.
     When Wilson has his team listening and playing THEIR game, they're usually rewarded.  They can block shots, and wear down their opponents with relentless forchecking and crushing hits.  Their forwards have enough backup to be able to live infront of the oppositions net without having to worry about reprisals from the other teams  tough guys.  In short, Ron Wilson has them playing old style hockey.  Nothing fancy, but tremendously entertaining most nights.  If he can maintain their attention, they have a chance to bury the past and make a legitimate playoff run.  If they stop listening like they did losing both games in Boston, we can forget about any hope of an extended season.  Here's hoping they listen.
     What do you think?  Who should get the credit?  Do they have enough to be a playoff team? What's the next move for Brian Burke?

1 comment:

  1. Agreed....Wilson's team last year exceeded all expectations, much to my frustration.

    The team is better this year. They looked disjointd but are now playing a good system. It is never one player and it never just the coach, but Wilson has setup an enironment and a system that is letting these guys succeed.

    Some have more work to do, and they need to augment the team with some a couple more top 6 guys. But if this keeps thm out of the bottom 5 or actually puts them in the playoffs good for them.

    As for Wilson being fired....look, you either build around the players or the coach. Given the talent level, overall....your only choice is to reinfocrce the coach and GM. Until WIlson gets the talent that makes the Leafs unquestioned contenders the job is his.