Another sorry Sunday comes and goes. The box of crayons on the floor is still unused and unopened. The unfinished tin-foil Stanley Cup I started building last Saturday morning looks more like a tin-foil Ground Zero. Since beating the Detroit Red Wings in the season opener, the Leafs have now gone 4 games without a win, and only scored one goal in 2 games on the weekend. Pretty crappy. Don't get too down, though. There's always a bright side to look on, right?
For instance, last year when we sucked there were no positives, only excuses and betrayal. Having to listen to Paul Maurice discuss theoretical quantum mechanics while explaining the Second Act of King Lear after every loss would be unbearable. This year at least we're getting solid quotes from Wilson, not to mention a lot of straightforward, easy-to-understand, honesty:
"A lot of times, he's just standing there in our zone."
That's Wilson talking about a player who may or may not be my new favorite Leaf. So there's one positive already; Wilson's wisdom. Let's look for some more plus signs and see how many we can find...
Hustle. The Leafs' energy and speed is much better so far then at any point last season. Aggressive forechecking and smart positioning is giving the Leafs the ability to control the tempo of the play for long stretches at a time.
Accountability. Wilson sat out Stajan for a game in an attempt to light a fire under him. Seemed to work, sort of. Then he threw him into the fire when he put him in the shoot-out. Meanwhile, Ponikarovsky, who began the third period Friday with a needless hooking penalty, saw very little ice-time after that and was demoted to the 4th line for Saturday's game. As for Hollweg, I suspect that the things that were said publicly were not the same as the things said behind closed doors. I think Hollweg must be on his last chance and a very short leash.
Toskala earned his first shutout. It wasn't a win, but it still counts as a shutout, and it's a good sign that Vesa has found his top form. I wonder what the record for most shutout losses in a season is? Something for Toskala to shoot far, I guess.
Kaberle and Schenn look like a good pair. Schenn doesn't yet have the big shot that Kaberle needs to dish to, but together, their positioning is so sound that they seem to have the ice covered defensively and both can move the puck up the ice safely. Also seems like Kaberle is playing a little bit tougher then he did last year.
Antropov scores his first goal. I was a bit worried about Antro because he hadn't scored a goal in the pre-season, so it was good to see him break the ice Saturday night in Pittsburgh. Antropov is a streaky scorer who can go long stretches without a goal if his confidence goes down, but he aslo scores by the bunch when he gets hot, so hopefully this helps the Lanky Kazakh get on a roll.
Carlo's still playing. He hasn't been injured yet. On Friday, he was a healthy scratch. Healthy! Back in the lineup Saturday, Carlo played hard, bangin' and crashin' on the blue-line. He might want to do up his chinstrap a little tighter though. Twice in the same period Saturday, Colaiacovo had his helmet pop off on a colision. The last thing he needs is a head injury, but it's good to see his fearlessness and courage.
The Grabovski-Hagman-Kulemin line looks very sharp. Excellent puck control, they just need to find a little finish. Collectively, the line reminds me of three John Cullens - lots of flash and dash and dipsy doodle but not a lot of goals so far. They look like they should make a good second line, would probably make a great third or fourth line, but unfortunately, they seem to be the Leafs' best line. Hopefully they start to find the back of the net with some consistency, and find a way to turn "dangerous-looking" into "potent".
Frogren looks great. This guy is a monster. He can hit, he can take hits, he isn't afraid to sacrifice his body, throws himself in front of point-blank slap shots, and everytime he gets back up and back into the play quickly. We're still just at the beginning of the season, but already Frogren is giving the Leafs the kind of selfless extra-effort that is usually reserved for the playoffs. I think Jonas is doing an awesome job so far as a defensive specialist, and I think his strong play is making the entire blue line better.
So let's count'em up and see how many positives we found: 1, 2, 3, ...Toskala, ...Antropov, ...the Hagman line is 8, and Frogren is 9. Nine positives in only 5 games. If we count actually winning a game as a positive, that makes 10! That's 2 positives per game. That's quite a pace. If they can keep that up, they'll finish the season with over 150 positive things that could be said about them! Can you imagine? And I was hardly looking, really. Success is worth waiting for, I guess, especially if we can keep things positive and have a laugh or two along the way.
Leafs Notebook – The Final Two Weeks – March 27
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