Saturday, December 27, 2008

Holiday Spirit

Happy Holidays, Leaf fans! Well, it's not so happy being a Leaf fan maybe, but what about that incredible turkey! And the stuffing! I nearly threw up. An 8-2 loss on the night before Christmas Eve and then a 4-1 loss to the worst team in the NHL on Boxing Day is an indication of a team, and its coach, whose hearts, they say, must be three sizes too small. Yet, the Who's down in WhoNation continue to sing, "Welcome Tavares, welcome Tavares,". Let us not let these last 2 losses dampen our spirits, yet let us hope that this is indeed the low point of our season.

First off, something to celebrate: I'd like to acknowledge and promote Vintage Leafs, an excellent pictorial blog that I am really enjoying. If you haven't seen it yet, check it out. There's tons of great old pics of the Leafs like this one and this one and this one and this one and this one and lots more. Really awesome stuff.

The Leafs' Boxing Day Blowout is summed up nicely here by FarAwayLeaf:

The formula is there; a player reaching a milestone, any opposing player from within 500 miles of Toronto playing that needs their first goal/point, long opposing team losing streak, Toskala in net = GUARANTEED LOSS."

Seems to be that way. There's a brilliant post here by Steve@HockeyAnalysis deconstructing the broken shell that is the very shaky Vesa. Thus far for December, Toskala has let in a goal in the first 5 minutes 8 times in 11 starts, and 9 times out of 11 Vesa let in the first goal of the game. It's a wonder that the Leafs were able to win 5, nearly half, of those 11 games. Finally, it's not helping Vesa's cause when he lets in goals that are, not just the first goal of the game, not just within the first five minutes, but also, so mindbogglingly atrocious you have to wonder how it even happened!

"It hit the inside edge of my blocker," Toskala said.

Okay, that explains how a bad angle, lazy wrist shot that's going wide ends up in the net. But it doesn't explain why. That goal was not the bizarre fluke it seemed, but the result of a lack of focus and intensity. The puck doesn't just "hit the inside edge" of a blocker. Toskala's precision is off, his effort is sloppy, his attention to detail and execution is non-existent until the red light goes on behind him. It's one thing to be cool and casual about pressure, but what I'm seeing from Toskala is the same affliction that possessed most of last year's dressing room: a complete lack of competitive spirit. Last year's Leafs were absent of any enthusiasm for success. Right now, Toskala is displaying a similar, inverted attitude; an alarming disassociation with his own failure.

Now I don't want to dump all of Toronto's problems on easy-going Vesa. While poor goaltending can certainly be deflating, Wilson has suggested Toskala's play didn't effect the team's morale. But if it isn't Toskala's poor play, then what? Something is missing from the Leafs the last 2 games, whether it's preparation, conditioning, motivation... All key areas that are the responsibility of the Coach or the Captain.

Hmmm. Maybe I'll just leave it at that. The Leafs play Sunday against Washington so it will be interesting to see if Wilson starts Toskala or if Pogge gets another chance. I'd like to see Toskala get the same treatment Ian White, Matt Stajan, and Jason Blake have received at various times this season. Players seem to learn something from watching a game or two from the pressbox. 

It will also be interesting to see if the Leafs come out fired up and confident or not. The last time they played Washington, at the beginning of this month, the were coming off of another pair of terrible losses to San Jose (5-2) and Phoenix (6-3). That time the losing streak hit three as they lost to the Capitals, 2-1, and worse, lost Luke Schenn at the same time. A third straight defeat this time could say as much about the Coach as it does the goaltending. Will they rediscover their competitive spirit or will the holiday spirit continue?


It seems Toskala will get the start tonight. Says Wilson:

"Vesa's our No.1 goalie and we have to stick with him and help him find his game again."

Meanwhile, Matt Stajan is questionable after he injures his freakin' sexy-eyes with a soccer ball of all things. Wrong, Stajan! Wrong. That's what your rolled up socks are for. Bad Stajan. Play with your soft toys that won't hurt you, and for heaven's sake, always wear a visor! Always. Even in the shower. It's your freakin' EYES! You are replaceable, but they are not!

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