Is it already too late to save the season?
JoeyMac had something interesting to say last night:
"We had a lot of young guys last year just coming into the league, trying to prove themselves every single night," MacDonald said before the game. "So they were working hard. Here, I think we're working, but we're working at times, and not a full 60 minutes."
If I'm reading this right, MacDonald is suggesting that last year's Islanders worked harder then this year's version of the Leafs. The difference, according to the third-string journeyman goaltender, is youth. The young guys. Players that want to "prove themselves, every single night."
One wonders how much Jason Blake feels he has left to prove to anyone. He proved it all 3 years ago when he scored 40 goals. He proved it again last year when he bounced back and had a terrific season. He's at the end of an 11-year career. He knows what he's done and what he can do, 'cause he did it. Four million dollars, please. What's there left to prove?
Dominic Moore was an excellent pick-up who spent the entire season last year trying to prove his worth. He didn't get the big paycheque that he was looking for but he did try to earn it. He set his sights high, above the expectations of others, and he worked hard to prove them wrong. Moore possessed a defiant, competitive desire to succeed that made him, Jason Blake, and the whole Leafs' team, better.
But Blake's not the only Forward whose energy and competitive fire is missing its spark. Mayers, Mitchell, Stajan, and Hagman all seem less interested in (or incapable of) establishing their roles on the team, nevermind dominance on the ice.
(I'm hesitant to include Stempniak in this group. I think he does have something to prove and is playing that way. Success is yet to come, but the effort is there. It could be that he's just not that good, but he is trying to show that he belongs.)
Darcy Tucker, bless his bat-shit crazy soul, is off to a great start this seaon and looks re-energized and ready to compete again. Tucker helped the Avalanche defeat the Leafs last night with a goal and an assist, moving his team to the top of the Western Conference standings. In 6 games, Tucker has 5 points (3G, 2A), 11 penalty minutes, and 12 shots on goal. So why does Tucker look younger, and not older, then he did the last 2 seasons?
"I’ve got two guys (Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly, both 18) who sit beside me on the road all the time and in the dressing room. They have a lot of questions and things I have to answer. That’s helped me out. They play with some good spunk and it’s actually elevated my game a little bit.”
Stalberg has already shown us that he belongs on the team. In fact, he sometimes looks like the Leafs' best player. Now he wants to see how he measures up to the rest of the NHL. You can feel it every time he touches the puck, he's trying to make something happen, testing himself against his opponents, and trying to be better then they are.
Bozak also looks like he's ready to show us what he can do. Hanson and Tlusty, maybe even Gunnarson, and how about one last shot for Frogren? We need to get as many of these fresh faces into the line-up as possible. We need to replace the fear of growing old with optimism and dreams.
The future is now. Every game and every shift should be a demonstration of who wants to be on the ice for the next game, the next shift.
Thanks to MacDonald for his honest appraisal, and best of luck to a rejuvenated Darcy Tucker.
*UPDATE * 10/16 11:00am
Darcy Tucker continues to praise the injection of youth into the lineup. From the Gazette:
“Our young guys not only bring a really good skill level, but an energy about them. We have to pull them off the ice half the time. It’s infectious.”