Saturday, October 16, 2010

Our Biggest Game Of The Season

I'm glad you're here. There's something I wanted to show you. This is a list of all the teams that have started an NHL season 4-and-oh since the lockout.


Nashville 8 wins -- finished 4th in the West
Ottawa 6 wins -- finished 1st in the East


Buffalo 10 wins — finished 1st in the East
Dallas 5 wins -- finished 6th in the West
Minnesota 6 wins -- finished 7th in the West


Minnesota 5 wins -- finished 3rd in the West
Ottawa 5 wins -- finished 7th in the East


Buffalo 4 wins -- finished 10th in the East
Edmonton 4 wins -- finished 11th in the West
Minnesota 4 wins -- finished 9th in the West
NY Rangers 5 wins -- finished 7th in the East
San Jose 4 wins -- finished 1st in the West


Calgary 4 wins -- finished 10th in the West

The Leafs are the first team this season to reach 4 wins, off to their best start since 1993-4, but what does it mean to go 4-0-0? Nothing. The next game is the one that really matters. In fact, it might be the most important game of the season.

Behold: In five seasons since the lockout, only 13 teams have gone 4-and-oh to start an NHL campaign. Interestingly, the Minnesota Wild did it 3 times consecutively, winning 6 out of the gate in 2006, 5 in a row in 2007, and 4 in a row in 2008. The Senators have done it twice, winning 6 in a row to start the season in 2005 and 5 in a row in 2007. The longest win streaks to start a season belong to Buffalo (10 wins, 2006) and Nashville (8 wins 2005).

Now here's what I want you to notice: Of these 13 teams, only 5 failed to continue their winning ways into their 5th game, AND of those 5 teams (all from the last 2 seasons) that couldn't attain 5-and-oh perfection, 4 of them finished the season OUT of the playoffs. Their fast starts were all for naught eventually and didn't help them get into the post-season, nor were they an accurate indication of forthcoming success. In 2008, Buffalo, Edmonton, Minnesota, and San Jose all won their first 4 games of the season then lost their 5th and only San Jose went on to make the playoffs. Last year, Calgary was the only team to start 4-and-oh and they finished 10th and traded Dion Phaneuf. I simply can't imagine that happening but there it is.

However, there's a flipside: Of the 8 teams that managed to win their 5th game in a row to start the season and keep their perfect record intact to that point, all of them made the playoffs in those respective seasons. Since the lockout, NO TEAM HAS GONE 5-AND-OH AND MISSED THE PLAYOFFS. It seems to be a line that - if crossed - you can safely say, this team is legit. This team is more then just another playoff-pretender This team is "For Real".

I have to admit something: After the last pre-season game, I looked at the calender, and this was the game that worried me the most. I didn't tell anybody this, but I silently predicted to myself that the Leafs would win their first 4 games and then lose to the Islanders. It just seemed like it would be so typical. Now that half the premonition has come true, I'm really worried.

It's the perfect set-up for a let-down. A 4-game winning streak, coming home, fans excited, an uninteresting weaker team coming in on a 3-game losing streak (I wrote this ahead of time - I'm assuming the Islanders are going to lose to Colorado tonight), a Monday night, AND it's only on Leafs-TV. If this was any other season, this game is a guaranteed loss, no question.

But if this was any other Leafs team, they would have found a way to lose the opener. Instead, Giguere got his left pad on the puck in the dying seconds and the Leafs got 2 points. And if this were any other Leafs team, they would have surely blown the lead in the 3rd against the Penguins, being outshot 9-2 in the period. But they held on and won the game. And really, if this year's team in any way resembled any from the past 5 seasons since the lockout, then after squandering a 2-goal lead in the 3rd period (which seemed so very much like them) they most certainly would have folded or faded or had an unlucky bounce go against them, let an opponent's dirty trick get the better of them, let the referee screw them, or simply crumble and choke under the pressure. And lose. And then they'd console themselves by talking about picking up a valuable point and just doing the things they do well for a full 60 minutes and moral victories don't count in the standings but at least there are positives we can take and move forward, just need to concentrate on the little things, we're behind the 8-ball now and it's going to be an uphill battle but we still believe in ourselves, if we could just get a timely save and with a bit of better luck... who knows?

Nope. That's not us. Not anymore and never again we can only hope. Instead we're finding ways to win. We've scored the first goal 3 times out of 4. We've held a one goal lead in the 3rd period to win in regulation - twice. We've yet to surrender 30 shots in a game. We've won 2 games where we badly outshot our opponents and we've won 2 games despite being outshot. We've won 2 on the road and 2 at home. Our penalty kill has given up just one goal. Our powerplay has struck 3 times, including a perfectly executed 4-on-3 for an overtime winner. Thus far, this Leafs team is anything but typical.

Komisarek has 3 points and just 2 penalty minutes. Kaberle is a +3 and 2nd in time-on-ice.

"We could have put our head down and stopped skating and stopped trying," said goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere. "Some teams would find a way to do that and find a way to lose. We found a way to win."

And that's why Monday's contest against the Islanders is oh so important and why, for the Leafs, 4-and-oh is only a good-but-not-yet-great beginning, and why our 5th game is easily the biggest game of the season so far. Consider it a must-win. History and statistics suggest we've got our backs up against the wall here but we gotta stick together, work harder, and prove that we're a much better team then our 4-0-0 record indicates and make sure we win that next game and keep our hopes alive.
Go Leafs Go!


looshV said...

You are absolutely spot-on. But like you also pointed out, there are examples of play which clearly show fundamental changes to the Leafs play. They PRESS the attack and are applying a hard fore check with good success. The forwards are bigger and faster this year, and the defence is pinching in better with confidence because we have goalies that can make big saves when you need them to.

But most of all.....they genuinely WANT to win. The effort, the long time coming effort we've been all dying to have for the last 5 years; has actually arrived.

Here's to winning important games!


general borschevsky said...

Cheers looshV! I think individual players from previous teams wanted to win desperately but the collective will to win was missing. Enthusiasm and pride were in short supply. This year's team is refreshingly confident and determined.

Jason said...

I agree completely. This is a huge game in every way. Losing to a poor team missing so many top players would be demoralizing to say the least and could have a seriously negative effect on their confidence and the fans as well. This is where this team makes a big statement. Win convincingly and it's "maybe these guys are for real". Lose and it's "I told you so" from every ass faced Leaf basher out there. I see this as a huge test of the coaching staff's ability to keep the players focused and on track.

general borschevsky said...

Thanks for the comment Jason. You make a great point; this one is really on the coaches to prove there's no complacency so I hope the team comes out well-prepared. Phaneuf wearing the C should help the motivation factor too, but I'm cutious to see how long Wilson can keep these guys with their foot on the gas going full-throttle.

Harold said...

1 point in an OT loss.

general borschevsky said...

Hey Harold. It means we're in a dogfight for the playoffs again rather then having a guaranteed spot which is a little disappointing but at least it'll make the next 77 games a little more meaningful.