From what I gather, Keith Aulie made a positive impression in his debut performance, despite the Leafs losing for the 8th straight game. To be honest, the only thing I noticed about Aulie is that he's really big, but most of the reviews I've seen were kind. Still, he finished the night a minus 1 over 14 minutes of ice-time, so not a great impact.
Now, I really don't have anything critical to say about Aulie, but I can't help wondering why on earth does Carl Gunnarsson have to continue sitting in the press box? It's bad enough that he's been pushed aside to find ice-time for Lebda, but now Gunnar is sitting out healthy for somebody else's NHL debut while the Leafs are in the midst of terrible slide? Is the Leafs record of 1 win in their last 12 Gunnarsson's fault? Seriously, what did Gunnarsson do to get so deep in Wilson's dog house?
Our first loss of the year was the first game Gunnarsson sat out. Our first regulation loss was the very next game, with Gunnarsson still in the press box. Gunnarrson returned the next game, but now the wheels had fallen off, and the Leafs lost once more, 5-2 to Philadelphia. Since then, Gunnar has appeared in just 4 of the last 9 games. Why?
Through 9 games this season, Gunnarsson's plus/minus is even. He picked up his first point of the season, an assist, on November 3rd, an overtime loss to Washington. He's played one game since then.
Brett Lebda, after 9 games played, is a team-worst minus 7. He's a minus 6 in the last 5 games and a minus 5 in the last 3. He has zero points, yet hasn't been a healthy scratch since November 2nd.
The Leafs record with Gunnarsson in the line-up is 4-4-1. With Lebda in the line-up, their record is 1-5-3.
I'm seriously confused by this.
When Phaneuf was acquired, I lamented the fact that Komisarek's season had been shortened due to injury. As the season wound down, Gunnarsson was proving himself a very capable top 4 defenceman. In the summer, I agonized through the suspense of Kaberle's trade window, hoping desperately that the Leafs best six defenders would get their chance to suit up together. Finally, after waiting since January 31st, the Leafs season began with a blue line that was truly worthy of getting excited about.
Phaneuf. Kaberle. Beauchemin. Komisarek. Schenn. Gunnarsson.
They didn't disappoint. The Leafs won 4 straight.
Komisarek struggled early and his minutes were down. Wilson left him in there to find his game, and he did. With the injury to Phaneuf, Komisarek has seen a huge increase in minutes and responsibilities, and he was ready for it and has responded well.
Gunnarsson was not afforded a chance to struggle and was yanked from the line-up as soon as he did. His efforts to rediscover his game have ever since been thwarted by not being allowed consistent playing time, and meanwhile the team's confidence is plummeting around him in a downward spiral.
I'm all for bringin' in Aulie as an extra defenceman and giving him ice time - ahead of Lebda. But Gunnarsson, unless he has injury trouble we're not aware of, should be in the line-up on a nightly basis, no question. He was a good player for us last season over 43 games with a team leading plus 8. He was more a part of this team then Jeff Finger was, or Exelby, and he should be contributing more this year then Brett Lebda. Now, with Phaneuf out of the line-up, there's no excuse nor reason for Gunnarsson to still be trying to sort things out from the press box. Let him find his game on the ice, fighting for the 4th-5th spot and not for the 6th-7th.
Seriously, Gunnar deserves mention - and a spot - alongside Schenn(+3), Kaberle(+2), Komisarek(+3), and Beachemin(+3). These guys are great, but they're not leagues ahead of Gunnarsson, and collectively they've lost their shine since Gunnar's demotion. He's not in the same category as Lebda, or Exelby, or Finger, so I don't know why you'd treat him like he is.
Some players go through slumps, and sophomores seem to get it the worst, but the only cure is believing in yourself and having success on the ice. It's chicken and the egg, but that's the way it goes. The best players don't dwell on bad games and past mistakes. They forget it, move on, and bounce back.
Let me be clear about this:
Carl Gunnarsson, 9 games: even plus/minus.
Brett Lebda, 9 games: team-low minus 7.
“Confidence is something that doesn't come that easy,” said Gunnarsson. “Once you lose it, it's tough to get it back.”Great. Now the kid's wondering if he's worse than Brett Lebda. Nice going, Wilson.
All Gunnarsson needs to regain his confidence - and form - is regular ice-time and a show of faith. And as a key member on our exceptional blueline, on a team that's entirely without answers, it's the least he deserves.
From the Branches: Big Trouba in Winnipeg
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