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Giguerre feeling insecure? Versteeg, confidence and the Maple Leafs

Some quick comments on the New Jersey game:
  • I was glad to see Gunnarsson in the line-up.  I hope he gets a real opportunity and works through his early-season difficulties.
  • It's hard not to like Brown's willingness to block shots.
  • Kadri picked up two points.  It's still early, but we'll see if his presence will give Kessel (and the power play)a boost.  So far, the answer seems to be yes.
  • Gustavsson hung tough in the third, as he did late against Nashville.
  • Brent continues to do small things that help.
  • Kessel keeps getting chances. And that's been the case, even during most of the stretch when he wasn't scoring.
  • Schenn is playing a lot of minutes.  Confidence (see below) makes a huge difference.  It seems to be doing the same for Grabovski.
  • MacArthur surprised everyone with his early-season goal production, but even more impressive may be his 10 assists.
  • When you look at the Devils, a team that is being re-built, it's even harder now to imagine why the team traded for and then signed Kovalchuk as a free agent.  Recognizing they are missing some key players because of injury, they still seem to be a long way from being a really good team.  Elias and Arnott are there, but are they what they were years ago?  Zajac is a fine young player, Parise is out.  But it doesn't feel anywhere near the same as the old Devils.  And what happens when Brodeur can't be Brodeur any longer? 
Ron Wilson rarely looks comfortable when interacting with the local media.  He tends to be rather cynical and pointed when answering even non-threatening questions.  A recent example would be his comments last week, when he expressed frustration that the reports of his job being on the line always seem to come out of Toronto, even though the local media had not, to my knowledge, raised the subject.  (Most reporters in other cities don’t much care what happens with the Leafs, at least not as much as we think, but it is true that many hockey rumours get started in this market.)

In any event, he told reporters Thursday that even though Gustavsson will start a lot of game over the next while (because of Giguere’s injury), there is no “goaltending controversy”, as he put it.  According to a Toronto Star report, though, he suggested the media would likely start one, and in the same breath was quoted as saying “Maybe this will be his (Gustavsson’s) chance to establish himself as the number one goalie.  Who knows?”

Now, c’mon.  If you’re a coach, in this market, and you know (or think you know) how the media will react to certain events, do you pour gas on the fire, unless you are intending to do so? If you really believe the local media will, unfairly, start a controversy, and you feel that is not fair or accurate, then maybe the best approach is not to suggest out loud—without anyone pressing you—that the back-up may in fact be able to earn the number one job while the other guy is hurt.

Is Giguerre not the number one?  Was this still a competition and we just didn’t know?  Did the goalies know?  What about the long-stated value that a player won’t lose his job because of injury?  Is Wilson suggesting Giguere has not been playing well, that he was poised to lose his number-one status anyway?

Of course, as Wilson also added, the team needs and expects Gustavsson to play well.  That’s why he’s here.  Agreed.

It just strikes me that the easiest thing would be to say, “Of course Gustavsson’s going to play.  Giguere’s our number one, but Gustavsson is 1A (which he has said in the past). He only will help himself in our eyes by playing well, but Giguere is our guy and will be when he comes back…”

I just wonder how Giguere felt reading he may be “number two” by the time he gets healthy. 

All this said, we rarely get to see Wilson in a relaxed environment.  it's too bad.  It was great to see him in that in-between periods segment on Leafs TV Thursday night, talking about his late father Larry, and Johnny, his uncle, both of whom had lengthy and successful pro hockey careers.  I invite you to click on a piece I wrote a while back on The Wilson Boys .

Confidence in sports, and life, for that matter, can be a very elusive thing.  When you don’t have it in everyday life, you walk differently, you feel differently, you tend to act differently.  Your attitude is affected. Something as simple as a cloudy day can tip the emotional scales.

When you’re feeling confident, everything just seems better.  For many of us, confidence, though, is one of those things that comes and goes.  And all kinds of little things can impact our confidence, especially if we allow them to.

For an athlete, confidence can be a very fragile thing, too.  With the Leafs over the last three weeks, you can just feel the sense of bewilderment when things didn’t go their way.  Good scoring chances ended up anywhere but in the net. Good efforts still didn’t get a result.

Then, the other night, just when you think things could not get worse, after Nashville scored a short-handed goal to make it 4-1, the Leafs rose from the ashes.

Now, half a dozen penalties in succession against the Predators (credit to Barry Trotz, he didn’t blame the refs, he said his players deserved what they got) helped, but once the Leafs got one goal back, you could feel the tide turning.  It was like they weren’t going to be denied.  They started skating with confidence, were flying around the ice and moving the puck with….confidence—just like they did in the first few games of the season.  There was abandon in their play.

The veil of misery had been lifted and they looked like an entirely different team. That’s what confidence can do for you, when you start feeling like you not only can succeed, but you will succeed.

Now, it took a few nice saves from Gustavsson, in relief, to secure the victory, and it was but one step forward going up a fairly bumpy mountain, but it was a reminder that when this team feels good about itself—like most teams, at any level—they can compete and outplay some teams.

Schenn is a guy who, despite the team’s record,  seems to be playing with some real confidence.  You see it in little things, like his willingness to try an offensive move with the puck.

And Versteeg has to feel better (Kessel, too), as there is nothing like a goal or two  to get a guy going.  He’s well aware that he’s the guy that came to town with a Cup on his updated resume, and was immediately thrust into a top line role, thought that wasn’t his history.  If he and a few other guys can get that feeling, we’ll see a different Leaf team—until that elusive confidence leaves town again for a while.


I'm trying to think of the last time I remember nine goals being scored in the first period of an NHL game.  That was the unusual outcome of the first period in the game between Tampa Bay and the Flyers Thursday night.  (The teams were, comparably-speaking, less productive in the second stanza, with "only" five goals between them.)  Perhaps this is what the powers-that-be had in mind when they worked to allow skill back into the game after the lockout.  I wouldn't want to see it all the time, though.

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