Every once in a while, the older, experienced mother bear has to cuff her little cubs around when they’re getting a little too bold and daring.
That was the image that came to mind during the Leaf-Bruin encounter Saturday night, as the Bruins visited the previously high-flying and confident-sounding Maple Leafs at the ACC.
The Leafs have been piling up points against all comers, but some of their success came against clubs that were struggling as well as back-up goalies or first-stringers who were off their game. They have absolutely been full measure for their record, but we all knew—and know—that there has been at least a small mirage element to all this.
Last night’s game was no more or less than one game, just like all the games earlier this season. But the Bruins looked a bit more like the team that played hard to get to the finals this past spring as the Eastern Conference representatives. And the Leafs looked, well, they looked like a team full of guys that felt pretty pleased with themselves for starting the season with a record of 9-3-1.
Hey, they were in first place overall, and when was the last time we could say that in this market—the 1993-’94 season, maybe?
So yes, the previously lethargic Bruins cuffed the upstart Leafs around. It happens.
You can almost predict the reaction—as I said above, people will opine that it’s just one game, the Leafs will learn from this, the Bruins were due, etc.. And all of that may well be true.
But it was a useful reminder to the fan base—and more importantly, the players—that nobody wins anything in October or November. In fact, while these points matter as much as points in April, there is a flip side to that. How you are playing going into the playoffs is way more important than how you played in the first two months of the season. As the season wears on, good teams tighten up, there is a lot less room on the ice than what the Leafs have been up against in the first dozen or so games of the season.
Bottom line? One game hardly undoes all the good things that we noticed as the Leafs were banking some valuable points in the standings. These kinds of losses can actually be a blessing. Everyone can step back, assess how they can be better against a team like the bruins in future—and move forward together. We won’t remember this game (or at least not as painfully) if the team responds well over the next few games.
Hey, at least it wasn’t 11-0—I’ll write about that famous game some time, the night the then lowly Bruins beat the two-time defending Cup champion Leafs in the middle of the 1963-’64 season by that 11-0 score.
Didn’t the Tampa Bay Buccaneers get beat like 45-0 by Oakland years ago and go on to win the Super Bowl? Stuff happens. (Just to be clear, that’s not a prediction…)
- Every time the Leafs play the Bruins, there is always the game within the game, because of the two huge deals over the past few seasons involving these two teams. We know that long-term, the Leafs should show very well from the Kaberle trade, though the Bruins did get their Cup, and as I’ve posted previously, if and when the Leafs ever do win a Cup, they’ll just match what the Kruins already accomplished with Kabby. We can argue that Kaberle didn’t help them much, and he didn’t, but both he and Seguin helped enough to make a difference.
- As far as Kessel-Seguin, Leaf fans are happy to talk about it when things go well for Kessel and the Leafs and not so much when things don’t. The reality is Burke needed something and got it right away—a ready-made scorer in Kessel. He obtained a natural scorer at the age of 21-22 who already was a proven NHL’er with explosive speed. Seguin will also be very good, obviously. Who will be the better all-around player? Who will be a leader? Who will have more impact? Time will tell.
- The thing that may swing that deal is if the young defenseman the Bruins drafted this past summer (with the Leaf pick) also turns heads someday. But again, Burke got what he wanted. And the Kaberle deal will likely bring tangible long-term benefits for the blue and white as well, with Colborne and Biggs.
- I have no idea where Reimer is in terms of his status, but I wonder if Wilson will start Scrivens next time out? I don’t want that game to be the kid’s lasting memory for a while—teammates that played in front of him with a lack of grit and tenacity. I’d like to see him get a shot right away and then share time with Monster. And whoever plays best—and inspires confidence—can, as far as I’m concerned, claim the back-up job, once Reimer returns.
- I love Gunnarsson, but when Schenn is not playing his rub-you-out game along the boards and in front of the net (or is sitting in the press box, as he was Saturday night), the Leafs lack back-up on the physical side against grinding teams. Franson. Liles, Gardiner and Gunnarsson are not classic physical defensemen, which is fine. Komisarek can play that role along with Phaneuf, of course. But the balance does swing when Schenn is out. That’s hardly why they lost, simply an observation that, come playoff time, you have to believe they will need three guys who can play a tough, physical game on the back end.
I thought Wilson was right on the money after the game. He pointed out, as Pat Quinn often used to in the good old days when the Leafs had solid teams every year, that you could see some of the slippage in their game when they were still winning games. It’s absolutely true. You get away with things against weaker teams, or when the opposition goalie is struggling, and it hides your shoddy play sometimes.
The Boston game made it clear, in case any of us were wondering, that this is still very much a work in progress. And that’s OK.