One of the attributes that has been encouraging about the Leafs this season is that they are rarely out of a game. We saw this at times last season, but it has become a pronounced trait during the 2011-’12 campaign. Even if they fall behind, you rarely have the sense that they cannot come back.
And as often as not, they have.
Last night the comeback started with one off Kessel’s skate on a nice play by (who else?) Lupul. Then early in the third period, rookie Matt Frattin flashed something we are become a bit accustomed to: a power move around a defenseman that, combined with his elite speed, makes him a hard guy to defend at full tilt. That it ended with a great goal was icing on the cake.
Not many guys have that combination of elite speed and power, of course. It's pretty rare. Messier had it, of course. Gilbert Perreault and Bobby Hull are two others that pop to mind. Now, the usual disclaimer applies here: I am not comparing young Frattin with those guys at this embryonic stage of his professional career. Nor am I suggesting that he will ever be in the same league as them or the guy I am about to mention now, but here’s the name anyway: “Rocket” Richard.
Why do I even throw that name out? Well, simply because Montreal's legendary Richard was the game’s best performer, perhaps ever, from the blueline in. He had amazing strength, and while not the fastest thing on skates in his era, the combination of his immense determination, a desire to score goals and a speed/power combination made him one-of-a-kind.
Richard (see the great old "posed" photo at left) was unique in many ways, including the fact that he generally played his off- wing. (Wasn’t Frattin flying in on his “off” wing on the 2-2 goal?) I only saw Richard at the very tail-end of his remarkable NHL career and by then he was past his prime. I was too young to really appreciate what he had been. But because my Dad was such a devout Hab fan, I understood how special Richard was. He would bull his way around defensemen (much like we saw with Jordan Tootoo recently, but under more control most of the time) and often had a play on the goalie, either a deke or a shot. He didn’t always score, of course, but he was usually dangerous.
Again, Frattin is a just kid looking to make his mark, but when he cut around that Jersey defenseman early in the third period with a quick power burst and a perfectly placed shot, it evoked memories of a great former player.
What is outstanding out about Frattin, too, is that he can think clearly while moving at high speed. He has set up some important goals with his speed, determination and quick-thinking, and while his own goals have been few, they have all been attention-grabbers.
There is more to come from Frattin.
A couple of minor comments on the overtime loss against the Devils:
- Reimer is settling in nicely. He was his usual late-game self. That is, after giving up the early lead, he kept the Leafs in the game and then made some game-saving stops as the third period progressed to ensure the Leafs earned at least one point.
- Dupuis was rambunctious and Leaf fans should recognize when a guy plays well, even if there is frustration that he isn’t scoring a lot. But his job is not scoring (though that would be nice!), it is defensive play and killing penalties. I’m not suggesting he has played great hockey for the Leafs. In fact, he may be in tough at some point when the team is fully healthy up front. But if he can consistently play as hard as he did against Jersey, he should have a spot going forward.
- You can just kind of feel that, most nights lately, Schenn’s game is back where it needs to be—simple, smart, tough. About 24 minutes of ice time (he was leading the team until overtime, I believe) tells us he’s feeling pretty good these days. The coaches feel good about his play, too. Confidence is a great thing—when you have it, and when the coaches have it in you.
- The Kulemin dilemma continues. His late-game give-away almost led to a winner for the Devils. He did come back and hammer a guy shortly afterwards. I keep wanting to believe he will make a play, score a goal, somehow catch a break and get going. But speaking of confidence, his is clearly not where it needs to be for him to be at his best.
Washington next. We’ll get to see how Ovechkin looks with Hunter behind the bench.