Sunday night the Leafs are off (in fact, they next play in Calgary on Tuesday night...), so unless there is a trade, it may be a quiet day in Leafland. With that in mind, if there are any recent posts that you didn’t catch but might be interested in, here are a few links below…
- Why Reimer is the guy
- Connolly—will he be important or is he taking up space?
That Toronto has lost three games in succession (two close games and an old-time blow-out) should probably be no more discouraging at this point in a long and winding season than their recent string—when they earned 9 of a possible 10 points over a 5-game stretch—was cause for celebration.
For most NHL teams, these are the natural ups and downs that occur. In fact, while I may be wrong, I would argue that in many of the last few NHL seasons, notably since the lockout, the parity of the league has seen things develop such that most teams go through this ebb and flow. They win a few in a row, look good doing it and all is well. Then they lose a few, and things look gloomy.
It seems to be the way things are in today’s NHL. There are no dynasties, and very few teams that are consistently “elite” (the Devils until recently, the Red Wings still, San Jose and now, we could probably throw in the Canucks…).
So as we address the Leaf situation with that backdrop informing our perspective somewhat, the current three-game slide may mean nothing at all—or at most, very little.
I’m guessing we will (a mini-prediction) hear a Leaf player or two offer the thought that the best thing that can happen now is for the team to get out of town, go on the road together and bond, without the pressure of trying to play entertaining hockey at home (witness their big win just a week ago in Ottawa). That’s a song I’ve heard for as long as I’ve followed hockey. When they lose on the road, players often say “we need to get home in front of our fans and get some home cooking”. When they lose at home, it’s “time to go on the road and spend time together and play the kind of hockey we need to play to be effective on the road…tight-checking, yada yada yada….”
In any event, we are where we are in what has been a very interesting season so far in Leafland. Hope is running high and there are expectations aplenty to be fulfilled. Now, admittedly, a bit of the air went out of the balloon this week, but as we all understand, things can change for the better (or worse) very quickly. It has always been thus, I guess, in sports.
Let’s credit Price for playing a major part in the win Saturday night at the ACC, when the Leafs clearly were so choked up by the emotion of the evening that they spent the rest of the night wondering when their own sweaters will be hung from the rafters at the ACC. Based on the evening’s performance, however, well…let’s just say Sunday may not be a good day to ask Burke for a raise, much less a ceremony….
No, it was indeed Price’s night. (Two third-period goalposts helped, but we know the game had left the building by then…) He looked so comfortable, so at ease, that you almost couldn’t believe it was a high-pressure NHL game. He really did make virtually every save (and there were some that should have been tough—had to be tough, actually) look effortless. Everything from the way he caught and played the puck to how he anticipated re-directs was so calm. Nothing fazed him.
Now we can compare this (and on this night it was an un-flattering comparison, to be sure) with what our guy was dealing with at the other end. Reimer had a really solid stretch recently (as part of a personal three-game win “streak”) that included two shutouts. Let’s not forget that. But in Philly and again versus the Habs, he was not his cat-like quick, confident self. Was it all his fault? Not at all. Mike Brown was perhaps our best player on the night, and as much as I respect the way Brown plays, if he is your best guy, you aren’t likely going to win many games. Phaneuf had an assortment of giveaways (not unusual for him in recent losses) and one of his old Dion “moments”, when it just seemed like too much effort, I guess, to cut Ellar off before the speedy Montreal forward swindled Reimer at the crease.
But here’s my question for the day: forget what we, as fans, think. What will Burke and company think Sunday morning—and Monday, for that matter? Do he, Nonis, Poulin (I won’t name everyone who is part of the league’s largest advisory crew) convene and say, “hey guys, just one lousy game. No big deal…”. Or—and this is the seminal “or”—does the brass start to think, “hey, we need to make the playoffs. Now. And, we need do so some damage once we get there. Are our goalies just struggling a bit right now, but when they get hot again, we’ll be just fine…?” The question, conversely, that may be discussed is: "What if our guys aren't good enough, what do we do...?"
I think those are reasonable, and critically important, questions. And I do believe the conversation will take place over the next 48 hours, just to be sure everyone is on the same page.
If you think you need to say, trade for a goalie, surely that changes the equation in terms of what you’re planning to give away—or bring in. Because, if you bring in a goalie, you are basically saying “we can’t win with these guys right now, and maybe we never will be able to…” It changes your priorities, which I thought were (we can never be sure what the brass is thinking, but I’m thinking it has to be the case) a tough, shutdown defenseman and/or a forward with skill and willpower.
Here’s the thing: I don't think the Leafs can get both, without blowing up a lot of the long and painful re-build. And that’s not going to happen, just to get into the playoffs.
My thought is, Burke will not be making a move for a goalie. So nothing changes. If they do anything at all in terms of deals (and I’m sure we have all noticed that virtually no significant moves have been made—might we finally having a truly hectic trade deadline day?), it will either be a modest tweak or two, or they will indeed try to obtain a solid forward for as little as they can possibly give up.
I just believe that Burke believes in Reimer, and knows that goaltenders take time to develop. Price is a great example in Montreal. He had that big Ken Dryden-like rookie splash in that first playoff year where he starred for the Habs, yes. But before long he was struggling. Then, some people were questioning his “desire”, if I remember things clearly. Then Halak stole the show, and the question was, do the Habs deal Price, or the other guy?
Now, Price is generally acknowledged as a solid goalie (maybe even “elite”), but he goes through slumps as well, though he sure looked like Patrick Roy against the Leafs. And he’s not the only goalie who has had to fight through ups and downs. Reimer will have to, as well. And if Reimer, still a young goalie, can work through this season and hang tough (and come back healthy next season), there is no reason to suspect the young man with the great disposition can’t be a star.
I’m guessing we’ll see Gus in Calgary, as the Leafs go back and forth waiting for one guy to take the ball and run with it.
But the bigger question is the one I posed above: what is Burke thinking? There’s the goalie question (if it is one in the brass’ mind). There the “team toughness” issue which I have harped on so much this season. And there’s the lingering memory of no one really standing up for Phaneuf a few games back, and the same thing happening with Kessel Saturday night against Montreal, when Subban hit Phil in the knee area.
Lots to consider, eh?
By all means share your thoughts. We have plenty of time to ponder things before Tuesday. The East is up for grabs. That has been clear all season. The team that wants the playoff spot the most will get it.