I’ll start with the obvious: I have no answers for whatever ails the current Leafs. Oh, I can speculate about all the things we’ve discussed here for weeks off and on: the disconnect between the players and the coach seems to be growing. The coach continues to put, it seems, square pegs into round holes. There is little discernible leadership. (I’m referring to meaningful leadership that actually shows itself when a team needs it.) There is no playoff-proven experience, or at least not nearly enough. No stud centers. Not enough help for Phaneuf on defense. Playing a system the players don’t believe in.
But the truth is I have no idea how much any of that is really the problem. I have a sense those are real issues, but I just don’t know.
We do know this: Reimer was not the answer on Thursday night. That said, I was hardly expecting him to come off a prolonged absence (punishment?) and play lights out. It could have happened, I suppose, but is it realistic to expect a guy who has clearly been marginalized to play with a great deal of confidence?
And let’s be honest: does anyone really think his teammates were any better? Reimer critics will say he should have bailed them out. I say, a team that is really a team would have seen exactly the box he has been placed in by the brass (and the coach), and played their guts out for him under the circumstances.
They didn’t, and were full measure for a 6-1 loss against a team that scares, well, no one. (Quick aside; does anyone have a stat regarding how many back-up goalies the Leafs have played over the past three seasons? It sure seems like a lot…)
And maybe that’s precisely the point. The Leafs, while certainly capable of playing well at times and loaded with promising talent, scare no one right now. There is no part of their game (oh, sure, speed, but if it’s not used properly, it’s not especially helpful) that scares anyone right now. And unless the goalkeeping finds the form that we all witnessed through the first half of the season, the mood around the team could slide even further.
I don’t doubt the Leafs can rebound and play better against the Caps Friday night. They’ve had some good games in Washington in recent years. I’m sure Bernier will be looking to rebound after two tough losses. While we aren’t exactly at the point in the season where they can’t afford a loss, you don’t want to go much longer without a) a win and b) much better overall efforts, with each player contributing.
It was only a few days ago that the Leafs had won three in a row (albeit only one in regulation) and fought the elements to beat a good Detroit team in the Winter Classic. We all can recognize they are capable of solid play. We’ve seen it. But we also need to see a team that plays a lot better together, and also plays (at least in my view) with a lot more heart.
You know how people often say, “well, such and such a team played a really good road game…”? Well, we can’t say that about the Leafs on Thursday night. It doesn't feel as though they should have been very tired after that one, though I guess chasing the play all night could be fatiguing.
The players can’t help but notice things, too. As we mentioned here the other day, why is Peter Holland talked about as a possible second-line center one day, and then sent down to the Marlies almost the next day? What message does that send? Maybe the players are confused, too, though I’m not of a disposition to let them off the hook.