How often have we discussed here at VLM over the years that, when the Leafs are winning and climbing the standings, it’s easy to see all the good stuff in their game. It doesn’t necessarily mean we don’t observe the issues that are still behind the curtain. We simply focus on the positives. The guys with talent (Kessel, Kadri, Bozak, van Riemsdyk, Lupul, etc.) are scoring and making plays. The goalies play really well and the defense corps is, well, good enough.
Is this time really any different, I wonder?
Wasn’t it a year ago when Leaf fans were feeling pretty darn good heading into the Christmas break? I may be misremembering, but weren’t we near the top of the Eastern Conference standings? Weren’t we in a similar boat in Ron Wilson’s final year as head coach? That wasn’t that long ago.
Of course this team is different than those squads, but I recall that we Leafers were feeling pretty heady about things back then. Of course, we know how those movies ended.
That all said, I guess my real question today is: can we, as Leaf people, really step back and assess how good this team is when things are going their way? Lately, there hasn’t been that much to pick at in their overall game, eh? They haven’t given up a ton of goals most nights; they score enough. I don’t know if I can exactly call them gritty, but they seem a bit more persistent, maybe.
And, hey, they’re winning. 35 points in 28 games puts them in 7th overall in the East, if I’m not mistaken, with games in hand on the Habs.
Of course, we know they need to go on the road, and that’s usually tough. But Wednesday night’s come from behind win in Detroit opens the door to the possibility that the Leafs can at least survive a dose of road games without losing all the momentum they have built up.
Do they have enough leadership? Team toughness? Are they good enough in their own zone (and will they be) against very good teams? What about their ‘will’ to win?
We’ve discussed all these things and more in recent times, and the questions, to me, are still in play. We’ve proven precious little with a nice little run of late.
But it’s been better than losing.
It was good to see Reimer earn a win in a building that was kind of the beginning of his late season struggles a year ago. That was a stellar performance against the Wings. Yes, he caught some breaks. But he made saves all night long. After not playing for so long, we had no idea what we would get. It’s such a difficult spot for Reimer, or any back-up goalie, to be in.
It’s certainly a different experience watching Reimer compared with Bernier. You watch Bernier and everything seems to be in order. He’s calm, composed, doesn't move a ton. He’s a bit like some college professors—quiet and efficient, but not flashy.
You watch Reimer and he’s often (not always) all over the place, sliding, sprawling, arms and legs extended. But like Dominik Hasek in his own way, when Reimer is on, he stops pucks.
Importantly, he was calm and composed when he had to be, too, including when a Detroit forward broke in alone for a clear shot with less than ten seconds remaining in regulation time. Reimer made the save, not only preserving a sure point for the team, but giving them a chance to take two—which they went on to do.
For quite some time now I’ve felt very good whenever we go into a shootout with Reimer in goal. I always feel we will win.
Reimer has very little wiggle room left in Toronto. Any time he plays a bad game, he’ll be on the bench for weeks, possibly, as was the case last season. I’d like to see him get a chance elsewhere, but who really needs a goalie?
We’ll see if Reimer can stay composed and mentally embrace the underdog role and be a rock more often than not when the Leafs do turn to him. I still think we may need him before this season is out.
I did not read the story, but I saw a headline in the mainstream media the other day that called on the Leafs to make it a priority to sign Cody Franson.
It’s funny how quickly things change. In Franson’s case, it feels like we have gone back and forth on this almost since the day he arrived from Nashville.
At his best, he provides capable play—a guy who can provide offense at times, play physically at times, and be reliable more often than not. When his game goes south, we have also thought of him as someone who is not indispensible.
While it always seems like a good idea to sign deserving players to extensions, sometimes doing so when a team is winning is not the right time to do it. If they give Franson what he wants and his play becomes problematic, we’re talking about buyer’s remorse again.
Hockey, like other sports, has too often become about getting out of “bad contracts” that a player’s current club happily agreed to. Is Franson really worth a big money extension?
There’s room for debate, I think.
Back to my question of the day: how do we assess a team when they are hot?
Good coaches are often harder on their team when they’re winning. It’s when their players are struggling that the coach becomes more patient, listens, tries to motivate, encourage and inspire in order to rebuild that all-important level of confidence that a team needs to thrive.
That’s why, as fans, it’s a good time now, while the team is doing well, to appreciate the good run but also to analyze what they need to do to be more than just another playoff-possible team in April.