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Annoying commentators and the Phaneuf affect: When was the last time it was fun to look at the standings in Leafland?

Throughout the Hawk game Saturday night, I just kept thinking, "what if these guys still had Byfuglien... How good would they be?"

I still tend to think, as I posted this past summer (click on the link to see the story), that the Hawks have lost too many of the useful pluggers from last year's Cup squad to repeat.  But with a good young goalie now in place, who knows?

I must acknowledge I've been wrong this season about not only the Hawks but the Flames and the Devils, too.  I never thought the Devils would rebound as they have, though I remain convinced the Kovalchuk trade (and subsequent free-agent signing) was- and is - a huge error.  But they have been a strong team for weeks, as have the Flames, though the Flames still can't point to the trade with the Leafs last January as a good move.  That said, maybe Phaneuf just wasn't a chemistry fit there any more.

Whether the Flames are poised for success next season and beyond I don't know.  But they are in good form of late, just like the Devils and the Hawks.

One quick note:  credit to Stalberg, the ex-Leaf, who made a good hit on Aulie to start the sequence leading to Chicago's fourth goal.  No assist, but the Hawks don't score that goal without Stalberg's effort.  That goal more or less dashed Toronto's hopes of a comeback, though they came very close to making it 5-3 in the third with lots of time left.

Interestingly, despite their laudable run of late, the Leafs still have only 67 points in 66 games.  It feels like more.


Commentators have a lot of time to fill, I realize.  But here is something that I've noticed for many, many years:  how many times do we hear the analyst say "the goalie is on his knees too early..."?  The fact is, goalies nowdays, almost all of them, are often on their knees "too early".  But when they're hot (or fortunate) and the puck is hitting them, no one cares.  When a sniper picks that sweet spot just under the cross bar, the TV guys feel compelled to comment on how the goalie is going down too quickly.

Healy (the often caustic and unhappy-sounding ex-Leaf back-up) made this point, accurately, about Reimer at one point.  But not a word was said when, on one occasion that I noticed, Crawford was literally on his knees before a Leaf even took a shot.  I guess there was no comment because the shot didn't go in.


Despite Saturday night's loss, it feels as though there has been a sea change in Leaf country.

Where once the team gave up early goals and had to fight to come back, or would give up back-breaking goals late in a game, at this particular juncture in this particular season, the men in blue and white are playing consistently hard hockey.  They showed that again in the third period against Chicago, despite being down by four goals.  Brown was hammering guys and they kept trying to chip away.

Dion Phaneuf made a simple but interesting point the other day.  Two points, actually. One is that he has actually felt confident all season, despite what many have suggested   While he acknowledges he feels more "comfortable" on the ice now, he claims he hasn't really "changed" anything.

Two, the puck is simply “going in” for him now, as he put it.

I highlight this, I suppose, because this is precisely what I have been saying about Phil Kessel for months now.  We all get understandably excited when Kessel goes on a goal-scoring binge.  And there’s no question when a player is “feeling it” and has that confidence, it goes directly to his head and his feet.  It’s huge.

But sometimes, as I’ve posted here many times, the puck just happens to go in.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  When it doesn’t, it does not always mean a guy is therefore playing poorly.  We have to stand back and try to look at all the aspects of his game.

Yes, a scorer needs to score, if that’s a big part of what he is paid to do.  But we should always be cautious rather, than knee-jerk, when making our definitive analysis as to whether a guy is playing well or not.

(Perhaps tellingly, young Reimer made much the same kind of observation after a game where he gave up 5 goals a while back.  He said he felt good, but the puck, basically, was missing him.  Credit to the shooters, sometimes, eh?)

As for Phaneuf, I’m not so concerned about his goal-scoring.  It's great if he scores, but that's not the end all and be all.  His shot is his shot.  It can cause problems and often does, for the goalie.  But as I have written here, many of us have been waiting for “more” from him, in his overall game, pretty much from the time he arrived more than a year ago.

Personally, I have been wanting to see toughness and some hits, yes, but moreso just that feeling that you get as a fan when a reliable, tough defender is on the ice—that he is under control, knows what he’s doing and won’t let anything bad happen.

I haven’t always (or often, actually) felt that way with Dion this season.

At the moment, the mistakes are still there, sure, but there is more command, more presence, it feels like, in his overall game.

Am I just being swayed by a few goals and assists?  Hopefully not.  I’m looking at his play, at least trying to, beyond the obvious stuff that tends to turn our heads.

In any event, it’s been a few years since looking at the standings in March actually felt good.  The Leafs have played well of late, absolutely.  But to keep things in perspective, they have also been riding a very hot goalie and have been relatively injury-free compared with a host of teams like Pittsburgh, the Rangers, Montreal and some other Eastern Conference clubs.

But they’ve been doing what they have to do.  Just win, baby, as Al Davis used to say.

We'll all be looking to see how they respond against the Islanders.

1 comment:

  1. The reason Healey did not make a comment when Crawford went to his knees is because he is a bitter man who feels wronged by the Leafs organization when he was dismissed as a possible GM candidate for the Leafs years ago. I can't believe he's still allowed to commentate for Leafs games. To me, he has a clear dislike for the team. I remember Healey as a Leaf backup (and as an earlier commentator for CBC) and he had a light, self-deprecating sense of humour. Now, he's just, well, angry. It's disappointing and sad to listen to each Saturday.