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Leafs win in Winnipeg the way they’ll need to: patience, and staying with the plan

The Winnipeg Jets are one of the “bubble” teams that I believe the Maple Leafs will be fighting with as the blue and white vie for an (in recent years) elusive playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.  A come-from-behind victory was in fact an early-season four-pointer, and gave the Leafs some added life as they head to Montreal, with two consecutive road victories in their back pocket.

While it was not an overly flashy game, and our guys were far from perfect (I appreciated Carlyle’s candid comments after the game; he didn’t try to suggest the Leafs played well early on, just because they ended up winning), the Leafs were patient, stayed with their game plan and earned two very big points.  Bozak scored a beauty of a short-handed marker to tie things up at one in the second period.  And Matt Frattin was johnny-on-the-spot yet again, redirecting a Franson shot (now there’s a guy who can get the puck to the net from the point…) after Kadri was aggressive in keeping the puck in the Winnipeg zone.

On a late-game power play, you could almost feel the winner was on Kessel’s stick when Bozak  left a perfect drop pass for his goal-starved winger, who wristed it home under the crossbar with authority for his first of the season—and a true game-winner.

It was nice to see Reimer win in what was a “home” game for him.  He did what he had to do, and had zero chance at the second Winnipeg goal that changed directions in a big way—and looked to be standing up as the winner, until the late game heroics from Frattin and then Kessel.

Personally, I’m still not quite seeing what I’d like to see from certain players on a consistent basis, but what we are seeing is a pretty solid effort every night.  The Leafs have not really been walked over this season.  Physically, they are holding up.  They may not be the toughest team in the league, but I have not had a sense that they are being out-muscled on a regular basis in games.  They are playing what I might call persistent hockey.  They’ve certainly been good on the road.

I’ll keep saying it:  this team can make the playoffs in the East.  I am absolutely convinced the East is filled with what I called (above) “bubble” teams—squads that are not bad, but if any one of a number of things don’t go their way, they will struggle—just like the Leafs.  I think Montreal, Carolina, Winnipeg, the Isles, Panthers, Sabres and Washington are all in tough and none of them is a surefire playoff team.

Neither is Toronto, but we’re right there.  And as I’ve said before, it’s not that I have these lofty dreams for this season, but making the playoffs would be a step in the right direction for a program that has not given its young players a shot at spring hockey for too long.


  1. MIchael,

    It has long been my opinion, that in order to make the playoffs in any league, you need to consistently beat the teams that are below you in the standings. Last night, even though we would all agree they didn't play their best game, the team did just that. Went into Winterpeg and got two points, without giving up the stupid bonus point.

    One quarter of the season passes by the team on Saturday night in Montreal. As good a time to reflect as any, I suspect. The Leafs are in a playoff position, at present. There is still a lot of hockey to be played ahead of the team. So, I would suggest being cautiously optimistic. I have noticed a subtlety to your posts. I get the feeling that you are not in the bold prognostication business, and you do it intentionally. You have never said the Leafs will make the playoffs, just that they could. We are in agreement, it seems. The Leafs can make the playoffs. Whether or not they will is the real question. And if it benefits the team to squeak in and get their asses kicked if they do. I don't think finishing 8th does the team any favours. Its better to me than finishing 9th or 10th, solely for the playoff experience. But, not parade worthy, no matter how low the bar is set in Toronto, currently.

    Honestly, if they are going to finish 9th or 10th. I would rather they finish last overall, and get a better shot at a prime time player. Just my opinion, but, I see no benefit to the holding pattern of being mediocre and getting a mediocre pick as a result. The Leafs never stumble into a Claude Giroux, and I suspect that will continue for eternity.

    Reimer played another solid one last night. Didn't steal the game from the Jets, but he did enough to get the win. This team was in such a need for average goaltending, they are finally getting it. Good for James Reimer, and good for the Leafs. Perhaps getting rid of Allaire was a breath of fresh air.

    Montreal on Saturday night. Not much better in terms of hockey in my opinion. Hoping for a good game, and a win for our boys. I really hate the Canadiens, I may not have mentioned that before. Go Leafs Go!

  2. You are on the money, Jim: I'm not saying the Leafs will make the playoffs, simply that, given the make-up of our Conference, (a lot of middlish teams, frankly) there is no reason that we can't. Whether they actually make it, and whether the playoff "experience" thing I cite makes a whit of difference to our young players in the long run, I have no clue. You'd like to think the experience shouid help, but who really knows?

    I certainly see your point about finishing 8th/9th. We'd all love to see the Leafs get a truly elite prospect in the draft this summer. (While it may be too much of a certain type of player, it couldn't hurt to have assets like Gardiner, Rielly and Seth Jones in the system, eh?)

    But in the East, who knows. Is 6th place possible? Lots of struggling teams.

  3. Certainly Michael’s prognostications are looking accurate at the quarter point. In fact, they are coming true in every detail I can remember. I won’t make an analogy to the wise “village elder” because that might be annoying. And as we can tell from “Leaf Matters” Michael has a youthful spirit. Kidding aside, Leaf supporters would do well to listen to their elders, because by definition they have been through the wringer more than once and probably know a thing or two.

    Another thing that stands out for me is the little box on the corner of the Vintage Leaf Memories home page that says that 100% of voters are happy that the Leafs have not traded for another goaltender (at time of writing). I think Michael will vouch for me (if he is not annoyed by the elder thing) that I was one of the few if not only fans out there who felt that goaltending was not an issue. My position was that the goaltending could not be evaluated prior to this season for several reasons: 1. Reimer was forced to play injured last year and could not in fairness, perform to his abilities. 2. Scrivens was an unknown quality owing to his lack of testing at an NHL level. 3. Goal is a team position and the team played poorly in goal, diminishing the actual goaltenders' performance to a point that it could not be evaluated. 4. Goaltending management was abysmal. Later, we discovered that the assistant coaches were meddling with Allaire’s coaching. As a former keeper itching to come out of rectirement (pardon the neologism) I can say with total confidence this coaching foolishness guarantees failure, vividly illustrated by the declining and thoroughly confused performance of Jonas Gustavsson.

    On this last point, I would caution against simple St, Croix/Allaire cause-effect formulas (I think Reimer did too in a recent interview and it would not surprise me to hear St. Croix say the same). Reimer and Scrivens were still privately working with Allaire during the lockout to the best of my knowledge and the goaltender coach meddling is a nuclear no-no. That data is forever skewed by Reimer’s injury and several very ill advised moves by the non-goaltending coaching staff.

    However, what really blows me away is after all of the huffing and puffing in Leafland about the need for a veteran goaltender -- that conventional wisdom has almost completely if not completely evaporated. While I hate I told you so’s too – was there anyone else saying from beginning to end that goaltending was not the issue?

    Certainly, I was not the only one saying Luongo soft deal or no deal, that position has fortunately carried the day. And of course, we all know that there is a huge demand for Luongo’s contract (albeit situated entirely between Mike Gillis’ ears). I feel vindicated for now at least and relieved that neither Burke nor Nonis caved to fan pressure a la JFJ. It is always nice to discover that, as the lone voice in the woods you are not just delusional. Let's just hope that staying the course turns out to be the right course.

  4. Right off the top, Bobby C., I do not at all mind a reference to "village elder". In fact, if anyone thinks that way about me when it comes to the Leafs (or life), I would be pleased and feel quite complimented. I've followed the travails of this franchise for decades. While I would never suggest I have any special wisdom or insight into the team, I'd like to think I have some developed some 'acquired knowledge' along the way.

    I of course well remember your earlier posts with regard to the Leafs and the issue of what you quite properly call "goaltending management". Something was amiss in Denmark, and while we can't know precisely what it was, hopefully the 'climate' is a bit different now. My instincts suggest that there were issues with Alaire, whose "system" does not work for every goalie. However, as you say, Scrivens (and Reimer, too- I was not aware of that) worked a lot with Allaire last summer, so who really knows what was going on? We do know that being healthy makes a huge difference, and Reimer seems healthy.

    Your thoughts on Luongo are well entrenched in my memory bank as well. We never really disagreed. My contention was always that Gills would (and still is, evidently) hold out for a "hockey trade". Your view has consistently been that the Leaf should not touch that deal unless the return the other way was minimal.

    If Reimer can be a mid to somewhat upper-tier NHL goalie, that would be just fine until the other pieces of the blue and white puzzle fit together.

    Thanks Bobby.

  5. If "village elder" is taken I volunteer for "village idiot".

    Bobby C is right on with his goaltender analysis. I too was one of the guys that was dead set against trading for Luongo under any circumstances and I am glad to see Riemer playing so well. I am also with Jim on the finishing 9-10 and getting a medicore draft pick. If your going to miss, miss badly and get a blue chipper. That said although I have advocated being bad enough this year to get a top 2 pick if the Leafs can make the playoffs that would be just as good if not better. Just pick one or the other. This is where Nonis can distiguish himself form Burke. Properly judge where your team is at at act accordingly. No wishful hoping, no believing you have the best blue line in the game none of it. Make sure you know exactly what you have and put a plan in place to build on that something. The non Luongo trade makes me actually think that the Leafs have a plan right now and might actualy be turning the corner.

    PS. I just want to say how refreshing it is to watch a Leaf team play without all the damm drama. I know you have touched on it Michael but I am impressed with the quite professionalism of both Burke and Nonis. I look back at both Rielly being sent down and Gardiner going back to the AHL. Under Burke both would have warrented press conferences where Burke would have been compelled to talk about how good these kids were and how being sent down was not a reflection of what he thought about them and so on. It would have been a freaking gong show. With Nonis and Carlye it's just buisness. I ask when was the last time Nonis was all over the airwaves with some stupid rant? Sure he gives interviews but there just isn't the drama of Burke and Wilson. So far so good.

  6. Solid post Willbur.

    We can't know if Reimer will be the real deal, but regardless, I think we are all relieved that the organization has stepped back from the brink and not traded key futures (I think Gillis wants solid, young roster players in any deal) for an aging, if talented, goaltender.

    I'd like to see a legitimate playoff push. And I don't see this Leaf team finishing at the bottom of the standings under Carlyle, so the notion of a top three or better draft pick won't happen, in my view. We'll see, of course.

    Couldn't agree more about the quiet around the team and the ACC. No drama works for me. Just do the job, as I've written here many times. Thanks Willbur.

  7. We're at the quarter pole in the schedule, and I'd like to think I detect signs of this team jelling. And for me, it's already about the future. I like the direction we seem to headed in - the no-nonsense/no drama style of Nonis and Carlyle, the improved defence, goaltending, and forecheck. We're still very much a work-in-progress though, and wildly inconsistent from period to period. To be expected from a young team, of course.
    Can we make the playoffs? Sure. As you say Michael, at this point, that goal seems attainable given the relative weakness of many of the teams in the East. And I've read some veteran players saying that all playoff experience is valuable, so even if we were to make it and exit in the first round, it should still pay off in the future.
    All to say that, so far, I feel like we're finally on the right road. The young guys are playing well, there are more coming, and we're starting to develop an identity. I'd still like it if players stood up for each other a bit more - Kessel takes a lot of cheap shots, and Reimer took a shoulder to the head last night. (Granted, it was wise not to instigate something when we were tied late in the game, but I'd like to think someone got the number of the guy who fell into him.) If we can avoid the injuries so many teams seem plagued by, and continue the culture of accountability that Carlyle has brought to the table, then this year will certainly see us taking crucial steps on or way back to the Playoff Promised Land.

  8. You covered the bases, Gerund O'. Some nice signs, a seemingly strong direction going forward. Playoffs would mean valuable experience, presumably, and that alone makes that "goal" worthwhile.

    If this team can avoid a slump in this mini-season, who knows? Thanks Gerund.