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Can we (Leaf fans) exhale now?

I had no idea what to expect Thursday night at the ACC.  I mean, the Leafs were hardly coming into this one on a roll. But Lupul guaranteed a win, right?  So you had to know he and his teammates at least intended to come out flying.

They started nicely, only giving up a handful of shots in the opening frame, and getting a goal from their fourth line (Bodie).  Now, as the evening progressed, we started giving up some time and space.  They were still playing reasonably well, but Toronto did slip into a bit of the ‘Keystone Kops’ routine in our own zone at times.

Reimer was suddenly seeing more shots, and eventually Gunner couldn't get the puck out. We started running around, fatigued, and Reimer gave up one (was it deflected somehow?) that he may well have wanted back with about five minutes left.

But let’s focus on some positives:

  • I thought Franson showed some of the offensive spark that we all know he can provide from the back end
  • You’ve got to be a confident player to try what Kadri did late in the third period when he dangled and set up Kessel for what was nearly the game-winner. Wow.
  • While I’ve seen Reimer put up some more dynamic performances (and yes, that late goal stung), c’mon, given that he ended up facing 35 shots and the team was coming off a miserable week of games—the win against Chicago aside—I feel he more than did his job.
  • Clarkson must have been doing something right—the coach played him for close to 22 minutes.
  • It’s becoming hard to ignore that if Holland gets to play, he can make a contribution.
  • Phaneuf played 28 minutes and led the team in hits by a wide margin.
  • I’m always confident with Reimer in a shoot-out. We won’t always win, but I always feel as though he will give us a chance to win.

It’s a time to think positively, so there you have it. It was a win—and two badly needed points.

By all means share some of the positives you noticed (and anything else on your mind)…


  1. Clarkson probably prevented an A-1 scoring chance on a back-check that could've been a tap-in without his responsible effort with about 13-14 minutes to go in the 3rd (I think).

    Also, pleased with Liles and Rielly on the Ribiero chance - speed sure helped them take that chance away (though I doubt Fraser would've had to make that effort because he wouldn't have been so deep on offense to begin with :)

    Morgan also had a couple noticeable takeouts on defense where he contained his man quite effectively (even if there were a couple oops along the way, he seems to bring a lot to the table for a young guy).

    I was also happy to see Carlyle taking a timeout when it was appropriate for a tired group. And I'm liking Holland's responsible play... hope he gets a little more out of his skating when he gets the chance to work with Barb Underhill. He looks like he might have another gear with a bit of guidance.

    All in all, it was a responsible and entertaining effort with a pretty impressive shootout goal by Lupul to seal the deal.

    Time to 'just breathe'...

    1. Great points all, InTimeFor62. I noticed Liles' make-up speed, too. Good stuff. And yes, Lupul rocketed that shoot-out marker home. Amen to all that you wrote.

  2. a win is a win is a win. I think it gets over analysed how the leafs win rather than just getting the two points. What a goal by Lupul! the compete was better and the epitome of this was Liles coming back and winning the race to break up the breakaway.Bring on the Wings!

    1. Yes, I've said it often here, purch - paralysis by analysis. I sense the players go through that sometimes, too...

  3. Michael
    I would add to your list the fine play of Rielly - at both ends of the rink - and his pairing with Liles. I thought they have looked good together as a dynamic yet responsible defence pair.

    1. Agreed, Ed. We might not have thought of Liles when he first arrived years ago as the defensively responsible wise old defense partner, but he just may be that with young Rielly!

  4. The highs and lows are getting old, but the Leafs are 4-6 in December. As long as they can keep treading water until they get it together things will be OK.

    Add me to the list of people who were impressed by Rielly. Even on the play where he was penalized; I didn't like the fact that he was beaten, but I liked how quickly he recognized the situation he had placed himself in and took a good penalty to negate an excellent scoring chance.

    1. Exactly why I wanted to focus on the "positives" after this game, Oliver. It gets tiring to constantly talk critically. We need to be realistic, but when there are bright spots, we should focus on those, too.

  5. Hi Michael.
    I expected the win tonight when I heard this morning Reimer was in. I knew he'd be ready to compete. I would have liked to see him with the shut-out. The fore-check seemed to be missing towards the end.
    I'm impressed with Holland too. He's very effective where ever Randy puts him. A very pleasant surprise from a new young addition still learning the systems.
    Nice to see an energetic fourth line -with a goal to boot.
    Leaf centers are like the unlucky crew members on Star Trek in the red shirts. Now Sundin is injured. Knocking on wood. C.N.

    1. Hi C.N.- I was surprised that Reimer got the start, but he earned the win, though Smith made some fine saves at the other end.

  6. Joe Colborne had 8 points in 33 games with the Flames. Peter Holland has 8 points in 15 games with the Leafs. I would much rather Holland. I think we can get over Colborne now.

    Holland is only 22 and already has decent size at 6'2" and 194 lbs. He could easily be playing at 210 lbs when he is 27 and in his prime. With size, speed, and hands he could be allot to handle.

    Interesting fact, our little ex Leaf, Alexander Steen has filled out to a very strong 212 lbs even though he is only 5'11" That's part of the reason he is succeeding. I doubt many saw him playing at that weight. I still hate that trade. Imagine, he could be our first line center right now.

    1. If Holland can emerge, it could go a ways to smoothing over our centre ice situation in the years ahead.

      As for Steen, yes, he has emerged over time as a wonderfully effective two-way player- just like his Dad was. Thanks DP.

  7. Hi Michael
    Its easier to focus on the posivitives after a win. But us Leaf fans recently almost had no choice to state the obvious which was the negatives during our recent losses. It is most refreshing that we won more than anything else.

    It starts in goal, as Reimer played like Reimer. His resiliency to simply fight and battle the puck all night long putting the team on his back to doing whatever it takes to win the game. He knew his team needed a stellar performance and delivered. Reimer, we can see is very hard on himself and his concentration with traffic infront and ability to fight to keep the puck out is amongst his greatest strengths.

    The Kadri, Kessel line could have easily had a couple of goals tonight if it wasn't for a world class goalie at the other end. Loved how Kadri made that pass to Kessel late in the third.

    Carlyle has often been preaching to simplify the game and getting the puck to the net with bodies in front. Our first goal was a bi-product of just that with the body in front being Bodie.

    This game we saw our team who has lost some of our key centers to injury, play as though it wasn't going to let that get to them. Although we were not so great on the faceoffs we still played to our strengths without the puck for the better part of the game. The players kept themselves in good positions, adjusting our weaknesses even when we didn't start with the puck.

    This game should solidify two defencemen to be on the roster for the rest of the season barring any more injuries. Knock on wood, brick, steel, plasic, glass.... Reilly and Liles were dependable defensively and controlled the breakout well. The extra effort in overtime when the Phoenix player almost had a breakaway with Reilly and I think it was Liles breaking it up almost effortlessly without taking a penalty is what brought me out of my seat. Now that's the kind of effort we need to see more of!
    In transition, Reilly came oh so close to potting in the winner on the in suing rush.

    This game is an indication why we really don't need McLaren or Orr in the lineup at least both of them together at the same time.

    Another key was not taking too many penalties. It kept a certain flow to our lines and kept our defensive players from being taxed for being out there too long.

    We had earlier in the season seen both of the moves in the shootout that JVR and Lupul pulled off. I guess if has worked before, then keep to your strenghts and why not try it again. It worked out for both of them resulting in goals.

    Its nice to see a call go our way and let the JVR goal count, as we had been on the receiving end of some bad calls during the last month.

    Good game, good result, this time I hope with more conviction, something to build from.

    1. Great post, BlueANDwhite. The Liles play was key, for sure and not taking a penalty was huge. Rielly has come close to ending a few overtimes this season. Lupul wouldn't be denied. Common sense (not video "conclusiveness" so much) justly gave us the van Riemsdyk shoot-out goal. A night for positives. We'll see about momentum. Thanks BlueANDwhite.

  8. I've had no difficulty breathing at any point this season even through this latest difficult stretch because I know that this is a very young team (third youngest in the league I think was said during a recent broadcast), with a new coach (those calling for his head need to be reminded that this is his first proper full season with the team and that he is, therefore, not going anywhere unless the big bosses all go collectively insane) and a new roster that has been plagued by injuries and suspensions. After having seen what the Leafs can do in the last shortened season and after the off-season moves that gave Carlyle the team he wanted I've forgotten where the panic button is on the keyboard.

    I remember last year in the early going, when everyone was healthy (except for Lupul of course), Carlyle kept juggling line combinations and playing people out of their comfort zone (remember Kostka and Holtzer experiments, Grabo being relegated to the 3rd and 4th lines etc.?) until, later in the season, and especially in the series against Boston, everything started clicking and our Leafs looked like a complete team holding their own against the beast that’s been intimidating them and just plain beating them for so many years. I think the same thing is happening again this year – Carlyle is getting to know his players and he’s getting them used to playing different roles, he’s trying to build a team that will be able to battle through adversity when adversity hits, he’s still experimenting and laying the groundwork for the later part in the season when the results really matter and for the playoffs when all that practice with different linemates and in different roles becomes relevant. In other words, what I think is happening right now is, Carlyle is developing players and a system, teaching these young players skills that they will need to have in order to be able to go all the way.
    Which brings me to the often discussed question of ‘team identity’. Carlyle is refusing to give into the temptation to let it all hang out so-to-speak and let the ‘speed’ and ‘skill’ dictate this team’s game because he knows that the teams that do that (Capitals, Bolts, Philly, Leafs under Wilson) cannot compete when it matters and have a slim chance of taking the big prize. (I am tempted to throw Pens into this category, as they’ve shown glimpses of that kind of play, but I refrain because they are an anomaly because of Sidney Crosby – the kid just makes the impossible possible and ‘sense’ can be thrown out of the window). Anyhow, without Carlyle, the Leafs are a rush team that scores a lot and gives up a lot, but also a team that will not be able to compete against disciplined, experienced, tough, hitting, checking teams that come out on top in the post-season. That’s why he insists on the defensive, role-playing, every-night the same kind of game and demands of all his players to be able to back-check, make smart decisions with the puck in the defensive zone and make sure they are covered when pinching. Carlyle is building a team whose ‘identity’ is a complete game – a team that can cycle, that can collapse, that can hit and that can score off a rush but also from the point, off a cycle and by crashing the net. I really think it’s working, slowly but surely, he’s getting defence out of Gardiner and Reiley, Kessel and Holland, JVR and Lupul, a cycle from Kessel and Kadri, scoring from Bolland and Raymond... Clarkson is gonna break out I’m thinking sooner than later with the scoring, his cycle and board game is already here.

    1. I thought I'd reply to your first post because you reminded me of the kinds of thoughts that I was having previously, yet missing some pieces of the puzzle that I feel you have 'put in place' with a broader perspective than I had attained. Thank you for sharing your insight and providing an overview that surely could help us all breathe easier as you have been doing with your 'higher' perspective. I really appreciate how you pulled all these pieces together and made sense of it all!

      While many seem ready to nail Carlyle to the wall for 'failing to see what type of team he has and "should be" utilizing better' - if I hear you correctly, Carlyle is asking us to wait while he trains our guys to be more than they think they can be...

      AND, if they can become more than they presently are, then we're in for a treat when the playoffs come around.

      I sure hope that's exactly what's going on and thank you for leading me to that conclusion. I will watch, hopefully, for the fruit of this perspective to bud on the Leafs...

  9. Why are the results not there? To say that injuries and suspensions are BS excuses is a cliché and that is all it is – a cliché. Of course injuries and suspensions matter. They may not matter to Pittsburgh, Boston, or Chicago because these teams have experienced rosters that have played together for years and good coaches that have had years to institute their system but they sure as hell matter to a young, inexperienced team with the new coach who just got a first crack at a roster resembling what he has in mind and as soon as he got it he lost 4 key pieces that his system is built around (Bozak, Bolland, Clarkson and Orr/McLaren). And of course it makes sense that the young Leafs came out on the losing side of a stretch that had them facing, like, 6 best teams in the league out of 10 games played in December. It’s not an ‘excuse’ – it’s a reality - nobody in the league is beating these guys right now, why would we without our top 2 centres or missing our only experienced defenseman for two of those games? If anything I think we should be happy to have beaten Hawks (for the first time in ten years!) and gave LA a run for their money.
    So, the Leafs are not where they want to be right now but they are still in the mix and are only going to get better as the youngens develop under the patient and competent tutelage of a Cup-winning coach.
    By the way, I’m really liking how Reimer and Lupul stepped up to take that 2nd point in the shootout – the leaders are emerging – Reimer out of nowhere with a wake-up call just as many were beginning to write him off. I was never a big fan but I gotta give it to the kid – he stepped up with just the right attitude and at just the right time.
    I’m thinking it’s downhill from here – the schedule is getting lighter - Buffalo, Rangers, Detroit, Carolina; Bozak is skating and the wounded soldiers (Orr and McLaren, Fraser and Ranger) are resting... I think it’s time to enjoy some wins.

    1. Thanks leafdreamer. While I may not be quite as positive as you, I see your perspective, I think.

      VLM regulars may recall that I spent most of last season talking about Carlyle and his desire/need to "experiment"- to see what pieces fit where. He was still new to the roster at the time and knew he had precious little time to make the playoffs in a short season.

      Now, I'm a little less patient, but I do understand what you are suggesting about his insistence on sound play all over the ice. That's always been the key to playoff success- that, along with goaltending, shot-blocking, plain old-fashioned desire and yes, skill guys doing what they do.

      I'm not as convinced we are forging an identity. I don't see it right now. Glimpses, yes, but for me, that's not an identity. That's just an inconsistent team, or at least players who are not truly committed to excellence.

      Buit like you, I'm looking for positives. Thanks leafdreamer.