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Preview: Maple Leafs versus That City Sherman Burned Down

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Pre-game: 7pm LeafsTV
Broadcast: 7:30pm TSN
Post-game: 10:30pm LeafsTV
Internet Streams: Check here and here

I wonder if anyone ever made Aki Berg a similar tribute

Previous Meetings

Final - 11.25.2008 1 2 3 Total
Atlanta Thrashers 1 3 2 6
Toronto Maple Leafs 0 1 2 3

Complete Coverage >

Final - 12.22.2008 1 2 3 Total
Toronto Maple Leafs 2 1 3 6
Atlanta Thrashers 0 1 1 2

Complete Coverage >

Two games in just over a week against the same team surrounded by vastly different. A week ago the Leafs were apparently a team in the ascendancy picking up their fifth win in six games while being backstopped by the goalie of the future. Tonight, they are a team in freefall, losers of three straight including one massive blowout, and will be led out onto the ice by a player whose fearsome nickname belies the cuddly nature of his goals against average.

What's the cause of the shifting fortunes?

I think we need better leadership so we're more consistent – that's an issue we're trying to address. It's an issue of a mediocre team – consistency. If we are more consistent, that would change.

Ron Wilson

The vacuum in which the Leafs find themselves is puzzling. So puzzling that it has Mark Zwolinski arguing against himself:

The Leafs are five points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and the players firmly believe they can prove the naysayers wrong and battle for a post-season berth down to the wire.

The numbers, however, tell a different story. After winning five of their first 11 games – with three of the losses coming in either overtime or the shootout – Toronto has responded with an uninspired 9-13-3 mark.

The numbers seem to prove that the Leafs are in fact close to their goal of proving the naysayers wrong don't they? Not that it matters because there is a leadership vacuum. And why is that? The team is rotating five alternate captains through the three slots and nominally making one of them captain each game so what's the problem? Identity.

Yes, the Leafs are, on most nights when I am not there, the never surrender, always attack, and skate hard team. Beyond that they lack what they used to possess. In the Fredo days we knew that the Leafs were his team. Any time anything was needed he was there with his summer teeth and big goofy grin to give us just what we wanted. Big penalty kill? Check. Tying goal? Hope you like it in the last minute. Game winner? Watch it come with three players on my back. And on and on and on. He was the face of the team always ready to face the onslaught of press. Now it's a hodge podge of faces. That's why the Leafs need John Tavares and Luke Schenn.

The team needs an identity beyond the little engine that could vibe because that team never does. Think of Yzerman's classy Wings or Colorado's quietly confident Avalanche or Modano's underrated Stars. They all took on the characteristics of their leaders. Unfortunately, Stajan's bedroom eyes, while catnip for the ladies, aren't going to lull the opposition into doing the butt lift and letting the Leafs slot some shots past the goalie. In Schenn the Leafs have one massive building block but they need to start adding more.

Now, no one is asking fans to start fan-tanking for all of the good reasons outlined by St. Louis Gametime. Obviously, that list begins and ends with "Fans don't tank" but you can temper your expectations. Losses to Atlanta suck and they kill any nascent hopes for the playoffs but in this season they don't hurt as much because they move the Leafs closer to picking up a big piece of the puzzle. Think of that as Old Yeller watches another Kovalchuk wrister fly over his shoulder.