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Maple Leafs 1 v. Avalanche 4: Better's Not Good Enough

The Toronto Maple Leafs fell 4-1 to the Colorado Avalanche which should come as no surprise to anyone that has ever had hope that the Maple Leafs would improve. The mittenstringers are already talking about the worst start in franchise history but as 1967ers pointed out the team started 1-12-3 in 1985-86. Things could definitely still get a lot worse. Not to mention that the Damoclean Sword of a traded first round pick is still hovering over the head of this team.

When the biggest saves of the night are made by Ian White, a defenceman (nice to see the moustache back in force), then you know that your team is in trouble. When the goals against include a kicked in goal (at least logically speaking not by the ridiculous NHL rule) and an absolutely ridiculous one that will never be repeated that goes in off of Mike Komisarek's head then you know that your team is not getting the bounces. I'd make a joke about having to suffer before reaching the promised land but the Leafs have been wandering the desert for even longer than the Israelites and they made Golden statues of their false idols instead of photoshops.

Right now this team is playing like a group of guys terrified to make mistakes and when a bounces goes against them you can see the energy sap out of the team. At this point it's hard to say what the team needs other than to get a bounce to go their way. They were going gangbustes until the first goal was scored. The coach benching players had a marginal effect on the team's play as did changing the goalie. The Leafs have made baby steps in improving their game but it has not been enough. Some are clamouring for a captain to be named but wouldn't a candidate have stepped up before now with the play needed to change the team's momentum?

  1. Based on later play Ian White should have stayed in front of this shot instead of trying to get out of the way because all he accomplished was to screen Joey MacDonald more completely than any Leaf forward has done to the opposition.
  2. What do you think is more painful to watch on this goal: Tomas Kaberle's pathetic stick check attempt or Joey MacDonald's slide out of position. Just an absolute killer of a goal at a horrible time
  3. Hey! Leafs score! MO-MEN-TUM! MO-MEN-TUM! What is Ponikarosvky doing?
  4. Fuck. Not only is it a kicking motion for anyone that's ever seen a game of soccer but it's Darcy Tucker scoring. I kept waiting for the Leafs to get a second so that it would be the GWG.

I mean, look at this goal:

g/t Puck Daddy

Honestly, without sounding too "woe is us", who the hell does that happen to but the Leafs?!?! And if I feel like that it's pretty damn certain that, especially judging by Komisarek's downtrodden visage, the players feel the same way and that's a lot of trouble. 

But there is some good news:

  • Joey MacDonald was an improvement over Vesa Toskala if only because .857 is indeed better than .812.
  • The team forechecked aggressively and cleared rebounds well for the first 10 minutes of the game which actually stands among the longest (if not the) stretch of hockey from the start of a period that the Leafs have gone without giving up a goal.
  • Viktor Stalberg is back and he looks like he's shaken off the effects of the concussion.
  • Tyler Bozak looked ready for the NHL and now we hopefully won't have to see him leave
  • The forwards managed to draw some penalties because of their aggressive play
  • The Leafs are going undefeated over the next three days

You guys probably saw at least a few things to give a bit of hope. Let's hear 'em or we'll all end up with ulcers. Not to mention that Jonas Gustavsson should be back  by Saturday and the team has only one game in 10 days. Ron Wilson's at a bit of a loss but if he's worth his salt this should give him the chance to get this team back on track. Jonathan Willis has a good post over at Hockey or Die! looking at the Leafs' shooting and save percentages and he notes that like all averages they'll eventually regress to the mean (terrible news for Kessel, great news for this team):

None of this is to say there aren't problems that need to be dealt with, but right now a lot of the panic is being caused by a team so unlucky that it's like they're playing the best goaltender since the lockout every night and icing a guy worse than the worst goaltender since the lockout every single night.  It won't continue.

But that's not all of the silver lining:

In other words, simply by changing the percentages to those of the worst team in recent memory, the Leafs improve their goal differential by 62%.  That's almost two-thirds of the way to being an even team right there.  In other words, there's simply no chance that they aren't a far better team than they've shown to date.

We're currently in the midst of a slice of the schedule that would be painful to endure during the middle of the regular season but it is outright torture to have it come at the beginning of the season. I refuse to believe that this team is as bad as it has looked on the ice for the majority of the time this year. There are still lots of changes that can be made and lots of time to make them.

So it's back to the drawing board for Ron Wilson and the Leafs as they wait for the bounces to start going their way or, most importantly obviously, look for ways to make the bounces go their way.