Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Jumping on and off the Leafs bandwagon can be tiring

I guess a sign that the Leafs are an improving team is that several seasons ago they would have 3 bad games before they would play a good game. You would wonder why is that one night in the week they would look great and the other games that week they would look pathetic. Well this season it's more like one good game for every bad game. Yet you still wonder why they can't be more consistent. One of the reasons the Leafs haven't made the playoffs since 2004 is there have been very few stretches of good hockey in the past few years. Last season there was a strong run in January and February but that could not make up for a stretch of futility that lasted for much of the first half of the season.

Well last night was one of those good games where the Leafs beat the Islanders 3-0. It was against one of the weaker teams in the league but in today's NHL anything less than a full effort will not earn you a win, even against weaker opponents. Most Leafs fans fall into the bandwagon jumpers because years of futility have created years of frustration. So a bad game brings on doubt and pessimism. Fans of strong teams brush off weak performances as just one of those things that happen over a 82-game schedule. Not in Toronto.

Good - I'm not a huge Jonas Gustavsson fan but when you earn a shutout you did something right. He still lets in weak goals but it's happening less often. He's not spectacular but over the past two months he gives the team a chance to win in most games. Last night he stopped all 25 shots though New York had few good scoring chances. The team played well in front of him but he made no mistakes.

Bad - Not to much to criticise last night. The Leafs played hard in the first but I thought they took the pedal off the gas a bit in the second and needed a strong third to clinch the win. You would like to see a solid 60 minutes once in a while. It might have been one of those games where if New York had been able to tie the game up, the momentum might have shifted and ended quite differently.

Good - Matthew Lombardi had his best game last night scoring twice which gives him 4 goals in the past 4 games. His skating has always been there but for much of this season his timing, shot and puckhandling have been inconsistent. You might have thought that after missing last season his game would have returned quicker. But everyone is different. In fact it took Joffrey Lupul even longer to return to form.

Bad - Although Phil Kessel scored a lovely goal on a pass from Lupul, this line has lost some of its lustre lately. They are a defensive liability when matched up against an opponent's top line. That's why Grabovski's line starts every game and was matched up against John Tavares' line last night. If it wasn't Grabovski's line it was Steckel's line. The coach isn't showing much confidence in that line right now. Earlier in the season you would see Kessel out on the ice in the last minute of a close game but not at the moment. Perhaps a bona fide 1st line centre will make a difference.

Good - The Leafs played with a lot of discipline last night which cut down on scoring chances and in powerplay opportunities. In fact for the second game this month the Leafs did not play a man short at all. Over the past 10 games the Leafs have only had to kill 16 penalties and have been successful in each instance. Games are won and lost on the powerplay and if this trend continues then the Leafs' chances in making the playoffs improves considerably.

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