Friday, February 24, 2012
What a difference a year can make
Last year this time the Maple Leafs were well out of the playoff picture but playing like contenders. There was no pressure. Despite the fact that the team was officially out of the playoffs until later in the spring most players were playing for next season.
This season is so much different. For most of the season the Leafs have been in the top 8 in the East. The team is expecting to make the playoffs and those expectations add additional pressure that wasn't there last season. The team has far more depth and the only rookie currently in the lineup is Jake Gardner. Still the Leafs are the second youngest in the league and cracks are beginning to show as that pressure is wearing some of the players down particularly the goalies.
There may be too many holes to salvage the season. But I expect Brian Burke will try to salvage it without mortgaging the future. Something that previous Leafs GMs did not hesitate to do. So perhaps some cheap veterans might be brought in to help. Hopefully a goalie. It won't be Rick Nash but some size up front would help.
This past 2 weeks has exposed the Leafs weaknesses. Shaky goaltending seems to be paramount. Coach Wilson has the team playing a freewheeling style which has been very entertaining but has left his goalies overexposed. Yet when the tighten up defensively as they did last night against San Jose, the scoring chances are reduced to a trickle. The Leafs small forwards depend need lots of skating room to be effective. They aren't going to muscle their way to the net.
So in the next few days their may be some help coming but that won't necessarily resolve the fundamental weaknesses. At this point everyone would just be happy with a playoff berth. Strange things can happen, last night Winnipeg jumped from ninth place in the East to third.