Toronto Maple Leafs (16-15-7) VS Los Angeles Kings (25-12-2)
After last night’s impressive victory over the Anaheim Ducks on almost every count, including the one that matters in the end, the scoreboard, there is a mixed feeling of pride and panic among Leafs faithful. With the start to the season Toronto had, coupled with the underwhelming roster, it seemed we would be running draft stories at LeafsHub.com by now. That was the clear expectation, right? The team was going to work hard and lose. This is what we saw early, then came structure, effect of coaching, and the attention to detail through consistent effort took hold. So it was nice to see them get some wins and receive a pat on their back in November. Surely this team would have stretches of games where they would be victorious, but all in all the lack of talent would keep the Maple Leafs near the bottom. So we pretty much unanimously thought.
Now, Toronto is 8-2-2 in their last 12 and you start to think “Okay guys, jokes over.” Unfortunately, or fortunately, Mike Babcock doesn’t have or isn’t known for his great sense of humor. The Leafs are no joke and I’m curious now about his definition of pain. I was thinking like a broken femur or a thousand paper cuts followed by a dousing in vinegar. The coach’s version of pain seems more like a stubbed toe, intense but momentary. Watching the Leafs Blueprint series I couldn’t help picking up on something the man at the top, Brendan Shanahan said about the pain. It would be its worst the first couple of months. So, is that it? Is the tooth pulled and the cavities filled already? I feel like I was barely in the chair. I tweeted out last night Babcock is like an expensive auto mechanic who you take your car to expecting a huge bill and no car for a week. Then he calls you back in 45 minutes and says your car is fixed.
Do I actually think the car is fixed? Yes, yes I do. This car, the refurbished one, the one he’s done the body work on. No fear though Leafs fans worrying about the Shanaplan going off the road like the 18 wheeler come to know. This isn’t the car we will be driving into the future. Just merely a ride that was going to scrap, whose parts now may be sold for decent return. For those lamenting the loss of a top 5 pick, which isn’t completely gone but fleeting, I offer you another way of seeing the glass half full.
Let’s say the Maple Leafs are in dead last, or 28th, at the deadline. All set up for the draft. Well it’s time to make a trade and the phones are ringing. If we have lost that many games, guess what? Then the Leafs haven’t been playing very well. And who hasn’t been? I’d have to think the core group for losses to mount. A group you could add the UFA list to as well. Pretend the Maple Leafs are close to a playoff spot and the worst scenario plays out. 9th in the East, costing us 12 draft slots. I can assure that the team’s success will not change the plans of management, so you weigh the good and bad. Bad being losing out on a Laine, but taking a Gauthier or Jones instead. Here’s where and why I believe in “Just win baby”, other than because it’s the goal as a player every time you lace them up. The wins that took you out of a lottery have sky rocketed the value of Tyler Bozak. Nazem Kadri would fetch a huge return given his play and the optics of winning. PAP, JVR, whether or not you plan to move, this isn’t a bunch of losers anymore. Dion Phaneuf many said you couldn’t give away, You think a team like Dallas going for a cup run wouldn’t love to add what he is bringing right now. And I just have to say that I was hard on Jake Gardiner and his decision making in the past, but I think he’s settling in to be a very good player under Babcock. Or a guy used to fetch a Drouin or whoever. What about Morgan Rielly? He’s being asked to take on the top players in the league, not playing on the PP, still looking at 40 points, and isn’t losing confidence because he’s getting the job done that is being asked of him. A positive, a big time positive. The atmosphere in and around the Toronto Maple Leafs is as healthy as you could hope for.
My point in all of this? Winning is good.
Keeping that in mind, a win tonight against the Los Angeles Kings will not come easy. It appears James Reimer will get the nod tonight, his first game back in many moons, if you don’t include his one period return after Xmas. How much rust will there be and how much energy will the Maple Leafs have against a very good, and heavy, Kings squad? Another solid spin to the winning I spoke about is happening in net. Bernier has found his game and doesn’t have to spend his nights in the doghouse anymore. A healthy James Reimer, or so we hope, can only add to the situation working out well. The Maple Leafs could very well get a call on both goalies come February if an injury creeps up in another city.
I mentioned the Kings heavy style for the purpose of stating these are teams the Leafs have struggled with in the past. But now, with an 11-4 record against the West, you see they aren’t as overmatched by such opponents. Less time in the zone means less chance of being leaned on or worn down. The newly found puck support allows Toronto to get through the neutral zone easier, at the same time clogging it up for others. You can compare this team to years past all you want. Fact is, this is not that team. 11 new faces, some quality people, and more importantly new direction. Same core, yes, nonetheless a rejuvenated core, who I still believe will be moved though they’ve done everything asked of them. This all being said, the toughest hockey remains. Can the Leafs push on or will they fade?
My advice, relax and enjoy it. This is a win/win scenario for Leafs management. Lose out, we snag a great pick. Keep winning, possible playoffs and greater net return on the inevitable deals to come. Tonight, leave your tanks parked. Even toss the keys in a local river or dismantle it period and cheer the boys on. L.A. will be welcoming two new additions in Vincent Lecavalier and Luke “We got JVR for you” Schenn to their lineup and should be jacked up. I’m not predicting victory. What I will predict is the Maple Leafs will show up like they’ve done almost every single night this season. In assessing what we wanted after how last year made us feel, I think that’s a win right there.
Stay strong and stay patient, ShanaLamoHunteDubas have everything under control. If the playoffs or a run to get there is in the cards, have some fun with it. They are still going to make moves in February and the summer with the future in mind. As for Babcock, the guy is a winner. He just can’t help himself. Let’s see if our Buds can help themselves to two more points tonight. You might want to take a peek at the standings if they do.
Van Riemsdyk – Bozak – Parenteau
Grabner – Kadri – Komarov
Winnik – Arcobello – Lupul
Matthias – Holland – Boyes
Gardiner – Phaneuf
Hunwick – Rielly
Marincin – Polak
Lucic – Kopitar – Toffoli
Pearson – Carter – Gaborik
King – Lewis – Brown
Mersch – Andreoff – Nolan
McNabb – Doughty
Muzzin – Martinez
Ehrhoff – McBain