Let me preface this article with a fact: I am terrified I’m about to jinx our blue and white. Maybe that’s just how I’ve been conditioned as a long-standing Leaf fan. It haunts me to think positive thoughts about the team because every time it enters my mind that the boys might be rollin,’ all I can hear is Glenn Healy’s wretched assertion the Leafs had it all wrapped up in Boston with 11-minutes left in Game 7. We all know exactly where that took us. In any case, here we are 36 games into the season, the Christmas break within arm’s reach, a favorable schedule to get us there and an 8-4 record in 12 games under Keefe. Are things looking up? I know it’s dangerous, but let me get started with some optimistic warm takes for the Leafs moving forward.
Has the Great Dane taken a Step Forward?
Frederik Andersen has been absolutely lights out since November 1st. Notoriously Freddy’s Octobers have been good, not great. November and the rest of the way is another story. Watching him over the past month and a half has been nothing short of inspiring. Andersen’s stats are above average, but the thing that impresses me most is his ability to make big saves when the team needs them. He’s leading the league in wins, became the fastest European goalie to 200 wins and finally, possesses an incredibly calm, unshakeable demeanor even though he’s often situated within arguably the highest-pressure market in the NHL has me believing Andersen has finally matured into the guy that can sustain this ‘come from behind’ push.
Call me nuts, but Keefe’s leadership style is finally rubbing off on this offence. Matthews hands have been hotter than the desert he was brought up in. I know he’s still been a little bit inconsistent, but his creativity and the flashes of off the charts talent as of late seems like maybe Keefe has found a way to wrestle his mind free of the Babs-imposed-mental-leash. Willie’s infamous half-wall pull-up has more recently become a creative confident threat. Marner, JT and Hyman are back to their old ways. Most importantly; secondary scoring is on the rise! Engvall looks strong and confident. Kerfoot is starting to find his rhythm again. Mikheyev must be back on his borscht diet with 3 goals in his last 3 games. Hell, even the Goat has hit the net a time or two over the last week. This isn’t news to any of us, I realize. I get the feeling that things are starting to gel for an offence that many of us gave no time for building chemistry in the beginning.
Justin Holl. What a season this guy is putting together. Only recently has his ability to shut down top-opposition AND join the rush become so clear. In the team’s latest games against St. Louis, Van City, Calgary, Edmonton, Buffalo and the Blue Shirts; Holl not only shut down McJesus, but also limited Petterson, helped hold the Blues offence to two and then had a primary assist on a huge goal versus the Rangers Friday night. I have to piggyback on O-Dog’s comments; it’d be amazing to see where Holl’s development might be at now had he not sat 70-games last season. He’s truly turning into a top-4 d-man in front of our very eyes.
Now, I don’t want to get ahead of myself here, or be perceived that way. For all you cliché closet Leaf fans; I’m not ‘planning the parade’ yet, relax! However, it does feel like things are being steered in the right direction. Keefe mentioned in a post practice scrum that the team hadn’t even scratched the surface of their potential yet and I agree. Babcock got us to a great place, but the pacesetter leadership tactics got old. Keefe has brought new life to this roster and it seems the kids are starting to come out of their shells. This article has been about the optimistic nostalgia I’ve felt for a 10-game period. So, naturally; if the Leaf’s blow 8 of their next 10 games, you know who to blame.
Author: Mike Dube