Welcome, Hope. We Thought You’d Never Get Here.
It was only one game. One game in another lost season; one game against a (recently) struggling Eastern Conference opponent and their backup goaltender.
Still, tonight’s 3-0 Leaf victory finally gave more than a little reason for hope to long-suffering Leaf fans. There was a goaltender in our net who made saves and who seemed confident about it. There was a beast of defenceman, Phaneuf, thumping offensive interlopers. Nikolai Kulemin was driving to the net, taking the puck through the middle of the ice decisively and in such a way as to create some worried moments for opposition defenders. Frederik Sjostrom showed some determination and self-sacrifice on the penalty kill and – for what may be the first time this year, at least for a Maple Leaf defender – forcing an opposition defenseman to abort the plan to shoot and dump off a “second-best” pass instead. There was a power play goal from Francois Beauchemin.
More generally, for the very first time this year, our team came out ready to play from the opening faceoff. If this trade has changed nothing else but the Leafs’ alarming tendency to tentatively piss away at least the first ten minutes of every game, frequently surrendering the lead and always ceding the momentum, it will have been worth it.
It was only one game; there are no guarantees that this widespread improvement will last. A lot of the numbers suggest that there are still lots of difficult times ahead for a Maple Leafs time that has little by way of personnel on the forward lines who have proven they can score in the NHL (at least beyond Phil Kessel). The goaltender’s performance has been trending downwards for a while, and the defence have struggled to shut the door on a consistent basis. All of these things demand that one keep perspective and remember that you cannot infer the existence of a trend from a small sample size of data. It was only one game. For the first time this year, though, I felt like watching one Leaf game tonight wasn’t enough.
As an aside, shoutouts to eyebleaf of Sports in the City who (fittingly enough) headed off for a lengthy trip to India earlier this evening. I say “fittingly enough” because eye has been one of the few consistently positive voices in the Barilkosphere; there is something fitting about eye beginning a lengthy holiday on the very day that hope seemed to walk in the front door of the Air Canada Centre for the first time in a long time. After working so diligently over the last couple of years to ensure that at least some of us can see the bright side of things, eye can finally move on to other adventures. Safe travels, brother, you will be missed in these parts, but we look forward to your return.
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