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.

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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.

4 comments to Welcome, Hope. We Thought You’d Never Get Here.

  • SJ

    This was the first Leaf game I watched from beginning to end this year. I thought Bill Waters summed it up best. I believe it was after the first period when he said “although it is only one period, for the first time in a long time the Leafs seem to have a pulse”

  • geezer

    The thing that impressed me during last night’s game was that Beauchemin played good defense. He always looked disorganised before this but last night he played in a confident manner and was a very effective defenceman. Wow! Maybe he was just used to playing with Giguere in net and felt more confident as a result. Whatever, I hope that continues!
    I have also read on the Leaf blogs that they want Kaberle traded for a first round pick. I would prefer they dump salary on defence by getting rid of Komisarek although I can’t see him bringing a first round pick in return.
    I think all Leaf fans were pleasantly surprised that no soft goals were allowed last night. The goaltender wasn’t overly tested but he was competent. What a breath of fresh air!

  • Agreed on both accounts.

    I think I would prefer that the Leafs move Komisarek over Kaberle too; I don’t think there’s a great chance of that happening, given Komisarek’s injury problems (which would reduce his marketability) and the fact that Burke brought him into the fold in the first place. The argument for moving Komi is that he’s one of (now) several guys providing physical defensive defence, whereas Kaberle brings a passing and puck carrying dimension to the offence that would be sorely missed. It may be easy to overstate the expendability of Komisarek, thoug; I have read some stuff that suggests that the team has played much better with him on the ice than without.

    The other aspect to the Kaberle decision is that Burke has to make the determination of when this team will compete. Kaberle’s deal expires at the end of next season and he’ll be 33 years old then – and likely due some sort of a raise. I see the end of that season, and the beginning of the 2011-2012 season as the earliest point at which we’re going to take a serious run at success (because of cap flexibility and the development curve of guys like Kadri). It’s a fair question to ask how much you bet on Kaberle being able to maintain his current level of performance at that point and going forward, and to further ask how much of the salary bundle you’re prepared to wager on it. It may be the safer play to target the development of someone like Carl Gunnarson as a replacement for Kaberle. I’m not suggesting (at least not yet) that Gunnarson is as good as Kaberle; he does possess, however, the same types of tools in his game. If that plan (or something like it) is viable, the immediate return of a first round pick that might also be able to contribute to the club in that time frame is sorely tempting. In my view, it would be more fitting with the overall plan of assembling valuable assets in a simultaneously maturing competitive core.

    All of that being said, I won’t be upset if the Leafs keep Kaberle. I think he is an under-rated player on the whole.

  • kidkawartha

    Sigh. If only we had slowly trained Kaberle to play centre over the last 10 years. :)