Leafs’ loss comes with upside

Nikolai Kulemin

Despite losing a tough overtime game to the Colorado Avalanche on Monday night, the Toronto Maple Leafs showed plenty of promise to its fans hoping to see the team make the playoffs.

While some are lamenting about the Leafs’ failure to achieve a second straight 4-0 start to the season, history has proven undefeated beginnings can go sour pretty quickly.

After winning the first four games of 2010, Toronto plunged into despair, going 1-8-3 over the next 12 games.

Phil Kessel’s hot start is also reminiscent of a forgettable past. The 24-year-old sniper leads the NHL in goals (6) and points (9) so far this year, similar to his scorching start of 2010 where he had seven goals in October.

The fear now is that the streak takes a similar turn to last year, when Kessel scored only three goals in November.

But this campaign looks to be on a slightly different path after a close loss to the Avalanche.

Toronto made too many mistakes to actually win the game, so it is a little surprising the contest went into overtime.

Still, there were a couple of indicators that showed the Leafs are a more mature, composed group of men despite being the third youngest team in the league.

Colorado controlled the flow of the game for two full periods – even after giving up the first goal – and carried a 2-1 lead into the final frame.

The Buds not only showed the ability to compete against a hot, talented squad, but they displayed a willingness to push forward, which eventually resulted in the tying goal by Nikolai Kulemin with less than five minute left in regulation time.

”I thought it was a big point that we battled back to get [the equalizer], to be completely honest. We didn’t play our best 40 minutes,” Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf told the Canadian Press.

”I thought it was a big goal late in the game to get that point and to push it to overtime. We’re not happy with the loss but we’ll take that point and move forward.”

It wasn’t until a bit of line juggling provided by coach Ron Wilson that the Leafs kicked it into another gear. Toronto’s bench boss has endured a lot of criticism from the media, claiming he isn’t a player’s coach and his team no longer hears his message.

But based on the performance after the changes, the team showed more chemistry from top to bottom, with players comfortable making mid-game switches and, most of all, they are listening to Wilson.

“We weren’t getting the offence I thought we needed and so we started moving things around and it kind of gives a little jolt of energy to some other guys who get rewarded by moving up in the lineup,” Wilson said.

“And maybe a slap in the behind for guys who skip a shift because we weren’t moving our feet as well as we can.”

It was a unifying experiment for the coach and his players, which turned into a well-earned effort on Kulemin’s goal.

But what might be the bright spot, other than salvaging a point, is the cool and collected play of goaltender James Reimer, who was not present last October.

Reimer allowed a questionable goal through the legs to allow Colorado to tie the game 1-1, was screened on the second goal, and was the victim of a bad bounce that put the puck on the stick of David Jones in overtime for the game winner.

He was pestered from all angles throughout the game, facing 24 shots, including a couple directed at him by poor defending. However, Wilson wasn’t calling out his goaltender for the loss.

”There’s a couple [Reimer] obviously would want back but he made a number of saves that sort of makes up for it,” said Wilson of his unflappable goalie. ”It was one of those nights, unfortunately. They got some lucky bounces on two of the goals.”

So it’s hard to fathom there will be 12 games with only one win after this year with this collection of Leafs.

About this article

By: Andrew Robichaud
Posted: Oct 18 2011 10:28 pm
Filed under: Hockey Sports