The Toronto Maple Leafs fell to the Montreal Canadiens 4-1 Saturday at Air Canada Centre and that’s fair enough. The Canadiens are a playoff team. The Leafs alas are not.
At least if you insist on a literal interpretation of those nasty standings people keep talking about.
Twentieth out of 30 is nothing to be proud of and this is the vexing part for the Leafs. Since they turned over personnel, hit January 1 on the fly and went 23-14-7 the rest of the way, they haven’t been themselves. The Leafs know who they aren’t. What’s a little tougher is finding out who they are. Damn near impossible is figuring out who they are going to be.
“For sure, 110 per cent,” goalie James Reimer
said when asked if this same team could make the playoffs next year. “I have faith in everyone here, in myself, in the coach and in management.”
Given that two out of three NHL teams had a better season, it would be unwise to spend too much time dwelling on happy memories. To that end, Saturday’s game was unsentimental.
Two new players, Joe Colborne
and Matt Frattin
were inserted into the lineup to see what they could bring. It’s never too late to think about the future.
If one night makes an adequate sample, and in these permissive times it sometimes does, Frattin, 23, freshly imported from the University of North Dakota is the more ready of the two. The six-foot, 205-pounder, the leading goalscorer in the NCAA found his way around the ice nicely. He showed a pretty extensive offensive repertoire, even if he could not hit the net, and for a kid who skates well, he seems to grow roots when someone tries to knock him over. He wore 39.
The 21-year-old Colborne, all six-foot-five of him was obtained by the Leafs in the deal that sent Tomas Kaberle to the Bruins. He skated well for a big man and even garnered an assist when he handed the puck to Phil Kessel
who embarked on one of those road trips that ended with a shot through Carey Price’s pads.
“I was probably most impressed with Matt Frattin
,” said Leafs coach Ron Wilson. “He was like a dog on the bone with the puck. Joe made some plays. I was impressed. He’s going to be a very good player, no doubt.”
For Frattin, the game was the third day of a travelogue. Thursday, his Fighting Sioux were eliminated in the NCAA semi-finals. Friday he finished second or third (they don’t say which one) in a three-man duel for the Hobey Baker. The Edmonton native drove overnight back to his home in Grand Forks and then caught a 5:30 a.m. plane with connections to Toronto. Frattin played on a line with Nazem Kadri
and Tyler Bozak
. He finished minus one but had five shots.
“I couldn’t have even told you where I was in the warmup,” he said, “but I felt like I had a lot of chances. Now at least I have a feel for how things will be next year,” he said.
Colborne, meanwhile, overcame some early jitters to deliver a respectable debut. He played between Phil Kessel
and Joffrey Lupul
, won three faceoffs and lost six. He was credited with one shot and finished plus one.
“I felt later on I was able to play my game,” he said. “It was a great experience, a learning experience.”
Interestingly, Wilson mused about what Reimer is facing next year.
The Leafs, he said, will need 50 to 60 games from him and then, with luck, another 15-20 games in the playoffs. Between the Marlies and Leafs, Reimer played 51 games this year.
Wilson thought the challenges of playing in Toronto often undermine the confidence of young goalies.
“The two goalies everyone talks about here, Curtis Joseph and Ed Belfour, they had already played many years in the league when they came here. James would be unique, along with Felix Potvin, for starting here and having a great career. I think he can do it, but only time will tell.”
Kessel had the only Leafs goal, by the way. Brian Gionta scored twice for the Habs. Tomas Plekanec and Ryan White also scored for the Canadiens who profited from a poor defensive performance by Toronto. The Leafs dropped their last two games of the season after being eliminated from the playoff race this week.
“We were fatigued both physically and mentally,” said captain Dion Phaneuf
. “That’s not an excuse but it is a fact.”