Look, this isn’t a column ruminating on how people expect too much too soon from Phil Kessel
You know the drill. Kessel is no savior. He’s just one guy. He has been injured for six months. Everyone must be mindful of the fact that he is back nearly two weeks ahead of schedule and should he play Tuesday against Tampa Bay he will do so with only handful of contact practices under his belt.
Now name the player other than Mario Lemieux who was just as good as before after missing training camp and the first month of the season. Hard, isn’t it?
Those arguments and a buck and a quarter will get you a coffee at Tim’s.
Sure, it’s true. Nobody cares.
The Leafs have righted themselves thanks to often sterling goaltending from Jonas Gustavsson
and improved play from the defence, particularly Tomas Kaberle and Mike Komisarek
. From top to bottom they are more, what is the word, truculent.
But they need Phil Kessel
, a crackerjack on the shootout, a constant threat when he is on the ice.
They need him for what he can do, and may do someday soon. They need him to quell the talk of the cost of acquiring him (have you heard, two first rounders and a second?). They need him because if they can’t have scoring they can feature the threat of scoring. Only two teams, Carolina and Nashville, have scored fewer goals than the Leafs.
The Leafs need more to believe in. So do their players.
One win, seven losses and four overtime defeats. That’s the dismal total so far and yet players and management can point to the team’s recent plucky performances on their recent road trip as signs of better times ahead.
This is perception, the same perception that makes Jonas Gustavssson, fiftieth in the goaltending rankings, a difference maker.
Here’s the thing, if you want something to happen you have to start acting like it will. If Gustavsson continues his pattern of big saves, he will hailed as a conquering hero Tuesday when the Leafs host Tampa Bay. Success snowballs. Athletes are confidence junkies.
When you have a 1-7-4 team you need results but nearly as importantly, you need hope.
Johnny or Jennie Leafs fan doesn’t want to hear about reasonable expectations. They want the bodies in the equipment and a chance to believe the story of this season is only now ready to be writ large.