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Leafs Paying For Early Season Slide

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs

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This much we know:  the Toronto Maple Leafs’ quest for a playoff spot dies tonight with a loss to Washington or a Buffalo win over Tampa.

Should the Leafs miss, they sentence their legions of fans to a summer-long debate. If the current players can’t be held accountable for the team’s dreadful play early in the year, who were those guys wearing the blue and white sweaters and why were they so lousy?

Is the government of the day responsible for the one that ruled yesterday? As we age, do we beat ourselves up for the mistakes of our youth?

Just exactly where do you find absolution because it is painfully clear that you won’t find it in the NHL standings.

“We can all look back on everything we did and didn’t do. What’s the point?” said Leafs coach Ron Wilson before doing just that.

“We were a different team with a different goaltender. Look at the record we had without Dion.”


With their captain in the lineup, the Leafs went 32-24-7 for a winning percentage of .563. When
he was lost to the club because of a severe leg cut, the Maple Leafs .410, 5-8-3 clip.

Let’s go at this way.

On November 13, the Leafs lost their eighth consecutive game.  Three of the principal players on that team, Kris Versteeg, Tomas Kaberle, and Francois Beauchemin would later be traded. The goalie was J.S. Giguere. Since mid February, Giguere has made one start while James Reimer has written the definitive story of the Leafs campaign.

How much has changed? Fast forward to the Leafs most recent game, Saturday’s 4-2 win over the Ottawa Senators.

Six players who did not play against Vancouver, Phaneuf, Matt Lashoff, Reimer, Joffrey Lupul, Joey Crabb and Darryl Boyce played against Ottawa. Nazem Kadri played in both the Ottawa and the Vancouver games, but there was no comparison between the Kadri who showed little against the Canucks and the infinitely better player who returned from the Marlies.  Keith Aulie made his NHL debut in the loss to Vancouver and played 14 minutes. Against Ottawa, Aulie was ensconced on the number one pairing with Phaneuf and playing 21:52.

That is a lot of change and there is no justice in the fact that players who improved the team will not advance while those who struggled here play for clubs  that are, at this writing, in the post-season dance.

So what have we learned?

Well, don’t lose too many games in a row.

“I keep going back to that slide we had in November,” said forward Tim Brent. “The teams that make the playoffs never go on the eight-game losing streaks. You go .500 in those instead of 0-and-eight, right now we’re worrying about who we play in the first round, not whether we will get in or not.”

“If we don’t get in, we should be proud of how we battled back, but you can’t overlook the fact that in the end, we missed the playoffs,” Lupul said. “You can’t have those times where you play poorly for 10 or 11 games and you put your team in a hole. You have to be able to find a way to end those losing streaks much earlier.”

Mostly, you remember two things.

First, some actions can’t be undone. That’s a shame.

Second, the whole thing starts again in September. That’s a blessing.
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