Video: Game In Six
Let's talk numbers.
Six goals in 12 chances. That’s the Leafs penalty kill so far this season.
Fourteen: That’s the number of shots the Pittsburgh Penguins fired at Leafs goalie Vesa Toskala in the first period of last night’s game at the Air Canada Centre.
Two: Yes, that would be the number the Leafs mustered in the same period.
Forty feet: The distance from Toskala from which Sergei Gonchar scored in the first period.
1:32: The amount of time it took the Penguins to score after Jay Rosehill
’s pointless penalty, incurred when he hit Gonchar into the boards from behind.
Five seconds: The length of time it took the Penguins to score after unfortunate penalty by Matt Stajan.
Sixty-seven seconds: The length of time it took the Penguins to restore their three goal lead after Leafs had cut the margin to two goals.
Zero: The number of wins the Leafs have accrued in four tries this season.
5-2: The final in a discouraging night’s work.
5000 fans (approx.): Number of people booing at the final buzzer. The rest had already gone home.
Made clear in countless ways last night was the blanket statement: boy, are the Penguins ever good.
Right now, the Leafs are not.
It is, of course, spectacularly early and last season’s playoff miss has no factor on this year’s season. Nor the season before. Nor the season before. Nor the season before.
So where do they go from here?
“It is depressing here right now, but we have to find a way of getting some momentum early in the game,” said coach Ron Wilson. “That’s what’s kind of fallen off. Scoring the first goal and building on that or at least coming out of the first period 0-0 would be a start in the right decision.”
The customary answer is everything will come with harder work. It’s never that simple, of course. The Leafs have been victimized by precisely the same things that did them in last year: spotty goaltending, an inability to kill penalties and middling scoring. That bile-like taste Leaf fans are beginning to notice: that’s fear.
The punishing defence acquired by GM Brian Burke has not yet materialized. Garnet Exelby, the best open ice hitter was once again a healthy scratch.
Only six players have scored over the four games and those still waiting for their first include John Mitchell, Nikolai Kulemin
and Jason Blake. The Leafs haven’t gotten a goal from their blueline all season.
They are, as fragile as fawns and it is this way with any collection of human beings.
The Penguins are demonstrably better than the Leafs. They can make a good team look sick and we don’t yet have any evidence that the Leafs are a good team.
So do you reach down and spring Christian Hanson and Tyler Bozak
from the Marlies? Well, they weren’t good enough to make the club a couple of weeks ago.
Bozak and Hanson could very easily step into the lineup without dampening the talent level. They started the year with the Marlies not because they aren’t as good as some of the guys who stayed, but because they need to develop out of the spotlight at a level in which they will not be overwhelmed. The funny thing about confidence is that it is easy to build but hellishly difficult to rebuild.
So how do you do just that?
“You want to be better in practice,” said defenceman Francois Beauchemin. “That’s the only thing you can do. Work hard in practice, score some goals.”
But that it were that easy.
“I don’t know how you build it in practice,” Wilson said. “As hard as you want your team to go, they’re never going to go 100 per cent. They’re not going to finish their checks on the forecheck or knock anybody down in front of the net, be in shooting lanes or anything like that. It’s got to come in a game.”
Finding confidence is like catching a windblown leaf but a clearly frustrated Tomas Kaberle said it can and will be done.
“Every team will go through this stage,” he said. “It’s too bad we are getting it right now, right from the get go. We have to deal with it, show character. It’s not about one or two guys, it’s the whole team and it has to change.”
As for the goaltending, well there is not much the Leafs can do about that right now either. Jonas Gustavsson
has a groin injury and will be lost for a week or so. Joey MacDonald will play either Monday in New York or Tuesday in Toronto against the Avalanche.