The Toronto Maple Leafs are an enduring mystery.
The next night following a heart-wrenching loss to the Montreal Canadiens, Ian White scored a goal in the second last minute of play and the Leafs beat the defending Stanley Cup champions in Pittsburgh.
The Leafs, of course, hold precious little in common with the Penguins of Evgeny Malkin and Sidney Crosby except for one crucial thing: most nights they are awful long on try.
The Leafs are three points out of eighth place in the East and while there are five teams between Toronto and eighth-place Atlanta, you get the idea the Leafs aren’t quite ready to go away.
And the truth is, they should be.
They have struggled with the league’s worst penalty kill and a power play that is middle of the pack.Jonas Gustavsson
, the goalie they are trying to groom into the number one guy keeps having heart problems.Luke Schenn
’s game regressed when he was faced with veteran competition.
The Leafs surrender goals by the bucketload. Despite recent improvements, the club’s 3.42 goals against average is only better than Carolina’s.
Help, in the form of Tyler Bozak
and Christian Hanson is still ripening with the Marlies.
So you tell me. Apart from a sloppy Eastern Conference, why are these guys still in it?
Wait. How can a team that has struggled so mightily in special teams and stands out as the league’s second worst defensive team be a credit to its coach.? Aren’t these the traditional barometers of coaching effectiveness?
The Leafs have scored the first goal in only 11 of their 39 games. Who takes the fall for a seemingly unprepared team?
But here’s the thing. As they proved against the Penguins, the Leafs are resilient. They aren’t terrific. In the categories mentioned above, they are bordering on abysmal.
They are 1-9 in shootouts and overtime.
But consider another statistic. In games after overtime or shootout losses, they have garnered 12 of 20 points.
For all its failings, this is a team with a cast-iron spine. And who is the leader on the club?
Well, no one actually. The Leafs have not featured a captain since the departure of Mats Sundin. Fans find this an abomination. The players do not, they just play but the lack of a clearly delineated go-to-guy has to figure in the Leafs inability to seal the deal. I’m willing to bet that if Sundin were still here and in his early thirties, the Leafs record in one-goal games would be infinitely better.
The proxy leader is Wilson who has maintained a steady demand of accountability that has chastened poorly-performing players and championed the oft-overlooked competitiors.
For compelling evidence, look no further than Sunday’s hero Ian White.
He is sarcastic and salty. He is the product of a hockey family, his dad was the image of the dutiful professional, but he is also enamored with technology and inspirational text messages.
Within reach of the playoffs midway through his second season, Wilson has proven himself capable of handling a reconstruction project. Forget the stats. Every day the club sits within striking distance of a playoff spot should stand as a credit to him.