Like a heavyweight pugilist, the Toronto Maple Leafs have truly slumbered out of the gates. The team have certainly taken some solid shots in the opening moments of the season, and look to be gasping early. The team's highest paid and highly touted players need to provide some inspiration and enjoy an excellent opportunity against the New York Rangers to provide a array of passes, hits and goals.
With respect to the highly touted players, Colton Orr will definitely by stepping up to the plate against the Rangers, surely to tangle with Donald Brashear, whose own fourth line services were rendered obsolete by his former employer when physical enforcers were deemed redundant and not needed to protect the Washington Capitals scoring talent this season. Their tilt, hopefully several, will be exciting.
At this point in the season, both Orr and Brian Burke need to prove a point. Notwithstanding some interesting trade talk involving Atlanta and Toronto, Burke is crafting a tough team. Let's not forget, Burke is a highly priced piece of talent, and he's added a lot of overhead in the front office, which was dutifully passed on to the fans with a boost in ticket prices. Orr is tough, and so is young Jay Rosehill.
The latter, however, is not simply a tough guy, he's one of the team's leading scorers.
In the spirit of providing high quality entertainment for fans, especially those left out in the cold during home games, the team's management also spared no expense and delivered a new and very large outdoor screen a month ago. In the wake of this activity, as well as extensions renovations, the product on the ice was supposed to be in first place, not last at this point in the season.
Against their Original Six opposition, the Maple Leafs coaching staff will continue their goaltending experiment, of trying to prod Vesa Toskala to greatness prior to trading him. With the untimely groin injury to budding superstar Jonas Gustavsson, it sounds like Joey MacDonald will handle the duties between the pipes. The team's next opponent is Colorado -- an Avalanche reserved for Top-5 Toskala.
So, the sleeping giant that is the Toronto Maple Leafs have had their bell rung and fans are demanding a much better performance heading into these upcoming rounds. Yes, the defense corps are struggling, the offense (which was Top Ten last season) is leading the sleep session, and enough has been said about Toskala.
Perhaps Jason Blake, who is paid too much, and Tomas Kaberle, who is not paid enough, a week ago would've made a decent package in exchange for 300+ goal scorer Ilya Kovalchuk. Blake has yet to find the back of the net, but neither has Jamal Mayers, who somehow seems to have impressed Coach Wilson lately and received plenty of ice time against the Caps, or John Mitchell.
Speaking of underachievers destined to see time with the Marlies soon without signs of encouraging improvement, the list would include Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin and Rickard Wallin. Kulemin will be given a chance; he does have a pretty good shot and occasionally has been offering some grit in the corners recently.
The invisible not invincible blue line deserves some exposure. Goals on the powerplay would help, and not goals against. On-air announcers have been practising "Kaberle to Beachemin... scores" for a couple a weeks, to no avail, except once in pre-season.
Yet it would seem Francois Beauchemin is starting to gel, finally. Sounds funny to say he needs to improve, playing on a last-place Leafs team. Ian White is, without question, the team's steadiest d-man, while Luke Schenn has blundered awkwardly. The award for most confusing player is won by Mike Komisarek. Against Montreal, he was on fire. That flame, that obviously got doused, needs to be re-ignited. Now.
So, who in the dressing room is providing the inspiration, which would follow in the wake of a thunderous hit, a game-winning goal or a Palmateer-like save, and ultimately provide a win, a first win of the season, for the team, enabling them to see the light, to finally turn the corner and stay swinging until the end? Wayne Primeau? Matt Stajan? Phil Kessel? Methinks a new addition is forthcoming.
It's at this point in the season, with just a few games under their belts, that the new Maple Leafs captain is decided. He needs to accept the responsibiulity of leading the team on the ice and off the ice. He has a duty. He needs to start fighting, in the corners, along the boards and in front of the net. He needs to prove himself, and prove to the fans why he is paid the big bucks after all.
Maybe Manitoba's 245-pounder Dustin Penner, currently toiling in Edmonton, might make the difference. On the bright side for Burke, in a few weeks, there'll be other players on the block. In the meantime, several Maple Leafs need to display mad skills and NHL calibre performances. Or else, speaking of Edmonton, Craig MacTavish might prompt some coaching changes in Toronto. Of course, not before the Olympics.
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