In heightened anticipation of a lengthy playoff run, I've begun to grow my lucky beard, and will continue to grow it until the Leafs win the Cup, or until they win a game, which ever comes first. I thought a few weeks ago, and mentioned, former Duck Dustin Penner might be good for the Leafs, and then I was reminded that one of the players currently floundering is Vincent Lacavalier, scoring once so far this season, while Penner heats up.
On that level, the Tampa Bay braintrust is heavily promoting Steve Stamkos, who has 7 goals by comparison, as their team's new saviour these days. The other player I suggested might be seen wearing a Leafs jersey soon was Ilya Kovalchuk, who now is flourishing in Atlanta with 9 goals... of course all likely due to Nik Antropov now riding shotgun.
In days gone by, while mired in a mid-season slump, there was always trusty Kerry Fraser to blame a Leafs loss on. Well, at least every four days anyway. Then there was a bad bounce here and a bad bounce there - and they all contributed to another disheartening loss in the remaining few moments of a game. Lady Luck will ensure a lucky bounce in Anaheim, and a great couple of refs.
This season the Leafs are getting scored on late in any period, taking stupid penalties (a la any decent John Brophy team) and not following through with hearty checks. All of this would be water under the bridge if the team had a few scoring leaders. Or a few goals to brag about. Last season I thought Nicklas Hagman, like a true Viking, showed some grit and determination, and the other night he scored a sniper-like goal.
In that one brief moment, I did see some hope.
The player likely topping all WTF charts is Jason Blake: 1 goal and 1 assist so far. Not far behind is John Mitchell. As opposed to last year, I noticed Mitchell throwing some weight around early, especially a few games ago. Then he took a penalty. Now he's Mr Invisible. Blake and Mitchell really need to step up to the plate against Anaheim. They need to prove they are a threat and a top-scoring line.
Upfront, however, two other players require special attention: Wayne Primeau and Jamal Mayers. Both are local boys, and both have showed some promise. I can't say Coach Wilson has not given them a chance to prove they deserve regular ice time. He has, night after night. Funnily enough, despite their lackadaisical play, they are not even being challenged for a spot.
Though also struggling, Nikolai Kulemin, Mikhail Grabovski and Alexei Ponikarovsky have a lock on their NHL positions, but really need a breakout game, to solidify a reputation as a decent second scoring line. They each could score against an Anaheim team without regular goalie Giguere between the pipes.
Stalberg is our go-to guy. He's the Leafs next big Power Forward. Further, I predict Stalberg will elevate Matt Stajan's game, a lot. In the meantime, while we await the arrival of young superstar Phil Kessel, who when he arrives will provide the scoring punch and leadership Kariya did in Anaheim many years ago.
Which brings me to Beauchemin. I'd like to see more shots from Francois. I'd like to see more steely determination along the boards; more punishment, less giveaways. I'm still waiting for the moment when passes start being sent across the opposing blue line with regularity, hit by Beauchemin that simply fill the back of the net. I've seen glimpses of gel, of chemistry, of anticipation of clean delivery and success.
Soon it'll click, and it'll be alright. We'll be on our way to the Cup. Soon.