Slap happy times in Toronto
There may have been a point when Brian Burke, perched in his lofty seat at the Air Canada Centre, called down to Coach Wilson of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and suggested moving Kris Versteeg to the point during power plays.
But, maybe Wilson didn't need the nudge.
Versteeg's past few goals, during the Leafs' recent impressive winning streak, will certainly give Dion Phaneuf pause for thought.
Given parity in the NHL, special teams make a huge difference and explain the gap between winning regularly and losing.
It's called the man advantage for a reason.
Versteeg scoring on average a goal per game is a good thing. Let's hope he keeps it up.
We all can appreciate the master plan was not to call up Nazim Kadri until at least next month, but you really can't keep a good man down.
Smart decisions are required not only on the ice.
Kadri is an excellent set-up man for wingman Phil Kessel who will continue to fill the net with pucks while on the ice together.
Who will score a pair on Saturday in Montreal?
This is a good thing too.
These days, the other difference is found in the quality of coaching and training personnel down on the Leafs' farm.
The Maple Leafs have a superb educator, Dallas Eakins, at the helm of the Marlies, who was tasked to improve Kadri prior to his eventual call-up. This call-up was necessitated by several factors; pushed along by an earnest desire of management to end an irksome losing streak.
When newcomers, Captain Phaneuf and Colby Armstrong, both went down to injury, management (despite the mounting losses) did not panic, keeping in mind over the past few decades a lack of depth in the farm would put the trade wheels in motion.
The confidence noted on the ice these past two games stems from the top, and Kadri, et al, is certainly playing with confidence.
Coaches coach, players play and managers manage.
Toronto fans deserve the best in each category.
This weekend will be pivotal. The Leafs proved they can come back and continue to play with tenacity, and score goals (rather than let them in) during the last minute of a period. Hopefully, the Habs will provide an added element, which we've discussed before: An earnest desire to win.
Other variables that separate the men from the boys in the world of professional sports—in addition to a good ol' lucky bounce here and there—would include the degree of increasingly efficient training regimens, and thus the strength and physical stamina of players, as well as something completely intangible, but we admit is full of impact: Attitude.
Everyone has a role in the organization, even psychologists and therapists. It may be true the Leafs organization on the whole is working like a well-oiled machine, as opposed to experiencing an interfering owner, for example.
This fact is having quite a negative effect in New Jersey, in the light of their infamous multi-year deal to acquire Ilya Kovalchuk.
Enjoying a good attitude in the locker room, which extends itself onto the ice, is the one reason during the summer we debated, albeit briefly, why alleged sniper Kovalchuk would not be beneficial to the Maple Leafs.
I like Mike Brown's attitude, for example. The overall stand-up character of the Leafs team, especially evident during this recent slump, is what I've noticed is separating them from previous collections of players.
During his time in Toronto, Pat Quinn, as I'm sure with all coaches, was fond of saying these were good management problems to have, when deciding which players would sit in the press box when facing the prospect of returning top-line players from injury—especially when the team is winning.
At the moment, the Leafs players should be getting very excited about going into Montreal on Saturday and playing with all sorts of energy and enthusiasm, truly desirous to beat the crap out of the Habs, like the good old days when inspired play would dictate the outcome, not just technical skill pitted against technical skill.
I think those old days were when water bottles were filled with rye and coke, yet also when defensemen could score winning goals with a broken leg.
On Saturday, Jonas Gustavsson will need to have the game of his life in a Leafs jersey.
And Nikolai Kulemin needs to score a goal—it's about time.
Keith Aulie is a great recent addition to the team and presents wonderful options on the back-end going forward, which complements the evolution of Luke Schenn and his night-after-night improvement.
I predict a Leafs victory to continue the roll in Montreal, and I'll go out on a limb and suggest a shut-out for Gustavsson.
It's not unreasonable to expect Kessel, Versteeg and Mikhail Grabovski to score each, and so I'll say 3-0, minimally, but a rout would be nice and would send me into the streets a happy camper this weekend.