Toronto Maple Leafs Must Learn to Lock Down Leads, Put In Full Effort

Derek HarmsworthSenior Writer ISeptember 28, 2008

Quick question.  What will happen more this NHL season:

A) The Maple Leafs blowing late leads.

B) Tyler Hill jumping off the Maple Leafs bandwagon.

Seriously Tyler—the preseason is a week old.  Step back from the ledge dude.

All kidding aside, this year's Toronto Maple Leafs have impressed by being competitive so far in every preseason game played.  However, it is easy to see that they still a lot to learn.

The growing process will likely continue all year long—and for all we know, into next year as well.  There are things in the process that will take care of themselves.  For the younger players who have been chosen to play larger roles, there will be no cure for the pains they may face throughout the season—other than time, and letting the maturation process run its course.

However, there is one problem, which after one week of preseason play is simply the most glaring with this year's squad.  It was a weakness that showed up way too much last season—and if the preseason is any indication, it could loom large this year as well.

The late-game collapses. 

Since it is only the preseason, and no one expects the Maple Leafs to do anything this year, the mere fact that the Leafs have been competitive, and have stuck in the thick of things in every game nearly down to the wire is encouraging. 

But as the preseason rolls on, and with the regular season right around the corner, there will be a time when being close isn't going to be enough.

Is it something teachable?  Is there something Ron Wilson can do to aid the Leafs in their quest to lock things down late?  Or is it something that, just like the maturation process, will simply take time?

Whatever it is, the Maple Leafs have to figure it out fast.  They need to learn to lock down their leads, and also play a full sixty minutes.

The Penguins were the better team on Wednesday—but with all due respect, the Maple Leafs were on autopilot for the first forty minutes.

Only in the third did they actually wake up and put in a solid effort, resulting in a two-goal period in which they outshot the Pens 17-3.

Friday night as well, both teams were competitive.  But after Kaberle gave the Leafs a third period lead, they couldn't hold it. 

Last night in Buffalo—well, do I really have to say it again?  You guessed it.  The Buds were up 2-0 going into the third, before falling apart and losing in overtime.

So what is the cure for what ails the Leafs?  I'm not too sure, really.  I'm not convinced they know either.  After all, would they have coughed up back-to-back leads if they knew how to get it done?

No question, this is an area where they miss the likes of Mats Sundin, Darcy Tucker, and Bryan McCabe—who at the very least could have been a calming influence on the bench.

But surely this isn't a team completely devoid of a veteran leadership, and surely even the group they have are able to "dumb" the play down enough to simply play a dump and chase, four-back style to lock up victories as the season goes on.

After all, it's already figuring to be a long year.  The least they could do is help themselves by playing smart, simple hockey in the late stages of the game.

If the Maple Leafs can figure that aspect of the game out, and combine it with the competitiveness they have shown through the first week of preseason action, they will help themselves out going forward.

It's looking like the Maple Leafs will struggle this year.  The least they could do is help themselves by not giving their opponents anything.


Quick injury Update

Just a quick update about the injury news that was revealed earlier today.  Jason Blake took a puck off the side of his knee in Buffalo last night, and will be held out of the game as a precautionary measure.

Dominic Moore, arguably Toronto's best forward, will also sit out Monday's game against the Blues with a bit of a groin injury.

Moore didn't play last night, and won't play Monday.  At this time, it seems Ron Wilson feels there is no need to push it in September.