Takin' a T/O With BT—Back-End Blues for the Toronto Maple Leafs' Defense

xx yySenior Writer IOctober 12, 2009

TORONTO - OCTOBER 10:  Vesa Toskala #35 of the Toronto Maple Leafs regroups after allowing the second goal to the Pittsburgh Penguins during a NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on October 10, 2009 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada .  (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)

Last year, I started to distance myself from Don Cherry.

Not in any specific way, but (Before this became the “it” article to write) I started to feel as if we were on two very different wavelengths—which is always unfortunate when you find yourself distanced from someone who was so influential to you.

But sometimes, a distance brings two people together.

As I listened to Coach’s Corner on Saturday night, Cherry began with his assessment of Vesa Toskala, and I found myself nodding along in agreement—something I’ve done a little less of over the years.

And why was I nodding? Because he was exactly right.

Cherry said that Toskala has been jerked around so badly as of late, that he (essentially) couldn’t differentiate between his hockey pants and a swimsuit.

He looked at the fact that Toskala was playing deep in his net—a sign of a goalie low in confidence—and then continued to defend him, saying that the Leafs have given him no reason to be confident, whereas the fans point the finger to say that V-Tosk hasn’t given them a reason to be confident.

The fans have been critical of the man between the pipes so far, but maybe that’s because it’s easier to point one finger at a time than it is to point six.

For a team that spent so much money on their defense in the offseason, there’s been no hint of it early on in the season.

The Blue and White are 0-3-1, and while the accusations have been fast and furious towards Toskala, it’s not his burden to bear alone. Those who are paid to protect the net should be getting accused, identified, or (maybe worse) benched as well.

Granted Toskala hasn’t been great, but is it really that surprising that a goalie that ended last season with surgery on his groin and hip has been rusty to start the year? What’s surprising about this is that a defense with an added 974 games played at the NHL level hasn’t helped this team improve at all.

Sure they’ve allowed fewer shots to this point in the year (129 in 2008/09 to 115 this year) but the goals-against are up there (12 last year to 17 this year), and the penalty-killing is worse, working at just a 53.8-percent clip compared to last year’s 73.9-percent through four games.

Yes it’s a two-way street: Toskala needs to be better so that the defensive efforts aren’t wasted, but he needs to be able to trust those ahead of him if he’s ever expected to regain his confidence.

Leaving Sidney Crosby alone at the side of the net on the powerplay (twice) is no way to do that.

Getting shoved off the puck in behind their own-net is no way to do that either.

The fact is that a market that’s always expected immediate results hasn’t gotten what it wanted. They saw the additions made to the defense and assumed that all of the issues the Leafs had last year would be done away with, and there was a magical fix.

Eventually there very well might be, but right now there’s one thing that can fix it, and it’s a word that is a mortal enemy of any Leafs fan: Time.

For the masses that call themselves Leafs Nation, they’ve given it time. They’ve given it nearly 43 years and they haven’t seen anything different.

In fact, now they’re dealing with rumors that had them nearly losing their team during the 1980’s.

For them, time is no friend. For the team however, it’s the only antidote.

For a defense featuring so many new parts, it’ll take time for Head Coach Ron Wilson to find the pairings that will work. For the players, it’ll take them time to get accustomed to the new system. For Toskala, it’ll take time for him to trust them, and time for them to trust him.

Unfortunately with the ways that both have played thus far, time is acting more as an enemy than anything.

But if this turns out well, perhaps it can say something for the old adage of “keeping your enemies closer”.

If not, time will only become more of an enemy for this team as it wears on the nerves of the fans and they become even more impatient. And don’t even get them started on the ‘P’ word.

Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer and an NHL Community Leader for Bleacher Report. If you want to get in contact with Bryan you can do so through his profile, or you can email him at bryanthiel74@hotmail.com. You can also check out his previous articles in his archives.

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