It’s not an easy thing to do to find something good to say when you root for the Maple Leafs.
Rookie goaltender James Reimer must be the worst performing Leaf on the ice right now. He made 29 saves on 31 shots in his first game since being called up for the second time this year. His .935 save percentage just wasn't good enough for this sports writer though, as the Leafs were shut out for the eighth time this year and extended their current losing streak to three games.
“If he only played a little better, maybe we would have won,” said one informed Leaf fan as she exited the St. Pete Times Forum. “He really let us down tonight.”
While they may have lost six of their last seven games, the Leafs have won one and the future looks to be much brighter if you are a Bruin fan hoping for another lottery pick this year.
After a slow first period which saw the buds get out-shot 17-3, the Leafs outplayed the Lightning in the final two periods but could not find the back of the net once despite having several golden opportunities to do so. Trailing 2-0 after that first period, the Leafs stepped up their work rate and fore check. They won the majority of faceoffs and battles in the corners against the Lightning. But time after time, Tampa Bay goaltender Dwayne Roloson came up big to make the save against an aggressive and talented Maple Leaf attack.
Since I am keeping to the positives, I won’t say how the Leaf players failed repeatedly to lift the puck over an outstretched Roloson’s fallen body nor will I state that they continually missed shots with an open net staring them in the face. No, instead I will say the truth, that once again the Leafs faced a hot goalie that just could not be beaten on this night.
Another positive for the Leafs can be seen in their current increase in penalties.
For most of the season, Toronto has been able to play at a high level and remain out of the penalty box. But recently, they have decided to practice the penalty kill a bit more. Since this is one of the areas that needs the most work, I can’t blame coach Ron Wilson’s change of strategy of having his charges take penalty after momentum-killing penalty over the past few games.
While to the casual observer, the increase in trips to the sin bin may look to be correlated with an increase in team frustration; this couldn't be further from the truth. No, this is an ingenious ploy to get valuable game-time practice on the penalty kill.
Good on you, Ron. I don’t think any other coach in the game would have thought that one up.
Phil Kessel has been another bright spot for the Leafs recently. He has kept himself off the scoreboard for the past seven games to conserve energy for the upcoming All-Star game.
As everyone knows, the All-Star break is the most looked forward to event of the year for the Leafs and their fans as it gives everyone a brief respite from the overwhelming feeling of impending doom that dominates their collective psyches during the season. Kessel, wanting to represent the Leafs well at the break, has been working in stand-by mode over the past few weeks so as not to let anyone down at the big event.
Knowing all of these positives, I can hardly wait until the season resumes after the All-Star break. It has been an outstanding season of joy and fun so far. I hope it continues.