NHL: Where are the Leafs Going?

MAZEN SContributor IJanuary 21, 2009

As if the world has forgotten that the Toronto Maple Leafs are in a rebuilding process, the media has been ripping players apart, dissecting this hockey club and rounding up rumors as to who is leaving and who is coming to Toronto.

In the midst of all this, I find myself wondering where the Leafs are going.

I watched them practice this morning and I sensed something different in the atmosphere.

I know everyone is going to jump and say, “Well Ron Wilson was having fun with the boys,” but truly that is not what I am talking about.

Let's put aside the trades that will happen in the next few weeks and look a bit closer to realize what I am trying to say: The Leafs still have one of the leagues top power-plays, top average of shots, and goals per game.

They also, have the league's worst Goals Against Average and penalty killing, but those are stats that they had when they were playing with resilience a few months ago.

Those stats were there when the NHL was in shock, because of their comebacks and performance; when Mikhail Grabovski, Niklas Hagman, and Nikolai Kulemin's line would put you on your feet every time they went on the ice.

They are the same stats that Matt Stajan, Nick Antropov, and Alexei Panikarovsky had to deal with when their line went on a nine game point streak, and the same players who made you wonder if you had brutally called the fate of this team earlier this season.

Let's face it, by no measure is this an all-star team.  However, the Toronto Maple Leafs have some talent in their lineup.

Injuries and fallbacks have caused instability in their lines.  They have gotten away from their simple game of forechecking and hard-nosed efforts.

The last two games, we started to see some of these characteristics in their lineups, especially with the streaking Blake and Moore combination.  The coaches have been trying to work on first passes and break-in plays, however those plays would not be successful if the forecheck is not intact.

These plays would dissipate and suck the momentum out of your players, especially when they have to go back to their own end and start all over again.

The lack of performance from Stajan, Poni, Antropov, and many others is the result of pressure and expectations to win.  Add to that, the rumors generated by the mass media fanatics around Toronto and next thing you know, players are spending more time analyzing and predicting than concentrating on playing and winning.

Tonight they will play against the hot Boston Bruins. Look for a more relaxed Leafs team with an aggressive puck pursuit approach and intact forecheck.

My prediction?

They will win tonight's game with a score of 4-2 and will mark the turning point of this Toronto Maple Leaf Team. Success is what they show up for and fun is part of their new spirit and attitude.

Go Leafs Go!