Slow starts off the hop have been endemic for the Leafs this season, but tonight went above and beyond a poor start as the listlessness didn’t seem to wear off until the second intermission. A woeful first two periods killed the Leafs, but they can take some solace in a much-improved third period of play that made the score-line respectable. Additionally, Bryan McCabe played a role in both the Leafs’ goals and Jason Blake recorded the team’s first shortie in over a year. So it wasn’t all bad.
Lee Stempniak, Dominic Moore and Jason Blake were three of only four players in Blue and White providing a consistent effort tonight. The other was Luke Schenn, who didn’t appear to miss a beat in returning from a four week layoff (John Mitchell was pretty good too). With their top defensive performer back in the line-up, the Leafs will also benefit from the return of their most productive forward Thursday against the Canadiens. Stajan’s return can’t come soon enough for Nik Antropov, who’s gone cold in his last seven games with his link-up center out of the line-up.
There was just a total lack of jump out of the majority of the team for the first 40 minutes as they were outskated and beat to puck after puck. By the time the Leafs discovered a sense of urgency it was too little far too late. Oddly, I felt Vesa Toskala made a few saves he shouldn’t have while letting in a few he should’ve probably had. I guess it evens out.
Quicker starts have clearly been a point of emphasis for Ron Wilson since the Leafs have a resoundingly terrible plus/minus in the first 20 minutes. Perhaps Wilson needs to encourage his youngsters to play with a bit more reckless abandon off the start as opposed to trying to tentatively feel out the opponent (maybe he already is). This is a season more about experimenting and gaining experience than results. I understand you don’t want the Leafs getting blown out before a home crowd, but I find it hard to believe that starting off with a bit more of a bold approach would end up a whole lot worse.