With 3 big wins in the past 8 days for the Blue and White, including beating the hated Habs and coming from behind to beat the surprisingly flailing Washington Capitals, the Leafs are actually building some positive momentum. These wins correspond with the return of the heavy browed Captain my Captain Dion Phaneuf.
Playing big minutes and a calming force on the back end, it’s clear he has a huge impact on this young team and at only 25 himself is proving his value.
Phaneuf is the man in the spotlight today as the Leafs set off on a western road trip that will see them play in Edmonton on Tuesday followed by trips to Calgary and Vancouver. Nobody has more to prove on this road trip than the perpetually surly Phaneuf.
The Edmonton born player will be playing not only in front of scores of family and friends, but also against the team that launched his career. With 4 seasons in Calgary on his resume, this marks his first return to the Saddledome in a Buds Jersey.
Considering the obvious impact Phaneuf has on this team – this has been on display over the past week and a half since his return – if the Leafs want to have success on this road trip, Dion will have to be on his game.
Sure looking at the standings it would be easy to write off both the lowly Oilers and Flames as “easy wins” but lets not forget that those same Oilers embarrassed the Leafs on home ice to the tune of a “Fire Wilson” chanting score of 5-0. Five, zip. Now if I am Phaneuf and the rest of the Leafs I am looking for some redemption.
I would go busting into their barns with some sort of Chuck Norris round house like force and punish those twinkle toed, dipsey doodling, Edmonton Oilers. Not only because they were embarrassed them but because the Captain is playing in front of Mom and Dad.
What better way to make Ma and Pop proud than to lay out Boy Wonder Taylor Hall on the blueline?
DOWN THE ROAD
With 228 points over four seasons with Calgary and a 50 point campaign in his rookie season, Phaneuf was an instant fan favorite among the Flames faithful. Named to the All Rookie team followed by 2 All Star games he was touted as a franchise player for the foreseeable future for the Flames.
Obviously something soured between Phaneuf and the Flames management last season and he was shipped out east. What a better way to return to your former team then to wax the ice with them. Dion is quick to point out “It’s not me against Calgary, It’s the Toronto Maple Leafs who are going in there”
Come on Dion, this is a big game and a big trip for this team. What a better way to stick it to Iggy and the boys than to light the lamp and have your team walk away with a victor?
While a victory in Vancouver is not impossible, the Canucks are a the jewel of the West. With three of the top twenty face off men in the league running down their middle, and the super Swede Sedins racking up the points, the Leafs are in deep against a deep team.
Vancouver works the cycle better anybody in the league and with tremendous puck support, the struggling offense of the Leafs will be hard pressed to generate much of anything. That coupled with Vancouver possessing the leagues top power play and Toronto’s abysmal record on the penalty kill, the Leafs are DOA if they get into penalty trouble.
The game should prove to be a measure of how the Leafs stack up against one of the leagues best. Vancouver isn’t Montreal, they play a physical game so the Leafs won’t be able to out muscle them. A win in Vancouver, would certainly be cause for celebration.
For a young team that is struggling to find its identity, this road trip couldn’t come at a better time. With a few big wins at home and for once some positive feelings in the dressing room, the best thing now is to get out of the spotlight of Toronto and head west.
It’s the perfect great opportunity for the team to bond together.
What’s interesting that despite being the road team the Leafs will be welcomed by a Sea of blue and white in every building they visit. Leaf faithful from across the country dust off their jerseys for one game a year when the Buds come to town. The barns will be rocking and with 8 players on the Leafs from western Canada, Phaneuf won’t be the only one out there trying to impress Grandma.
Some positive results on this road swing and the New Year may look a little brighter for the Blue and White. And who knows, get a few wins and maybe, just maybe, this team emerges with an identity.