You know how kids are. When they go out, they forget to call home and tell you they got there safely. On bitterly cold days, they forget their hats and mitts. They climb on the hood of your car when you are about to drive to Peterborough. And they forget their homework. That’s exactly what the Leafs’ kids did Thursday night in Calgary. They forgot their homework…for 57 seconds. But the kids had lots on their minds. The gang leader, Dion Phaneuf, was returning to Calgary for the first time. Oh, the excitement!
And the Leafs proved to their fans once again that patience is everything with this club. In those 57 seconds, Flames Alex Tanguay, Olli Jokinen and Rene Bourque pumped pucks past J-S Giguère…and the party was over. Dion’s big night went splat. And those 57 negated some head-shaking saves by Jiggy. But that’s what kids do. They can concentrate for 59 minutes and 3 seconds and then – poof! And that’s the problem with winning the first game of a three-game trip.
Those two points are in the bag so, whether you consciously want to or not, you will let down in the second game. Saturday is the real test, anyway. Calgary and Edmonton will likely be also-rans this season. The Canucks are the genuine NHL article.
And, in Calgary, Phil Kessel (once again) proved he’s just a kid by pulling the old disappearing act. Note to all print sports editors: Two goals in two games does not mean “Kessel’s slump is over!” Call me when it’s seven goals in eight games.
“Neon Dion,” as his former Flames’ veteran teammates called him (revealed by Iron Mike Keenan to TSN’s Darren Dreger yesterday), had a strong start to his Calgary return, then disappeared too. Right up until he hauled down Jarome Iginla, providing Iggy with a third-period penalty shot…long after the game had already been decided. But some of the kids showed up.
Mikhail Grabovski seems to have decided he’s Wayne Gretzky – shooting and scoring at will. And Grandpa Jiggy was outstanding until those stinky 57. Saturday in Vancouver is going to be a whole different ballgame. Everyone will have to bring their homework that night.
Against the Canucks, there can’t be any lapses. No running around in their own end. No hanging the goaltender out to dry. No weak clearing attempts around the boards (hear that, Keith Aulie?…assuming you play). Often, this season, the Leafs play their best against the best. Makes sense. You fight hardest against the toughest bully in the yard.
And that’s what the kids are going to have to do in B.C. It will be a game that determines if the growth pattern continues, or if the Maple Leafs fly home with their tails between their legs, begging their fans for even more patience.