So the big cheese, Brian Burke, has decided this is it. Aside from deadline dealing never-used John Mitchell to the Rangers, Burke has determined that this Leafs’ team is the one that will make the 2010-11 run for the playoffs. That’s admirable. It’s what he’s promised all year and, other than sending Kris “Never fit in” Versteeg and François Beauchemin away, Burke is sticking with the boys that have brought the Leafs this far this season. We’re nineteen regular season games away from knowing if that was the right tack.
In February, the Leafs played 14 games. That’s 28 possible points they could have garnered in the standings. Of those 28, they got 20. That’s a .714 percentage of points. If they play at the same pace over the remainder of the season, they will finish the regular year with 90 points. Last season, the eighth- place team in the East, Montreal, had 88 points. A playoff berth for the Leafs, even with their two disheartening losses this past weekend to Pittsburgh and Atlanta, remains a distinct possibility.
I love that Brian Burke has stuck with Phil Kessel. Don’t misunderstand. I still don’t think Kessel will ever become the player many in the Leafs Nation believe he will. He’s too streaky. And he doesn’t work hard at all on a consistent basis. That being said, being named the NHL’s First Star of the Week is no small feat. Since he scored two power-play goals, in Boston no less, on February 15th, he’s been on a tear. Over his past seven games, Kessel has seven goals and four assists. And seven of those points have come on the power play. And, in a related story, no one misses Tomas “Only I can quarterback the power play” Kaberle.
Will Kessel’s run continue? That’s the big question, isn’t it? Mikhail Grabovski’s hot streak lasted from December 6th through January 20th. A prolonged hot streak like that from Kessel may very well mean the difference between a playoff berth and golf. Just relax, Phil…we know you don’t do well under pressure. Just have fun. And remember, Brian Burke is behind you.
That means a lot to players when their loud-as-a-bullhorn GM stands behind them. And lets them know what he expects. Burke has told his players that he expects the best from them every night. A lot of GMs say that. Burke really means it. Nothing from him is lip service.
Between now and Saturday, the Leafs host Pittsburgh and Chicago, with a trip to Philadelphia in between. I think we can all agree that Philly will be the tallest mountain. Everest perhaps. And how will the club bounce back after the weekend demoralization?
J-S Giguère really let down his teammates in Atlanta. With a 2-0, third-period lead, that should have been two points in the bag. It was not. If they let even one or two more games away like that, it will doom their playoff chances.
But, either way, they know Brian Burke is counting on them to deliver over the final nineteen.