Remember that kid in your math class? The one who, in order to pass even the simplest test, had to work and work and work. You could almost see the sweat pouring down his forehead as he tried to solve for x in 17x + 4×2 + 14 = 329. And, if he was really lucky, he got a C+. He’s the Maple Leafs. Without every single piston firing, every player working their tail off, they aren’t going to win.
Thursday night, v. St. Louis, proved that. The Leafs showed a lot of poise against the Blues. Ya, I know, gassing a 5-2 lead, with fourteen minutes remaining, is not poise. Neither is blowing a 1-0 lead in the first period. But coming back and winning that game is. It is because, typically with this club, once that lead is blown, so is the game. They are not what I’d call a great comeback squad. The opposite, in fact.
This season, once these Leafs trail, or even blow a lead, it’s lights out. Phil Kessel slumps his shoulders and shrugs, “Oh well, I’ll try the same tired moves on another goaltender tomorrow.” The only Leafs’ player these days who seems to play all 60, every 60, is Mikhail Grabovski.
By now, you’ve seen his glorious shootout goal from last night. After the game, Tyler Bozak (who scored the shootout winner) said he’d be “too nervous” to try what Grabovski did. “Too nervous?” Aren’t you in the NHL, kid? How about playing like you are? Nervous is for amateurs, not professionals.
But Jonas Gustavsson also looks nervous. I’d be nervous in his skates too. Seems NHL players have figured out his “Drop-instantly-and-pray-to-God-it-hits-me” style. If he doesn’t ramp up the mobility factor in his game, he’s going to be The Monster Sieve. The way he’s playing right now, Gustavsson couldn’t solve x + 2 = 12.
I can’t help but imagine how good this club would be if about three or four other guys managed to wiggle their way onto the Grabovski train and play with his recent intensity and timeliness. His shootout goal last night was exactly what shootout goals should be – entertaining and successful. Mission accomplished.
And, as usual, this brings me back to the same place. Coaching. If every player had the confidence Grabovski has going right now, this team would be looking down at eighth spot, rather than up.
We’ll see how hard they work Friday night in Atlanta in the second half of their two-in-two. If they’re going to make anything out of this season, hard work has got to become part of the equation.