By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Feb. 21) – On any given day, the emotional spectrum involving the Maple Leafs rages from zero to one hundred and back, with no pause in between. The concept of middle ground has long been foreign to anyone remotely acquainted with hockey in this region. It is black or white – with no shade of grey.
Accordingly, there’s been an extreme reaction to the Leafs in the first third of the lockout-shortened schedule. Depending on the minute or hour, the club is either terrific or terrible. In pummeling Philadelphia at home a week ago Monday, the Leafs were a well-oiled machine – motivated; energetic and working compatibly. After a lethargic follow-up in Carolina three nights later, the team lacked drive and cohesion. Quite a development in 72 hours.
In the wake of Tuesday night’s 4-2 loss in Tampa, it was said and written that the Leafs “had only themselves to blame.” What a “missed opportunity” for the club to move further ahead in the Eastern playoff scramble.
The small matter of an opponent never entered the equation.
Or that it somehow could have been an opportunity gained by the Lightning, not lost by the Leafs. Suddenly, a team chosen by virtually everyone to finish between 11th and 14th in the Conference was capable of dictating results. All the Leafs had to do was show up and take advantage of their “opportunity.”
Goodness, we live in a whacked-out hockey market.
OF COURSE THE MAPLE LEAFS LOST IN TAMPA ON TUESDAY. AFTER ALL, HOW COULD ONE EXPECT AGING, BATTLE-HARDENED WARRIORS LIKE NAZEM KADRI NOT TO BREAK DOWN AFTER ONE MONTH OF THE SEASON? SCOTT AUDETTE GETTY IMAGES/NHL.COM
Here’s an idea… why not just call the Leafs for what they are: a younger, more diligent version of the team that suffocated to death last season; a club, it would appear, with legitimate potential. Nothing more, nothing less.
To surpass expectation – however briefly – is a curse for the Blue and White. Miracles abound. Promise goes through the roof. When the team actually loses a game, it calls for scientific analysis. Apologies erupt from TV screens and newsprint: The poor, battle-worn Leafs – among the youngest of all NHL teams – couldn’t help but surrender in Tampa after a game the previous night in Sunrise, and a grueling, 23-minute charter across the Everglades. Give ’em a break. After all, we’re one whole month into the season. So what if these robust, nubile athletes didn’t play organized hockey between April and January? Wouldn’t any team wilt under such mind-boggling duress?
And, that shabby third-period goal in Tampa that dribbled between the legs of Ben Scrivens? Surely, it must have “hit something along the way.” Otherwise, Scrivens could be breaking down after consecutive shut-outs.
Can’t the Leafs just lose? Isn’t that what nearly everyone expected this season? And when they win, does it have to be a launching-point; an indication that glory lays just beyond the horizon?
Are the Leafs honestly compulsive and rhythmic one night; indolent and chaotic the next? Or, are they merely part of the ebb and flow that governs hockey – this season more acutely than others?
My advice? Get a grip.
And hold it for the next couple of months.
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