After a long weekend of following the Leafs and eating turkey, it seems the two were intertwined. After a spectacular showing Thursday night in Detroit, the Leafs came out flat on Saturday vs. the Habs, and then lost a heart breaker to a young upstart team from St. Louis.
These types of games can be expected from a young building club like the Leafs. Full of promise and hope, they suddenly were overconfident after defeating the defending Stanley Cup champions and felt they could waltz through Saturday's contest with the Habs. Give all credit to Montreal, they had this game marked on their calendar, and more than 1 player told me they were preparing to face the Leafs since at least mid September. The Habs gave it their best, and the Leafs barely showed up, the outcome was predictable.
Monday the Leafs showed they can bounce back from a poor outing and dominated the Blues early on. Great skating speed, tight forechecking and some beautiful goals from Kaberle, Kulemin and Ponikarovsky staked the Leafs to an early 3-0 lead. The team from St. Louis wasn't going away though. This team is the same sort of young upstart squad that the Leafs are sporting this year, and they battled hard. Leaf fans may not realize it now, but this could be a sneak preview of the Stanley Cup Final in 2 years. These two clubs are both headed in the right direction and may soon dominate their respective conferences.
After St. Louis came all the way back and tied the game at 3, coach Wilson turned at the bench, spotted me just a row behind him and gave a shrug as if to say "I tried telling them". Asked later what that shrug meant he was honest.
"We've got to learn to be more disciplined. Up 3-0 the game should have been shut down, instead we got what you saw here."
The five minute major penalty to Hollweg was definitely the turning point of this contest and coach Wilson was none too pleased with Ryan Hollweg in the post game comments.
It's not all doom and gloom though Leaf fans. I'm here to emphasize the positives for you and they are plentiful.
1. Luke Schenn: is there any doubt now that this guy is the true #1 pick of this past summer's draft? Cliff Fletcher looks like a genius after moving up in the draft to select this guy. Defencemen of this caliber only come around once in a generation and the Leafs have him. 10 years from now people will look back on the 2008 draft and wonder how 4 other teams could have possibly passed up on Schenn.
2. Nikolai Kulemin: He looked out of place at times during the preseason but he now is showing the potential that he has when the Leafs selected the big winger. 2 goals in his first 3 games and this guy is on pace to shatter all Leaf rookie scoring records. At 22 years of age he could be a dominate force in this league for more than a decade.
3. Jason Blake: He suddenly looks dangerous on the ice once again after an off year last season. This guy could once again be the 40 goal the scorer the Leafs had hoped him to be.
4. Anton Stralman: After an un-even pre-season he was given the chance to play on Monday afternoon and played a solid game. A +2 rating in a losing game means he'll be back to show his stuff in the next match. With a young trio of defencemen like Schenn, Stralman and Colaiacovo, this Leaf team will be set for the long haul.
It'll be a long roller coaster year to be certain Leaf fans, the highs being very high, the lows being low. I'm eager to see how this young club develops along the way. One thing is for sure, the Leafs will have an interesting decision to make once Luke Schenn reaches 9 games played. Is he better served staying with the big club or going back to play in the juniors and the upcoming World Junior Tournament.