Sunday, October 11, 2009
The Wallace Factor
Feeling lost? Feeling frightened and alone? Do you both hate Sidney Crosby and hope that nothing at all happens physically to him before February? Faithful remnant, did you awake this beautiful crisp fall day in the Big Smoke only to remember your crushing disappointment from last night. Have you lost all hope? Do you have image of Boston standing at the podium making a 4th overall draft choice selection only to then read a newspaper and have Berger/Cox tell you how much a loser you are for being a fan of a team you've always been a fan of?
Is all hope lost? Is this to be our season?
Have I taught you nothing, faithful remnant? Put on your cold cloaks of pure rationality and lets reason through these first couple of games together.
From our standpoint the Leafs are lacking two major components that any successful hockey team needs. They are two intangible things that any team, or army or any group of men united in a common goal need.
But first, what we do have: we have a talented team. Players are growing up and finding their stride as actual NHL players. Stajan has looked good--something we don't really say here around TOV. Stempniak really looks good. He's starting to do that cut-in-from-the-half-boards-to-the-slot move that he did a lot in St Louis that worked so well for him. He's getting chances and soon enough people will be getting his rebounds if he doesn't pot them himself. Kulemin looks good and Whitey is starting to look like a steal. There's talent here and there is talent in the pipeline waiting for their shot. Oh yeah....and Phil Kessel; one of the best players his age.
Now, the team on paper look good. The Spanish Armada on paper looked good too. So too did the Senators last year.
No, there is something else missing--these two alluded to factors.
A. Emotional lift. The team has been deflated by two things this young season. 1: we don't score first and start playing catch-up. 2: Soft goals suck the wind out of our sails. We are not normally the types to blame one specific person for these early season ills, but truth be told: Toskala has not played to the caliber of an NHL goalie. Sure, we can talk all we want about the defense giving up shots or that "that was just the perfect shot--below the blocker and over the pads" and whathaveyou, but you as a tender need to gauge the emotion of the game and have your brain saying "you have to save this shot for the good of the team right now" match up with your muscular-memory reflexes. Basically, you need to focus and battle. Toskala is not battling at all. He is deep in his net and--as first-shot-first-goals can attribute to--he is shell shocked. He is scared and the fear is palpable even through a tv screen--we can't imagine what it is like on the bench. Honestly, he will sink us if we let him. Dude needs some sort of spiritual retreat or something.
B: emotion from scoring timely goals. When we make a big push and cycle in their end we need to finish it off when the other team is tired and playing sloppy. We need killers! We need people who smell blood on the ice and move to finish it off.
Do we have remedies waiting in the wings? Do we have a battler? Do we have someone who has the eyes of a killer? Do we have someone who has a nose for the net (maybe a really big nose?) As you can see, we here at TOV think we have the pieces that are missing for this first problem of emotion. Toskala is/was good on paper, but Joey MacDonald has battled his whole career. Toskala is a cool chilled out brohime but Jonas Gustavsson says things like "I will be a number one goalie if it one week, one month, one year, or ten years." He wants it and he can smell that he can take it from Toskala. The Monster moves out of his crease looking like he is going to eat the forward coming towards him. Toskala looks...well....small. He backs into the net, goes down on the shooters wind-up and can't make a stop or be in position for the rebound. It is 100% mental right now and he needs to get away for a while. Like, on the bench. :)
If Kessel can score he can take the pressure off guys who have no business trying to. Every time Mitchell touches the ice his first thought should be "who can I kill?" Honestly. He does not need to go on the ice and say "can I generate a chance?" He needs to squish people and go back to the bench and squish people again. And last night, Healy was right--we need to squish their stars, not their fourth line guys. Kessel will allow the bottom six to do more bottom six things. That is, if Kessel can bring offense which we are sure he can.
This brings us to our second factor that is needed and we here at TOV call it The Wallace Factor. Yes. We need a Captain. And not Kaberle. Kaberle is a great great player--one of the best Dmen ever for the blue and white, but he's not our Captain. We need someone who, when the come to the dressing room and see that sacred white 9-point in a sea of blue on their chest, their goosed-bumped arms remind them that they are part of something bigger than themselves. We need a man who longs to see his own shed blood fall on his jersey from a blocked shot. We need a man who dreams about the red glow of the lamp, the split second of silence and then the roar of us, the true fans. We need a man who can stir up the passions of the younger men on the team and have them rather die than see their goalie showered in spiteful snowjobs. We need someone who knows that a shameful win is more detrimental to a season than a proud loss where the other team is bloodied and happy that it is over. Honor. Pride. Glory. All the cliches are true and we need them in spades.
We don't care who it is. If Komi is the man, do it. If Schenn is ready, go for it. If bouncing-bald-baby Stajan will paint his face blue and throw himself headfirst into the oppositions bench, then call the seamstress and tell her to bring her C's. But we cannot hope to win without a Wallace. Wilson can only do so much. We need someone to actually buy into Wilson's Hanta Yo speech and have his peers see it and aspire to it in their own game.
And we need it now, before this season gets any older.
Posted by Graeme Donaldson at 12:49 PM