I had the chance to take in the Leafs-Flames game here in Toronto, a contest that was essentially over 10 minutes in after a couple iffy goals. Jonas Gustavsson had his first really tough night in the crease, allowing three goals on five shots before he was chased from the crease.
More on that here, for those that are interested in a two-day old game story.
The only positive on the Leafs side of things, at least according to Ron Wilson, was the play of newcomer Carl Gunnarsson — an apparently late-blooming seventh rounder who made his NHL debut. I didn't know anything about the kid, but he did play for Sweden at the worlds back in the spring and reportedly was very strong in training camp.
I don't think many seventh rounders get 21 minutes ice time in their first game, but so it was on Saturday. Given his stats over in Sweden, I can't fathom why he was on the power play for four-plus minutes, but Wilson's got something in mind with him I guess.
Forget any theory that if the Leafs, who have been out scored 23-9 in the first period this season, could learn to start games better their problems would be over. The evidence is clear the forwards are just not good enough. ...
When Burke and Wilson started that playoff talk, part of their reasoning was that their key forwards would improve their modest numbers from last season. There was an argument that since the Leafs were 10th last season in the NHL in goals for that they would be better this season with a rebuilt defence.
All that has resulted so far is a strong argument the forwards were overachievers last season.
Pretty tough to argue with that, at least in the early going. And the problem is that the hole's just getting too deep for Toronto.
The blueline hasn't exactly been great, either, although Tomas Kaberle's impressed me (especially on the power play). If they move him closer to the deadline, a contending team would do well to add his puck-moving skills on the back end.
As a No. 1 defenceman, he's adequate, but if you drop him to second or third on the depth chart on a really good team, he could shine.
At the beginning of the year, I wasn't expecting great things out of this team — mostly just more of the same, a 10th to 12th place finish in a conference with a lot of poor teams and a seventh or eighth overall pick for the Bruins.
Now? Could be a lot uglier than that.
As someone now getting out to see this team up close, in practice, etc., a couple days a week, I'm really not all that concerned about how it shakes out. If anything, Wilson's been easier to deal with as the team has struggled. What's clear, however, is just how hard it is on the players in a media bubble like this, where they're asked each and every day to chronicle the hows and whys of how poorly they're playing. A young guy like Luke Schenn, for instance, is just frustrated beyond all belief (as seen in Chicago on Friday when he threw that mini-tantrum on the bench after he was the goat on the first goal).
We've seen a lot of teams over the years have brutal starts like this and slowly climb out of it, but given how the past four years have gone in Toronto, there's not a lot of optimism here. It seems all but certain now this team will miss the playoffs again, keeping their last postseason date way back in May of 2004, and the natives will get restless.
The building's still full every night, but there's seems to be less and less cheer as we go.
Unless you count all those Calgary fans at the ACC on Saturday...