Maple Leafs’ fans, get ready to embrace one of society’s great truths – the inconsistency of youth.
The Edmonton Oilers got a faceful of it last night in St. Paul. They stunk worse in Minnesota than the liverwurst sandwich grandma forgot on the picnic table in August. No zip. No pop. No life.
Last night the name Xcel Energy Center did not apply to the youthful Oilers. And this year, the Leafs are being fuelled by the same type of youthful components as the Oilers – only a tad older.
Fans got a taste of it on Wednesday night in Pittsburgh. Everyone knows that the offensive hopes of the Leafs this season rest squarely on two sets of shoulders – just-turned 23-year old Phil Kessel and 24-year old rookie Tyler Bozak. In Pittsburgh, they were invisible.
Despite playing a combined 35+ minutes it seemed as though they hadn’t even checked in for the evening shift. But that’s OK, as long as guys like 25-year old Clarke MacArthur step up and score twice. Point is, the Leafs’ younger stars are going to have nights like that.
It’s what their teammates do during those contests that will essentially determine long-term success. There are tangible advantages to having a solid core of young players on an NHL team. They grow together. They learn together. Sometimes, they make mistakes together. It takes patience to watch a team like that. And patience is something that Toronto sports fans, frankly, have way too much of.
What other city would watch a team languish for so many years without demanding someone’s head on a platter?
Former Blue Jays’ GM J.P. Ricciardi bumbled his way around the American League for almost a decade before he was shown the door. Why would a team improve when it’s not demanded by its fans, or owners, to improve? The Leafs majority ownership stake is held by the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan. Think they make many demands beyond, “Hey boys, make us even more dough?” They do not.
Tonight’s game against the Rangers (1-1-0, win in Buffalo, loss on Long Island) will be tough. The excitement of the new season has worn off and Wednesday’s game in Pittsburgh was against the toughest team Toronto has faced thus far.
Any team with Henrik Lundqvist (undefeated against Toronto last season) in goal is going to be a bear to play against despite the fact the Rangers missed the playoffs last year. This will be the Blueshirts first game at MSG this season and a great many factors will be at play tonight in Manhattan.
To escape with a fourth straight, season-opening win, the Leafs likely cannot afford to have Kessel and Bozak have a second consecutive off-game. Fortunately, the third member of that top line, Kris Versteeg was a monster of the Leafs’ PK and goes over twenty minutes a night. No one will dispute Ron Wilson’s job is a tough one. And one of the priorities, right now, is to make sure the Leafs’ youngsters understand the concept and benefits of consistency.