(UPDATE: Leafs sent down Colaicovo this morning. No word yet from practice on what that means, if anything -- could be a mere housekeeping move to save a couple days' salary.)
If you, like me, were feeling a little jaded as the second period moved toward its midway point last night -- okay, perhaps you were feeling a little sleepy -- then the rest of the way was a little jolt that reminded you life in this postmodern NHL can never be taken for granted. Or perhaps it's just a Leaf thing.
The Leafs redeemed what, up till that midpoint, looked like their most aimless effort since their last time out, against the same Caps, on Sunday night -- one that, as Paul Hunter notes, "triggers alarms instead of celebration" as it points to their strengths and weaknesses at once. You can put that down to typical Toronto angst if you want, but regardless, here's Mats Sundin's assessment:
"We have the talent to be one of the top teams in the league, but right now we're not good enough defensively."
They are what they are -- a half glass.
The one thing that gives hope for change is that, with youngsters on the blueline now as well as up front, there is some chance for improvement as they mature and gain confidence.
Carlo Colaicovo played, and played well last night, scoring his first NHL goal, and Staffan Kranwall hasn't looked out of place since taking up a spot six games ago. This doesn't match the pure electricity of an Ovechkin, the Caps' super rookie, or a Crosby or any of the league's other more glittering young talents, but it will do.
Damien Cox notes it nicely:
"What is truly encouraging for Leaf Nation, meanwhile, is that for the first time in a long, long time the Leafs are very much a part of this transfer of influence to a new generation. Last night, fully one-quarter of the Toronto roster was populated by players 23 years of age or younger ... The presence of so many kids, of course, is also a contributing factor to the confounding way in which the Leafs continue to defy firm description with one-fifth of a schedule having been played."
Not sure about that last bit. To me, the kids have been more consistent than the likes of Allison and O'Neill (the latter finally waking up with Sundin back) -- even top scorer Bryan McCabe, who for all his offence and power-play prowess (his pass to O'Neill to set up a goal just a beauty, wasn't it?) can still give the puck away too easily.
Sundin's right -- this is not a solid defensive team, and the way it's built currently it won't be. There's not enough team speed, the puckhandling overall in their own end is shaky and the goaltending has been streaky.
As for last night's new line combinations, the big loser was one of those kids, Matt Stajan reduced to fourth-line status and just 5:20 of playing time, less than half his usual this season.
Front and back, though, the future is in sight. Now comes the tricky business of getting there.