"That's not good enough."
I recall watching the Leafs skate one morning this summer.
It was late August, around 9:30 a.m. at the MasterCard Centre. Since camp had not started yet, this was an optional skate. In fact, the players each chipped in a few bucks for the ice (as per NHL policy) and as a game of intramural shinny broke out, the only thing on the line was breakfast and bragging rights.
The mood was decidedly upbeat that morning.
There were some nifty moves, some dazzling saves, some over-the-top goal celebrations. There were no coaches on the ice – just young players looking forward to the start of a new season, young players hoping to etch greatness on a clean slate.
So when J.S. Giguere blasted his teammates last night after losing to Tampa, it was more than just a wake-up call. It was a clear sign the room, once relaxed and confident and upbeat, is now teetering on the brink of internecine dysfunction.
Giguere: "We had a big opportunity at the beginning of the game, a 5-on-3. When you get those chances at the beginning of the game, you've got to bury one, you've got to score. You've got to get something going. We couldn't manage. We just weren't ready to compete. We played better in the second and the third, but that's not good enough."
That last phrase seems to surface every decade in Hogtown:
"We're dissatisfied with the number of goals we're giving up. If it keeps up we will be finishing up in the seventh or eighth position in the overall standings and that's not good enough." – Coach Roger Neilson, after a 7-6 loss to Washington in 1978.
"We're trying our best and if that's not good enough it's up to someone else to do something about it. We're trying our best and that's all we can do. If the fans want to react to it, that's up to them. They paid for their tickets, but I still think it's horseshit." – Borje Salming, after an 8-0 playoff loss to Detroit in 1988 prompted Leaf fans to litter the Gardens ice with debris.
"I was satisfied with our effort but if we're satisfied with going on the road and losing, that's not good enough." – Coach Tom Watt, after the Leafs lost three straight on the road in 1992, fading hopes for a playoff spot.
"Goal slumps don't bother me, never have… We probably had five or six good scoring chances in our last game, we just didn't finish. When you're losing, that's not good enough. We have to find a way to play better." – Shayne Corson in 2001, while in the midst of a 30-game goalless drought.
You know what's really not good enough? Some of the dubious numbers this team has "earned" over their first 14 games in a 30-team league:
- GOALS PER GAME AVERAGE: 2.21 (League Rank 29)
- POWER PLAY: 12.1 per cent (League Rank 23)
- POINTS: 13 (League Rank 25)
- PENALTY KILLING: 78.3 (League Rank 25)
- GOALS SCORED IN FIRST PERIODS: 8 (League Rank 27)
- 5-ON-5 GOALS: 23 (League Rank 21)
- NUMBER OF TIMES SHUTOUT: 3 (League Rank 30)
It's hard not to feel a little sorry for Jiggy and The Monster at this point. I mean, they can stand on their heads and juggle Ginsu knives for 60 minutes and it won't matter one damn bit if the team in front of them can't even score a single goal.
And you know what's truly frightening? As the Leafs get ready to take on Florida tonight, as the team struggles to turn around a season that has gone from magic to misery over the past 10 games, nobody seems to possess a blueprint that will fix this crumbling mess.
I know it's still early. But inertia is no way to get out of a vortex.
PHOTO: CHRIS O'MEARA/ASSOCIATED PRESS