Game 43: In which I pretend that never happened and gaze into a crystal ball
It was just after midnight when I first attempted to write this dispatch.
The Leafs were in Glendale, Arizona. Maybe it was the arid climate. Maybe it was the subtropical sun. Maybe it was the distant mountains.
Whatever the reason, before the Leafs arrived at Jobing.com Arena – what the hell kind of name is that for a hockey rink? – their circadian clocks were rewired by unseen forces and, without warning, they slipped into a deep sleep while the game was still underway.
"Game 43," I started to type. "In which I pretend that—"
Suddenly, my eyes called a time-out.
Eyes: "We're not doing this now."
Me: "Excuse me? We have to do this now."
Eyes: "Piss off. It's been a long week. We're done."
I tried to continue without them. I swear to God, I tried. But without my eyes, my fingers typed words such as xojaljeg and sleibalk and tlwolkjslbpqiwobn. Everything got real blurry.
Now, look. I have never made excuses for this team. But if we as fans felt utterly bagged after just watching this Western road trip, imagine how the team felt after playing three games in four nights in three cities in two time zones.
Their legs were like our eyes: They were done.
So, yes, the Leafs ran out of gas at the end of a very successful road trip. Nine goals against Atlanta? Back-to-back wins in Los Angeles and San Jose? Even last night, before the third period started, it was only 1-0. They were asleep but thanks to James Reimer, they had a chance to wake up in time.
When you're running on empty, you tend to miss the net, botch your chances and conserve rather than accelerate. But here's the more important development, even if the Leafs choose not to see it on this travel day: As the sun was setting in Arizona, our magnificent Leaf bastards ran out of gas at critical fork in the road.
If they go left, I'm guessing, J.S. Giguere starts Saturday when the Leafs return home to play Calgary. In fact, we'll see a lot more of Jiggy between now and the trade deadline next month as the bus stops to jettison certain players while welcoming new guys aboard. We may have also seen the last of Reimer for now, impossible as that seems.
If the Leafs go right, they carry three goalies for an indefinite period. Not an ideal situation. Reimer will play more, lots more. And Jonas Gustavsson will remain in the vehicle, albeit mostly in the back seat where he'll stare out the window with sad eyes while listening to depressing alternative music on his iPod.
Are we playing for the future? Or are we playing for now? Do we somehow ignore the wins and losses and showcase assets that may appeal to other teams and, in turn, bring us key missing ingredients for a new beginning in the fall? Or do we believe this brilliant start in 2011 – let's face it, a 5-2 stretch seemed unfathomable before Christmas – can realistically be sustained over the next three months?
If the Leafs feel they can play above .600 with this team configured such as it is, they should obviously step on the gas and go right. Patience be damned. Let's see what happens. Let's see what these guys can do.
But if there's any doubt – even if this doubt is never conveyed to us – the Leafs should quietly go left. By all means, yes, compete every night. Tell us you're trying your best. Tell us the playoffs are still the goal. But deep down, understand this season has slipped away and the present is the future.
Here's the most important thing: It's time to make a decision.
Left or right, a song for the road, courtesy of the good people at hockeygods.com