Game 63: When things go boom and deadline questions arise
When I was a child, we used to race our bicycles down a steep, winding street.
Some kids had fancy 3-speeds with aluminum gears. Others had BMX off-roads with matching accessories from Canadian Tire. One boy raced his sister's bike, despite getting razzed for the pink basket and glittery banana seat.
Then there was Mikey (not his real name).
Mikey was a couple of years older than most of us but in the same grade. With the help of his father – who worked with scrap metals – he built his own bike: a rim here, a patched tube there, mismatched wheels, repurposed steel bars, a mottled chain that looked as if it might spontaneously turn into soot.
One day, as I recall, a race started and Mikey was out in front, as he usually was since his freakishly muscular legs were the same length as our prepubescent bodies.
He was flying down that steep, winding street at supersonic speed. It looked like nothing could go wrong and victory was guaranteed.
"Are you okay, Mikey?" we screamed, slamming on our brakes, dismounting and running to our bloodied and bruised friend who lay moaning on the boulevard. "Mikey, you don't look so good!"
Watching the Leafs lose 3-2 to Atlanta in overtime, I was reminded of Mikey tonight.
The Leafs started quickly, building up a 2-0 lead. But when James Reimer left the game in the second period – apparently injured earlier when he took an Evander Kane knee to the head – it was if the team's handlebar popped out and a horrifying crash was all but inevitable.
The Leafs were able to keep their rudderless contraption upright for a bit. But like Mikey, once the speed wobble started, once they tried to salvage a bad situation by doing absolutely nothing except freezing, it was only a matter of time until they jumped the curb and went hurtling into a bush.
"Are you okay, Leafs?" we screamed at our TVs in the third period. "You don't look so good!"
So the most important weekend of the season is now over and we are exactly where we were on Friday morning: Four points out of the word we dare not speak.
This is where we can have a "is the glass half-full or half-empty" debate.
To wit: Did the Leafs pick-up two points in back-to-back games this weekend? Or did they squander two points in consecutive games? Are they undefeated in regulation time over their past seven? Or do they have two regulation wins in their last five?
Are they ready to pedal hard for the next month? Or are they running out of steam already?
Then as we head into Monday's trade deadline, there are even more questions after tonight's game:
1. How serious is Reimer's injury?
2. How much ice time can J.S. Giguere's groin really handle? Yes, the poor guy was left to fend for himself against Atlanta. Even still, he did not look capable of spending an entire day at Disney World without the aid of a motorized scooter.
3. What happens when Jonas Gustavsson's two-week conditioning stint ends? Is he physically and mentally ready to return? Can he play or will he snap under the pressure? Are the Leafs in the market for another goaltender only weeks after dressing three?
4. Can Brian Burke find this mysterious puck-moving defenceman before the 3 p.m. deadline? What will he be forced to give up? Will it hurt or help the race?
5. Why are there so many defensive lapses in coverage after 63 games? Why are there still so many giveaways and mental errors? Why does it often feel as if the D is trapped inside a cage?
6. If no backend trades are forthcoming, who will replace Tomas Kaberle on the power play? Brett Lebda? Timmy Brent? Can homemade "experiments" work in the long-run or are they as doomed as Mikey's bike?
7. Can the Leafs resign Clarke MacArthur or will the leading scorer be traded? What impact would his departure have on the team's top line?
8. Can The Phil Kessel Awesome Streak of 2011 continue for the remaining 19 games? What exactly can we expect from Joffrey Lupul?
9. Is something wrong with Mikhail Grabovski? In the six games since his heroic performance against Boston – during which he was crushed twice by Zdena Chara – Grabovski has not scored a goal, his longest drought since Dec. 6.
The truth is, I'm feeling more hopeful about this team than I have in quite some time. But as waffles2010 noted in the comments earlier this evening: "They are an incomplete hockey team. One that is capable of playing very well, and one that is equally capable of playing badly. They seem to have some pieces that are keepers, and a number that are clearly traders."
So get some rest. We line up at the top of another steep, winding street tomorrow morning.
PHOTO: TAMI CHAPPELL/REUTERS