Game Day: Get busy living or get busy dying
When asked about tonight's showdown with Buffalo, coach Ron Wilson said: "We haven't talked about it being life and death."
Someone, please, talk about it. Hurry. At the very least, this game is life and a coma. It's life and critical injuries. Life and blunt force trauma to the hopes and dreams of Leafs Nation.
There are 14 games remaining in the season. The Leafs trail the Sabres and Rangers by six points. Mr. Wilson, sir, it is time to embrace the clichés of your chosen profession:
The Leafs did not practice yesterday, a wise decision given the creeping fatigue we've witnessed over the past three games. Wilson said he wanted his players to "think" about things.
Let's hope this thinking included: Why can't we win on Saturdays?
Heading into The Most Important Game Of The Season™, Toronto has dropped seven straight Saturday night games. Even in the mid-80s, when I cheered for Frycer and Ihnacak while wearing a pastel Miami Vice T-shirt and writing high school love letters to wooo girls, I can't recall this much weekend misery.
If this continues, Hockey Night in Canada should consider playing a different Elton John song during the intro for Leaf games. Forget about "Saturday Night's All Right (For Fighting)" and maybe give us a few bars from "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," "I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues," "Sad Songs (Say So Much)," "Candle In The Wind," or "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me."
Speaking of which, I was up most of the night again with a sick child. Incidentally, in the predawn hours, a 4-year-old with the stomach flu has symptoms eerily identical to a child who is possessed by Satan.
But in between applying cold towels to a feverish forehead and changing bed sheets and running for my life, there was plenty of time to think about this stretch of Saturday night futility, which now includes losses to Calgary (January 15), Washington (January 22), Buffalo (February 5), Montreal (February 12), Ottawa (February 19), Pittsburgh (February 26) and Chicago (March 5).
Despite mostly even territorial play during these seven games – cumulative shot totals were 233 for opponents, 232 for the Leafs – the magnificent bastards were outscored 27-12.
These seven games included two shutouts against and two shootout losses. The Leafs also managed to score only one first period goal in these seven games and the struggling power play was downright anemic, operating at 3 for 31, or 9.7 per cent.
You know what else is weird? Saturday nights are the worst day of the week for individual performances this season.
The team's Top 4 scorers are generating their lowest points-per-game numbers on Saturdays: Mikhail Grabovski (.44), Clarke MacArthur (.56), Phil Kessel (.50) and Nikolai Kulemin (.44).
The defencemen, meanwhile, have a worse plus/minus on Saturdays than any other day of the week: Dion Phaneuf (-3), Luke Schenn (-2), Carl Gunnarsson (-4), Brett Lebda (-4) and Keith Aulie (-4). (The only exception to this rule is Mike Komisarek. His worst plus-minus, -5, falls on Mondays.)
Here's another statistical oddity I discovered at 3 a.m.
Saturday nights are the only day of the week in which James Reimer has a save percentage under .900 (.889). It's also his worst day of the week with respect to goals against average (3.56).
1. We should really score the first goal.
2. Here's a crazy idea: Why don't we score the first goal in the first period?
3. We should cover our men in the defensive zone and not just look at them with vague indifference, like they're handing out religious pamphlets at the airport.
5. We should get some traffic in front of Ryan Miller.
6. Why don't we bang in a rebound or use something other than Grabovski's face to deflect a shot tonight?
7. Before clearing the puck up the middle, let's ask ourselves a simple question: "Would Stevie Wonder be comfortable making this play?"
8. On the power play, let's pretend our feet are nestled comfortably inside skates and not entombed inside blocks of cement. In short: Let's move our feet!
9. We should spread out a little to make it, a) more difficult for Buffalo defenders and, b) to avoid bumping into each other like Keystone Kops.
10. Instead of waiting until it's too late, let's start the game with desperation and intensity.
Ron Wilson may not believe this is a life or death situation. But to quote Tim Robbins from The Shawshank Redemption: "I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying."