A New Perspective
DETROIT--If there were horns honking on Yonge Street last night, they couldn't be heard or felt in Motown.
Time to give Leaf fans some credit. While it's easy to pick on them for exulting too wildly over a three-game winning streak and continuing to live and die with a franchise that has disappointed for 41 years, beating the Red Wings 3-2 on opening night Thursday didn't produce a wave of "I-told-you-so" emails and "We're gonna win the Cup" voice mails.
It had to be a nice night to be a Leaf fan, to be sure, and the result was a far cry from the beating most expected the visitors to take at the hands of the champs.
But the general post-game response seemed measured. Leaf fans know what this season is probably going to feel like, and after weeks of being told by not only the media but Leaf management that the season is likely to be miserable, they seemed to accept beating the Wings as simply a good sign and a solid achievement.
So enjoy it Leaf fans. You're allowed.
Watching Nikolai Kulemin, Jonas Frogren, Mike Van Ryn, Jamal Mayers, Niklas Hagman, John Mitchell, Mikhail Grabovski and Luke Schenn take their first strides in blue-shouldered, white jerseys that are so much more attractive than the dreadful t-shirts they usually wear on the road had to be a nice change of pace for those who like this hockey club.
It had to be better than watching Darcy Tucker whiff on yet another goalmouth feed.
There's obvious holes in the lineup that aren't going to go away. But rather than an emphasis on size and big players, the Leafs seem finally to have grasped the lessons of the post-lockout world and seem determined to ice a club that can actually skate.
Everybody looked good Thursday night, and there aren't going to be many nights like that. But Hagman, to name one player, is obviously a very smart veteran, and Van Ryn broke up a couple of dangerous looking Detroit rushes, including a three-on-one break in the second period.
Jiri Tlusty, almost forgotten as a talking point among all the new faces, was probably the most dangerous Leaf forward in the first two periods. Grabovski, meanwhile, ended up with more ice time (17:07) than Nik Antropov (15:54), which means the job of No. 1 centre really is up for grabs with this club.
In general, there seems to be a new openness about this team, a departure from the uptight JFJ atmosphere. Low expectations and an absence of big-name, big-salaried veterans have altered the spirit, and head coach Ron Wilson's determination to make his players share the load and be accountable is noticeable.
So enjoy last night, Leaf fans, and if you want, feel like there's a tiny light at the end of this tunnel.
No ifs, ands or buts. No qualifying phrases or suggestions that it won't last.