TORONTO (Oct. 30) -- It was rather intriguing... the amount of head-scratching, and the frequency of blank stares around the Air Canada Centre last night, after the latest in a long line of home-ice disasters for the Toronto Maple Leafs. I mean, is it really that difficult to figure out? Haven't we seen enough results like this in the past two-plus regular seasons to understand that the Leafs simply do not possess the character and/or desire to perform with integrity in front of their die-hards on many nights?
If you've forgotten, here's a refresher of the sort of games at the ACC I'm referring to since October of the 2005-06 season:
*8-0 loss to Ottawa, Oct. 29, 2005
*5-1 loss to Boston, Nov. 23, 2005
*8-4 loss to Buffalo, Jan. 26, 2006
*6-2 loss to Ottawa, Oct. 24, 2006
*5-2 loss to Atlanta, Dec. 5, 2006
*7-3 loss to Florida, Dec. 19, 2006
*6-1 loss to Vancouver, Jan. 13, 2007
*6-1 loss to Buffalo, Feb. 27, 2007
*7-1 loss to Carolina, Oct. 9, 2007
*6-4 loss to Chicago, Oct. 20, 2007
*7-1 loss to Washington, Oct. 29, 2007
That's 11 glaring examples of failure on home ice in just over two calendar years. Yes, there have been some triumphs as well, but not nearly enough to offset the unacceptably high percentage of duds. And it doesn't include the humiliations on the road -- crippling, lop-sided defeats with playoff positions still in reach. Like the back-to-back hammerings in Montreal in March, 2006. The 5-1 wipeout by 30th-place Washington last March at the Verizon Center. And the two bombings in New York at the end of last season that I've referred to on a number of occasions (7-2 to the Rangers; 5-2 to the Islanders).
The interesting part is that it appears to come as a shock to some when the Leafs lay an egg -- particularly in their own barn. As if some inexplicable force is at work. Isn't it less complicated (though clearly gut-wrenching for a multitude of fans) to accept that the Leafs simply cannot play a sufficiently composed brand of hockey most nights? That the team just isn't good enough?
For whatever reason, there seems to be much less intrigue after tidy efforts like the ones we saw in Pittsburgh and New York -- victories that were richly deserved. It's almost as if, 'Hey, these are the real Leafs... we just have to be patient.' Obviously, "good" results require less explanation and are easy to digest. For my money, however, games like the two road triumphs this week are far more difficult to comprehend. Not in the manner in which the Leafs won them, but the fact they were able to play so efficiently. As with last year, however, they will prove to be the exception rather than the rule. It is undeniable that bad defensive teams are bound to play well now and then over the course of 82 games, just as good teams will falter on occasion.
And, let's not get carried away with the notion that the Leafs "allow" so-called inferior clubs to beat them once in awhile. This Toronto outfit -- as constituted the past two-plus seasons -- needs no excuse whatsoever for losing games... regardless of the score or circumstance. The Leafs are perfectly and innately adept at being steamrolled by opponents at any level of the NHL standings. They have proven this, over and over, since the league started up again after the lockout.
Also, it is a stretch to label the disgruntled fans at the ACC as "difficult" or "nasty". Go to a hockey game in New York or Philadelphia when the home team is faltering, and you'll see true malice. Sure, a few Toronto supporters boo when things are going badly, but the fans show up again next time out -- full of unjustified promise. That's the nature of fandom, but it makes for a messy scene here in the land of the Maple Leaf.
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