I must have been one of the few to not turn off the game at the end of the first period (or earlier). What I watched was an inexplicably detached team get handed their lunch at home to a team leagues below them. How can this be acceptable?
‘Well, Kapanen has a concussion and Zach Hyman is out ill so the team had some important players missing.’ Save that excuse – Matthews, Marner, Nylander, Javares, Rielly, Andersen, Muzzin, Marleau, Kadri, Johnsson were all in the lineup. Two absent wingers wasn’t the problem.
No, it wasn’t injuries, sickness, or tiredness that the Leafs can blame for this loss. It’s just an uncomfortable truth that there is a lack of motivation in this team, and it’s inhibiting them from taking the next step to elite status.
All the parts are there: center depth, Vezina contending goalie, Norris quality defenseman, skilled players, coach with pedigree of winning. So, what’s the problem?
Maybe it’s the losers mentality that so many fans in Leafs Nation have crept into the players’ minds; “were not as good as Tampa or as physical as Boston, we can’t win against them.” The vocal minority seems to be chanting this regularly.
In the words of Pat Quinn, “that’s a losers race.”
If the Leafs are playing 82 games to place third in their division and get ousted in the first round of the playoffs every year then count me out on the Shanaplan or the belief that this team has been rebuilt.
The players are in place, barring a few off-season tweaks, and the skill is here, so what’s the issue? It has to be down to an attitude and motivational problem with the team. Is that a problem that falls on Mike Babcock? Yeah, kind of, but if these players can’t find a way to get up for a game is that really a coaching problem?
The answer to the title question is that there is no excuse this time. Injuries happen, sickness happens, and tiredness happens. Rather than relying on an excuse to justify poor play, this team needs to look at recent failures as a jumping off point and a starting line.
Get refocused, get motivated, and get going. There is nothing blocking the Toronto Maple Leafs from being a successful team that is as mentally strong as it is skillfully. But, the pessimism must end.