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Players defend Wilson, no surprise; Loss to Vancouver may lead to better days

It was not a surprise that the Leafs showed glimpses of offensive capability on Saturday night.  They knew some new recruits were on hand and that the brass is edgy. It was Saturday night and the Canucks presented the kind of opposition that can hammer you if you aren’t ready.

The quick start was nice, and Grabovski, to his credit, scored a very nice goal with a short and sweet wind up which he got off very quickly against Luongo.  He made some other plays that could have resulted in goals.

Kessel’s goal should help him relax.  He looked more like himself, not that he didn't have, or create, opportunities throughout his "slump".

I thought Brent’s line (especially Brent) may actually have had the most jump of all the forward units.  They worked dilligently and well against the Sedin line.

The Kadri, Kulemin and Bozak trio was fine.  Good at times. They created some chances.  Kadri made a neat pass to set up Bozak late in the third.  Bozak can’t buy a goal these days but I still believe his fortunes will change if he keeps working.  (Kulemin could have had three himself.  I'd like to see a stat sheet on how many good chances he had.)

When the Leafs created some traffic in front of Luongo, they had some success.  But late in the game, he played well and made the difference.

Aulie did some good work in his debut.  It’s one game but he seemed quite poised.  Lebda looks more confident to me, as he gets more game time.  That said, Beauchemin is the guy bearing the brunt of Phaneuf’s absence in terms of ice time, and he handled it well last night.

Giguere made some tremendous stops.  The fourth goal was obviously a miss (though it wouldn't have happened if Sjostrom managed to get the puck in deep seconds earlier) but he was very good overall.

Sometimes a team starts to play well before they actually begin to win games, just as a team on a roll will often win a game or two at the end of their streak that they really don’t deserve to win.  The Vancouver game may have been a harbinger of better efforts, and better results.

We’ll see.

Earlier in the week, both Clarke MacArthur and J.S. Giguerre came out strongly in defense of Maple Leaf head coach Ron Wilson.

Now, this should come as no surprise.  Beyond the fact that Wilson is considered a proven, successful coach at the NHL level, there are some things that would just never be said for publication to a reporter.

In Giguere’s case, he is a Burke disciple.  Burke has given him a new lease on life, becoming a starter here in Toronto after his starring days in Anaheim were long past him, relegated as he was to a back-up job.

For MacArthur, a solid contributor in his early Leaf days, he was a player who has bounced around a bit in recent times, and is new to the organization.  What else would he say?

This is not to suggest that players should be talking about their coach, or that Wilson is worthy of player criticism.  Simply that this is a very young team, with few established stars.  Many of these players are simply trying to stay with the big club, or at this point in the season are struggling with their own play.  They certainly aren’t going to start whispering to media people about the coach—even if they felt they had reason to.

Besides the fact that Wilson is a well-regarded NHL coach, Burke would be loathe to make a move even if he felt one was needed.  He has already pulled Kadri out of his hat, and it will be a while before we see if that will have a long-term positive impact on the team.  Once you start doing things like changing the coach, you are really running out of alternatives if the team does not proceed to play much better in the weeks ahead.

Eventually, critics start pointing their attention at the General Manager.  Not that Burke would care about that, publicly, but it’s just the reality.  It is too early in his tenure to even want to appear to be acting out of desperation, though some have suggested the Kadri move showed a bit of that. (I would have preferred he stayed with the Marlies longer, but if this is his time, then it's his time.)  So I can’t see a coaching move anywhere in the foreseeable future—particularly since the team may well turn things around in short order.

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