|Toronto Maple Leafs forward Nikolai Kulimen celebrates his goal with Kris Versteeg (R) during the second period of their NHL hockey game against the Nashville Predators in Toronto November 16, 2010. (REUTERS/Mike Cassese)
TORONTO -- Lamenting the reversal of fortunes since the Toronto Maple Leafs' blazing 4-0 start due to their recent struggles might be the wrong mindset to adopt for fans of the club. In fact, it's precisely those valuable early October points that could save the season for the Leafs if Tuesday's 5-4 win over the Nashville Predators is any indication of upcoming play.
Not only did the Leafs show tremendous fortitude, coming back to win after stumbling to a three-goal deficit in the first period, but they got strong performances from key players who had been struggling of late. A pair of goals by Kris Versteeg snapped a scoring drought that had seen him score only once in his previous 13 games, while Clarke MacArthur's three assists showed the 25-year-old can occasionally be a setup man, in addition to putting the puck in the net.
Although the comeback victory is not enough of a barometer that this team is back on track, it should do wonders in restoring calm around the Maple Leafs and their fans. The Leafs' ugly eight-game losing skid was on the verge of sending panic across Toronto, with many begging for the firing of head coach Ron Wilson.
Wilson, who tied Jacques Lemaire for the seventh-most wins in NHL history with 588 after Tuesday's win, can still be an effective coach in the league given the right pieces. And while his condescending nature and occasional degrading attitude towards his players has lessened his popularity, he does deserve more time to guide a club that had little expectations to start the season. Like him or not, chances are he's here to stay this season, as general manager Brian Burke has given him repeated votes of confidence when speaking with the media.
Regardless of who is coaching this team, it's important to re-establish some realistic goals for this club. The Leafs were expected to climb out of the basement in the Eastern Conference this season while at best challenging for the seventh or eighth playoff spots, a prognosis that shouldn't change.
Where the Leafs go from here is anyone's guess, but as history has shown, long losing streaks can turn into decent win streaks, especially after a rousing victory such as the latest win over the Predators. And with captain Dion Phaneuf and shutdown man Colby Armstrong sidelined with injuries, the Leafs are still without some valuable pieces.
An unforeseen change to the roster also may be in the cards for the Leafs, as goaltender J.S. Giguere left Tuesday's game early in the third period with an apparent injury. He was in the midst of a third straight uninspiring performance, and after giving up three goals in a span of 3 1/2 minutes in the first period, Jonas Gustavsson's return to the crease was a welcome sight for many.
Gustavsson has been called the goaltender of the future for this franchise, and any extended period of time missed by Giguere could give the 26-year-old some time to establish himself in the crease. It also would allow Burke to further evaluate the net minder he so publicly desired before signing him to a contract in the summer of 2009.
With Giguere set to become a free agent at the end of this season, this latest development between the pipes could be a blessing in disguise. It seems like a lifetime ago that Giguere won the Conn Smythe Trophy in a losing cause for Anaheim, and although he's been decent this year, preparing for the future should be the Leafs' first priority.