Two games in, and the Maple Leafs are 2-0 for the first time in 11 years. While some might be tempted to find meaning within that number, the truth is that in terms of history the number is rather meaningless.
With still 80 games left on the docket, and the Leafs about to embark on their first road trip of the season, expectations must be tempered despite the hot start (and the rare sight of a 4th overall placement on the ESPN Power Rankings).
In other words, a 7-0-1 start (to counter last season’s 0-7-1) is probably just a little too much to ask. As if I had to tell you that. Then again, this IS Leafs Nation; somewhere, someone surely needed the reminder.
Follow the jump for a few first-week impressions and musings.
1) It will be interesting to see if the Leafs can sustain the energy level they showed in their first two home games following what will amount to a three and a half day break heading into Wednesday night’s tilt in Pittsburgh. The Penguins haven’t quite seemed their usual high-flying selves to open the season, but with the talent on their roster itis just a matter of time before their offense clicks. As such, the Leafs will have to dig deep to not only capture the energy and enthusiasm that led to Thursday and Saturday’s victories, but also the disciplined play they adhered to in the process — a difficult task for a team that will be coming off a sudden lull in their schedule.
2/ Despite J-S Giguere’s success in net to open the season, fans are eager to witness and evaluate the progress of Jonas Gustavsson, who has yet to start a game this season. We should get our first glimpse of him either Wednesday in Pittsburgh, or Friday in New York.
3/ Tim Brent’s a heck of a story, isn’t he? While no one should be realistically expecting his scoring prowess to continue, it’s hard not to pull for a guy who worked his way up through the minors, and who understands and fully embraces his role on the team. Underrated defensively, the hard-working Brent seems to have found a niche as a checking-line centre. “Quietly effective” would be a fair expectation.
4/ Speaking of previously-unheralded centres, Mike Zigomanis has gone 8-3 in the faceoff circle to open the season. His role may be that of a specialist (key faceoffs/some PK duties), but it is an important one nonetheless to which he has fully dedicated himself. Â One can only hope John Mitchell has been taking a few notes.
5/ Tomas Kaberle has shown a compete level we’ve not witnessed in his game for several seasons. While some would be quick to point out that it’s simply the effect of a contract year, I’m not buying. It’s too simple a reason, and doesn’t fit within the saga of his past few seasons in Toronto. Rather, I believe he is — for the first time in years — playing free of the burdens that have plagued him over the past few seasons. Â The passing by of the trade window, the mutual interest in a contract extension, and the removal of the “A” are each key contributing factors to his rejuvanation. Â He looks as if a grand piano has been taken off his back — and psychologically, I’m sure he feels as though one has.
6/ Really liking Mike Brown’s game. Now that the Blue Jays’ season is done, perhaps we should consider appropriating their “Hustle & Heart” slogan for number 18. Think Bill Berg from the Gilmour-era Leafs: one of those multi-faceted effort players that all winning teams lean on during those essential shut-down/close-out situations.Â Like Zigomanis, his role may be small — but it is also essential.
7/ It’s too early to expend much effort worrying about Mike Komisarek’s game, or his ice time. It’s easy to forget he missed over half the season last year; finding his stride is going to take some time. With a little patience, he’ll get there. In the meantime, Schenn and Beauchemin have done a nice job filling the void with vastly improved — and most importantly, confident — play in their own end. As Schenn mentioned in a recent interview, dependable netminding has been (as it is for every successful team) the key to the Leafs’ defensive turnaround.
8/ Anyone still doubt Kris Versteeg is a top-six forward?
9/ I was impressed to learn via a recent convo that the AHL Marlies are employing the same in-game tactics and coaching strategies as the Maple Leafs, so that players who do get recalled can be slotted right into the gameplan facing only a minimal learning curve. I was surprised to learn that despite such an approach sounding like common sense, amazingly only a handful of NHL teams actually do this with their minor-league affiliates.
10/ Lastly, as alluded to off the top it may be difficult for the Leafs to win both their next games as they will visit two very talented teams (Pit and NYR) following a short lull in their schedule. Should that first loss come this week, fans would be well-advised to remember that it is not so much a loss itself that defines a team and its game, but (a) how the team plays during that loss and (b) how the team responds following a loss. While there is no way to predict when that first loss will come, one thing remains certain: we will learn more about this particular edition of the Leafs during the game which follows their first entry in the “L” column this season, than we have at any other point thus far.
Looking forward to your thoughts as always,