The Leafs embark on the second half of the season starting tomorrow against Buffalo, and despite traveling a bit of a rollercoaster – I wince at that term due the tendency to believe the Leafs are the only team to experience ups and downs throughout an NHL schedule, but there it is – they have themselves in position to do something special. Well, not that special given qualifying the playoffs really isn’t that hard of a feat in this sport (16 of 30 teams do every April), but special in the sense that the organization hasn’t made it in seven years, and this city is starving for meaningful games involving its sports teams.
There’s been much talk about the penalty kill and goaltending being the big question marks left between the Leafs and a return to the playoffs, and those worries are undoubtedly valid. We’ve seen improvements in both areas in the three games since the New Year, but we could always use the reminder that you’re not as good as you seem during a three game winning streak, nor as bad as you seem during a three game losing skid. We’ve had a good lesson in that in the six games since Christmas.
One other key area to keep an eye on is secondary scoring. It’s been a problem masked by the absolutely out of this world, remarkably consistent play from the duo of Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul. It’s a testament to the consistency of the NHL’s second and third top point scorers that we only have a five-game sample size from which to draw, but the Leafs are 0-4-1 when neither of those two score. I don’t think the pair is going to slow down to the extent most expected, but it could become more of a factor should Joffrey Lupul not maintain his 38-goal, 94-point pace, and should Phil Kessel not carry on his 48-goal, 96-point clip… or even worse, should the unspeakable nightmare become reality and one of the two falls to injury for any significant length of time.
The fact of the matter is that the Leafs’ defence is probably not gonna make major strides for the better this season. It is what it is – a talented but young and learning unit that makes more than its fair share of mistakes within a pretty aggressive system. The biggest room for improvement in the goals against area obviously comes on the penalty kill, but given it’s never left the bottom five since the Leafs began their youth movement in 2008, that’s probably not gonna get a ton better either.
As much as the Leafs need some improvement in those two areas, they’re going to have to stay strong where they’ve been strong. Unless Lupul and Kessel can both manage full seasons and become the first Leafs to break 90 points since Sundin in 2001-02, secondary scoring is going to have to improve to maintain top 10 status scoring wise. With Grabovski and MacArthur heating up in their last 10 games, and Kadri appearing ready to contribute with increased regularity, there’s hope it won’t become a problem (and surely Kulemin will score more than the eight he’s on pace for). Once Bozak returns, and if the Leafs can avoid any major losses for significant durations, they should be able to roll three effective scoring lines down the stretch.
The era of the enforcer is dead? Not really
Michael Langlois makes an interesting point – throughout the history of the game, most of the best tough guys were able to play. Good example: the NHL’s all time penalty minutes leader, Tiger Williams, put up a number of 20+ goal seasons in his day.
marlies-hot-cold-january-2nd-8th/”>Marlies Hot & Cold: January 2-8
Ben Scrivens has lost six of his last seven, and Mark Owuya has been recalled as the Marlies carry three goalies for the time being. Kyle Cicerella with the break down.
burke-edition”>Asked and Answered: Brian Burke edition
PPP has a listing of Brian Burke’s twitter Q&A over at The Leafs Nation, and offers up a few thoughts of his own.
Wings fans do it again: Octopus on the ice at the ACC
Scott Gordon seemed to get a kick out of it.
Leafs’ Gustavsson running with opportunity
He’s not only won 9 of his last 11, he spent periods between those 11 games on the sidelines as Wilson tried to get Reimer back into the swing of things. We’ve yet to see such sustained good play from Gus since he crossed the pond.
Leafs seek consistency in final 3 months
From Michael Traikos.
Leafs’ Report Card: Lupul, Gustavsson spearhead surge
James Mirtle grades the Leafs’ forwards, defence and coaching at the half way point.