The Leafs will return to the ice after what has seemed like an eternity. The JVR-at-center experiment will make its debut against the Devils tonight while Smithson and Fraser will draw into the lineup. The former is a move of necessity while the latter are indications of Carlyle reinforcing his desired style of game.
The theme of the week for the Leafs and their coaching staff? Getting back to the disciplined, hard working game that defined this team’s unprecedented success a year ago. Yes, the Leafs are off to a great start. This has been in large part due to their potent offensive weapons, fantastic special teams, and a newfangled stud-goalie tandem. Yet, the leaders of this squad have readily acknowledged that their compete level could be higher and more consistent.
Last year, this was a Toronto team that most pundits still viewed as irrelevant. With a combination of skill and determination, one of the youngest squads in the league went out and fought hard every night to prove their naysayers wrong. The page has turned after said season culminated in an impressive seven game showdown with the Bruins. Nowadays, with the Leafs slowly regaining the respect of the hockey world, we are witness to one of the most difficult challenges with a young team that has seen success – remaining levelheaded, focused, and in touch with what led to success in the first place.
A lesson in the trials and tribulations of growing a young team with this style of play: the St. Louis Blues. The Blues emerged from the murky recesses of the Western conference on the back of an influx of youth in 2008. That team featured talented youngsters such as Backes, Perron, Berglund and T.J. Oshie. They unexpectedly made the playoffs, got swept by the Canucks, and were commonly viewed as a team on the rise. Yet finding a harmony with the demanding defensive game of their organization posed difficulties for the young group, as they narrowly missed the playoffs in the following two years.
With growth and maturity (and some better goaltending), the Blues rounded out their game in the 2011-2012 season and have remained a legitimate contender ever since. They will likely remain as such for years to come, given their young core. Granted, the personnel difference between the two teams is significant. St. Louis has the edge in two-way players and an ability to work the cycle that is not present in this group of Maple Leafs. But the similarity lies in the emphasis on defense and physical play within these organizations and the importance of ensuring that the young and immensely talented offensive players therein adhere to these principles.
In part, this identity will be reinvigorated with the returns of Kulemin and Fraser. Moreover, we’ll find out if Smithson can bring a physical element and defensive presence that Trevor Smith did not. Carlyle suggested Smithson may see time on the penalty kill with his faceoff proficiency (mandate likely being: win the draw, make sure the puck is cleared, go to the bench). Regardless, while a lineup so heavily in flux no doubt poses some challenges, one would expect a determined and driven performance tonight at the ACC given the enormous amount of time off this group had to reflect and recuperate.
Friday morning links:
–MLHS is offering free entry into a $500 fantasy contest for Saturday’s games.
–James Mirtle compares this year’s team to the 2012-2013 Leafs. A quick look at some of the team’s numbers thus far.
–David Clarkson is still finding his groove. It will come, but Clarkson would be best served by sticking to his game and ignoring the incessant background whine of the Toronto hockey scene.
–Traikos tries to drum up some drama in what is a conspicuously more antagonistic version of Mirtle’s piece. Brief summary: shots shots shots, Toronto’s special teams are too good and Christian Ehroff will fix our “mess” of a defence.
–Rielly will take a seat for now. Not a big deal. Carlyle likes to have a revolving door of his fringe defenders to keep them motivated and fresh. He has not had that luxury this year thus far with Fraser’s injury.
–Gardiner and Franson are reunited. This should be the unit on the ice when Toronto is looking to score.
ICYMI – Snazzy new MLHS t-shirts and hoodies were launched yesterday:
Man O Man !! I'm nervous and excited tonight !! It's like the 1st game of the season all over again.
From my interview with Leafs coach Randy Carlyle this morning: http://www.cbc.ca/sports-content/hockey/opinion/2013/11/randy-carlyle-wants-more-from-his-maple-leafs.html … #hockeynight #cbcsports
TGIF Ladies and Gents, enjoy your weekends and remember!
At the lottery in the new CBA: after the first-overall-pick-winner is decided (Edmonton), is the remaining draft order set in stone or do they keep pulling ping pong balls to see how the rest of the order is?
mirtle: Colton Orr was off today with a maintenance day. Hasn't been 100% since training camp. Likely to play tonight.
Jonathon will give the Devils a 'FIRST DEGREE BERN' tonight.....tomorrow, its 'REIM TIME' all over boston!!
SportsnetSpec: Omark irrelevant in return to NHL
SportsnetSpec: Wonder if Oilers brass is considering an AHL stint for Yakupov. He looks completely overmatched in NHL.
SportsnetSpec: Yakupov, Eberle giveaways are prime examples. Young "stars" don't figure out how the game is played, they'll never win.
well here in PEI Leaf nation, im wrapping up all my tackle and flag football tomorrow...squeezed between leafs on TSN while I host trivia tonight and CBC HNIC ..leafs bruins..oh feel a shit kicking coming Bs way. ! goleafs go HAPpY TGIF
Luke Schenn as an Oiler would be an awesome fit with Eakins as his coach. Eakins would dog him during the season and off season. Philly should send Yakupov to Philly for him, and maybe even get a pick on top of it. Schenn would still suck this year but towards the end and all of next year he would show why he was a top pick.
good read on Mason Raymond
Take your pick there.
Don't see the oilers and flyers as good trading partners anyways. They both have the same problems (defence and goaltending)
Nice Tag !!
@Airfreshener One of my favourite movies.
@BPsotka Apparently can only move down (worse) 1 spot from your finishing order, just percentages have evened out for winning that first overall.
@Burtonboy Noel will lose that one.
@Xxxxxnew Beating the piss out of Janssen will make him feel better.
The window on Yakupov as a trade asset of any value is closing fast IMO. If the Oilers don't move they'll be stuck with a Zherdev.
@Xxxxxnew Is yak old enough to play in the AHL?
@Burtonboy LOL lupul is funny guy
@Jay_Berg So in other words, he''ll be a future coach and President of the team too then.
@Jay_Berg They absolutely are a trade partner.
@Jay_Berg fuck the oilers
@Xxxxxnew No kidding. It's like the Oiler forwards hit a lemonade stand first on the way back to their end. Bobby Orr and Larry Robinson would minus players on that team. Well, maybe not Orr....
@DeclanK maybe goc for really cheap tho
@Xxxxxnew Been two decades in the making. As soon as the next Wayne Gretzky or Mark Messier is available to snatch with that #1 pick, they'll be back in contention.
He didn't score 31 points last year with a very good team either. In fact it was the same crappy team
Edmonton media talking last night how Yakupov would benefit from a year or two in the AHL. Saying he's "overmatched" in the NHL.