Declan came onboard for MLHS in 2011, combining forces with his old website and MLHS into what you see today. A life-long Leaf fan who counts his favourite player as Wendel Clark. A self-employed entrepreneur, he works in the web development area with an Internet Marketing focus.
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After a good comeback/confidence-building game against the Tampa Bay Lighting, the Toronto Maple Leafs have perhaps created more questions than answers. The Penalty Kill keeps improving (now 6th in the East) and, even as a “work in progress” defensively, they can at least score in bunches to get themselves out of trouble. They are starting to show the signs that the elite teams in the league show on a regular basis. While they are probably a couple of roster moves away from being mentioned in the same breath as a Pittsburgh Penguins, the rebuild is starting to see the light of day, it appears.
It was one of the first times this season that Nazem Kadri was paired against another top offensive line, but he did it the whole game. We’re not talking about any ol’ line, but the best goal scorer in the league and his better-than-ppg-avg wingman. He beat Steven Stamkos on draws, engaged in the game physically and on the score board. It was yet another coming out party for Kadri and what a nice live viewing for the 30 GMs that were in town to discuss various NHL issues. Most were at the Air Canada Centre taking in the game against Tampa.
Up until this game, Randy Carlyle has been riding the Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin and—at least most of the time—Jay McClement line hard against the other team’s top lines. Too much so? That’s hard to say. Kulemin has had many opportunities that he simply is not bearing down on; he was on pace for 10 goals this season before his 2-goal effort against Tampa Bay on a line with Kadri.
“The one thing that we are going to do is we’re going to test Kadri against the best players,” Carlyle said after his team snapped a five-game winless skid with a 4-2 victory over the Lightning. “He wants that, he cherishes it and tonight it worked for him.”
“I think this is just another step in the maturing of a young hockey player,” Carlyle said of his decision to increase Kadri’s responsibility. “And I’m sure there’s going to be some speed bumps along the way and he’s going to turn the puck over when we don’t want him to … [but] the good things outweigh the poor judgments that he’s making by 10 to 2.”
Could #FreeGardiner and #FreeGrabo happen in the same week? It looks like Kadri wants to run with the top match-ups and wants the ice-time that is associated with it. Time will tell if he is up to the task, but this appears to be equal parts a praising and a scolding. Praise for Kadri and his excellent play to date, and a scolding for Grabovski who appeared, to me at least, that he didn’t like all his defensive zone face-offs and having to skate 200ft for his goals. It could very well be a case of lost in translation, but changing brands of sticks isn’t going to help Grabovski at this stage. He’s looking lost and it’s affecting his confidence badly.
Also troubling—to my eye—is how ineffective the Phil Kessel line is. Clearly, Phil Kessel’s game is all about speed, attacking off the rush, his release and his quick hands around the net. This may be oddly timed because Kessel is on a 5 game point streak, a testament to his ability to produce regardless of his circumstances. Kessel tallied a single assist last night giving him four goals and four assists in that span. He sits second on the team in scoring with 28 points but shifts go by where I hardly notice Bozak, him or JVR. They are clicking to a certain degree, but they are not dominating the way that Kessel and Lupul were last year with the absence of a legit number one centerman.
James van Riemsdyk, while a great addition to this team and yet another lop-sided trade from Brian Burke, is reaping the benefits from playing with Kessel, it’s just that Kessel is not reaping the benefits of playing with JVR as much as he could from a center and a winger who could play the game as his pace. MacArthur, Frattin and now Lupul have all “found chemistry” with Kadri. I think it’s more of a case of Kadri is just making everyone around him that much better. Lupul can convert those chances better than the others can. JVR would, more than likely, benefit from a good centerman more than Lupul, who has shown in the past that he can play just fine without one—no offence, Bozak.
Tyler Bozak, it seems more than ever before in his career, is playing way above his head on the 1st line. It’s dragging his, Kessel’s and JVR’s play down. He’s constantly a step behind and is not able to make the plays that the other two are able to. If you were to change JVR and Lupul, that would be magnified.
Grabovski, if we can believe what Carlyle says about Kadri, will be freed up to experiment up and down the lineup. The only logical reason that Kessel and Grabovski have never played extended periods of time together is because, it can be assumed, they both love to have the puck on their stick and both love to carry the puck through the neutral zone—they play a similar game, not a complementary game.
The caveat to that, I would contest, is that elite players will figure out how to get the puck to each other. Grabovski can skate, stick handle, navigate through traffic and shoot at absolutely top speed–the same as Kessel can. They’re good enough to play on the PP together, but that is a different discipline where it’s rarely ever off the rush and is instead done with puck movement inside the offensive blueline. Both players’ strength is scoring off the rush and, if you are going to keep Kessel on this team long term and get the most out of him in his prime years (his peak year is historically this year—his 25th year), you need a center that is as fast as him and not lagging behind the play like Bozak constantly is. I don’t think a “Big 1C” would work with Kessel’s game very well. If Kessel, Grabovski and Lupul could play their game at top-speed like they can—and execute—it would be a devastating line that would be able to handle some defensive assignments that Kessel/Bozak/JVR just aren’t able to do right now.
Carlyle is not afraid to put the blender away and try players together for more than 1 shift together. As much as arm coaches scream for change, it’s refreshing to have a coach that will play a line together for a full game, and even for bunches of games before he puts the blender to it. The one thing that has never happened with Kessel and Grabovski is them being played together, on the same line, for a week of games (or more).
Tyler Bozak is a solid hockey player trying to keep up with an elite goal scorer and an elite skater in Kessel and he just can’t keep up with the speed at which the plays are made. Bozak playing with MacArthur and Frattin on the third line would be a much better fit—soft starts, good chances at dominating the faceoff dot—and starting each play with all-important possession—and playing with players of his calibre and his foot speed. It will improve his output tremendously if he can slow the game down to his speed and play with two good, solid wingers in MacArthur and Frattin.
Under Ron Wilson, this experiment would likely have never happened; he had all the opportunity in the world to try it. Under Randy Carlyle, if he does experiment with them on the same line, you would hope that, in keeping with tradition, he’ll give them the appropriate allotment of games together to either sink or swim with this idea for the rest of the season and into the playoffs.
As far as statistical data, Left Wing Lock is said to be wildly inaccurate, but it’s all we have.
The Tampa Bay Lighting (13-15-1) are in town to take on the Toronto Maple Leafs (15-12-2).
The other day, Randy Carlyle called the Leafs’ inability to initiate clean breakouts and avoid getting hemmed in their own zone “the big mystery with this group.” He’s taken steps toward resolving it with the addition of both John Michael-Liles and Jake Gardiner to the lineup, who will apparently play together on a pairing tonight as the defence takes a shape much closer to what many armchair coaches were penciling together before the season. It will be interesting to see how the pair affect the breakout and overall puck movement off the backend. Gardiner will also look to inject some life into a powerplay that’s 0 for its last 19.
Speaking of interesting quotes from the other day, Dave Nonis was asked if the Leafs were in the midst of a downfall akin to last season, with his team currently on a 0-3-2 skid. Nonis said, “The one difference I would draw – I just went over the last 5 games – I think there was only one game where we weren’t happy with the performance and the effort. Last year, when things were going poorly, were were unhappy with the effort a lot more than that.” So let’s hope that translates into an upturn in results before the Leafs play their way out of the playoff picture.
The Leafs were hurt by an off outing from Ben Scrivens in their last meeting with the Lightning. Facing their first non-playoff opponent in five games, this is also a good time to get their first win in five games. James Reimer gets the start.
Liles and Gardiner form the second pairing, with Kostka remaining in the press box for the third straight game. Phaneuf and Gunnarsson will be tasked with the Stamkos and St. Louis head-to-head. Vinny Lecavalier is out with a broken foot.
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Toronto Maple Leafs Line-up vs Tampa Bay Lighting, March 20th, 2013
As trade rumour season heats up and the Toronto Maple Leafs slip in the standings from 5th to 8th in the past week, Leafs Nation will almost certainly be whipped up into a frenzy over every name mentioned. While we aren’t a rumour website, we are within 19 days of the deadline and there has been some legitimate talk from *actual* members of the media and evidence of three teams in different conferences scouting each other heavily that don’t normally do so.
A lot can change depending on the Leafs position in the standings in the eight games before the deadline, but the Leafs figure to be, theoretically, both buyers and sellers. Granted, in a lockout-shortened season it’s hard to ascertain what the nature of the landscape will be – or if there will be much movement at all – at a deadline where so many teams will still believe in the legitimacy of their playoff hopes. A buyers-heavy market could lend itself to moving out a few free agents-to-be and not so much to adding pieces at a reasonable price.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have traded David Steckel to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for right-winger Ryan Lasch and the Ducks’ seventh-round pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Ryan Lasch will report to the Toronto Marlies.
The move clears a roster spot off the Leafs for the imminent return of Joffrey Lupul, who has been cleared for contact and says he’s ready for tomorrow’s tilt versus the Jets. The Marlies meanwhile have a depleted lineup with six Marlies now on the Leafs, a seventh coming (Gardiner) and their top scorer (Aucoin) being claimed off waivers. This is a step in helping them repair the depth of that team as they prepare for the playoffs, and adds a body up front after flipping Nicolas Deschamps for a defenceman in Kevin Marshall yesterday. The Marlies are currently 1st in their division.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are sitting in fifth place in the Eastern Conference (fourth in the Eastern Conference in wins) and some folks, even Leaf fans who write about the game, are simply writing it of as nothing other than luck. Puck luck. Good goaltending. Streaky scorers. Bad coaching is even bandied around as one of the reasons they’re bad – but not showing it yet – this season.
The truth is that the Leafs are playing right about where they should have been last year—offensively—but with a system that allows them to hold leads, shut down teams when they need to, kill off potential momentum robbing power-plays and turn them something that breeds confidence in their ability to defend and in their goalies’ ability to stop pucks. The two are not mutually exclusive.
Confidence was and is a big difference between this season and last. They were a confident group last season – arriving almost mid-summer for early camp and hitting the ground running – got off to a good start and were confident in their ability to score almost at will. But look no further than the two losses against Boston (3-2 until an empty netter finished it 4-2) and Pittsburgh (5-4 SO) – those were games that would have been horrendous blowouts last year. I think everyone was expecting them to be as much, but both turned into tight games in the end. That wasn’t on the strength of out-of-worldly goaltending, either.
The team has adopted a better structured system—even strength and on the PK—that has allowed them to mitigate the second chances that sank a lot of games last season. Rebound control is still a big issue with both Reimer and Scrivens, however getting good looks at pucks and directing rebounds into less dangerous areas allows them and the team in front of them to bend more without breaking into the type of horrible collapses that plagued the team last year. I feel that not fronting the opposing forwards—standing in front hoping for a shot block—and instead reverting to a method of clearing the front of the net, like defenceman have for decades, is much more effective for this group.
If Toronto were to be compared to any team right now, it would have to be the Ottawa Senators, as much as it pains me to say it. Both have benefited tremendously from strong AHL teams and excellent AHL coaching. Ottawa were a laugh to start the season last season—most were predicting a lottery pick, and instead they took the New York Rangers to game 7 of a close series that could have easily went either way. Toronto is getting exactly the same collection of things this year, between the internal development, the coach and the goaltending. The Marlies, in my opinion, were robbed of a Calder Cup by bad injury luck and I felt that, when healthy, they were the superior team. Regardless, they had the best PK in the league, the best goaltending tandem, and the best shutdown D pair in the league. Say what you will, but it’s impressive that they Leafs can walk three AHL defenceman onto the big club and have them play as well as they have. It’s a credit to the Marlies that they are able to do that so seamlessly. They aren’t ideal defence pairings, but this is the sort of depth that we, as Leaf fans, have been pining for. The first wave of development seems to have pushed through for the Leafs, and while the Marlies are completely depleted right now that will change as the next round of Burke draftees start to migrate from Jr. to the AHL. This is what a rebuild looks like.
So, just how good are they? I think they’re just that: “good,” if Boston is “Excellent” and Pittsburgh is “Very Good” to “Excellent” (they lack depth on D and a consistently good goalie). I think the Leafs were trending downwards quickly two and three seasons ago and are quickly trending upwards now. It should have happened a year ago, but … Ron Wilson.
It will be interesting to see how Dave Nonis makes his next two big moves to meet the club’s main two needs: A first line center who can play the game at a fast pace and is able to make plays at the same speed as Kessel and Lupul, and another top 4 two-way defenceman—preferably of the top-2 variety. Those moves don’t present themselves very often throughout the course of the season, and we’ll all be curious as to how he keeps adding top-flight talent to a group that has improved internally and is looking to advance gears in order to enter the conversation beside the Bostons and Pittsburghs of the league.
Leafs GM in no hurry to deal UFAs - (Chatham Daily News) Maple Leafs general manager Dave Nonis is perfectly satisfied playing the waiting game with pending unrestricted free agents Tyler Bozak and Clarke MacArthur
Tonight, the Toronto Maple Leafs (10-6-0) take on the Tampa Bay Lighting (7-6-1) and look to replicate last year’s success in a season series that saw Toronto outscore Tampa 20-7 in their 4-game battle. The Leafs have won six of seven on the road while Tampa Bay Lightning have dropped their last three on home ice.
“We’re still very much a work in progress,” were Randy Carlyle’s words after the team earned its 10th win in its sixteenth game last night against the Panthers. Complacency is being beaten out of the this club, with the coaches keenly aware of the type of start the Leafs got off to last season and where that ended up. The Leafs are looking to reverse their fortunes this season and seem to be a more detail-oriented club with better coaching and solid 1-2 goaltending from Scrivens and Reimer, who at last check had the best combined GAA in the league.
Ottawa Senators (7-5-2) at Toronto Maple Leafs (8-6-0)
Last 10: Ottawa 4-4-2; Toronto 6-4-0 Season series: This is the first of five matchups this season between these Northeast Division rivals, who will play each other twice in the next week. The teams tied the Battle of Ontario last season, splitting the six-game season series.
The Toronto Maple Leafs (8-5-0) are in Carolina to take on the Hurricanes(7-4-1) (7pm, LeafsTV). Toronto will look to extend their winning stream to 5 games with a win. Toronto is one of — if not the — hottest teams in the league at the moment but face some new obstacles as they try to keep on rolling.
A depleted Toronto Maple Leafs lineup will test the club’s depth and will be without: Joffrey Lupul, James Reimer, Matt Frattin and Carl Gunnarsson. Jussi Rynnas has been called up to back-up Ben Scrivens, who was strong when called in for an injured James Reimer in a 5-2 win over Philadelphia and has brought his numbers back up to a more respectable save percentage of .913 and a goals against average of 2.56. As Scrivens goes, the Leafs go. He has an opportunity to run with the starting job while James Reimer is injured.
Carolina, who beat Toronto 4-1 on February 4th, is playing on the back of 2 wins over New Jersey Devils (4-2) and the New York Islanders (6-4), but lost previously to Philadelphia, a team Toronto dominated just 3 days ago.
Some notes on injuries from Jonas Siegel.
Mike Brown has been activated off injured reserve, and is seemingly available for action as of today but will not dress against Carolina. Brown missed seven games with a shoulder injury.
Carl Gunnarsson did not travel with the team to Raleigh. Gunnarsson remained in Toronto to visit with an ART (Active Release Technique) specialist receiving a deep tissue massage for his hip injury. “He’s had a couple visits already,” Randy Carlyle said, “shown great improvement.” The 26-year-old has missed the past six games with the nagging injury.
The Maple Leafs are in fourth place in the Eastern Conference (7th in the league), against everyone’s better judgement — the smart money being that the Leafs will be a non-playoff team and probably a lottery pick team. And by everyone, I mean everyone except for Ian Dudgeon (@Dudgee) and I. Most people that write about the game had them finishing out of the playoffs again and if I’m being honest, I saw everyone else’s prediction via email first and thought I should be throw them a bone. While the key will be avoiding the characteristic season-crippling slump, this start means considerably more in a 48-game schedule and I wouldn’t have expected 8-5 through the first 13 games, especially not with Joffrey Lupul and Carl Gunnarsson going down early.
Toronto will be without Clarke McArthur as they visit the Buffalo Sabres. The injury to his pinky finger won’t sideline him for long but it does leave the Leafs’ LW depth, already missing Lupul, looking thin for tonight.
The Sabres, like the Leafs, are not exactly hot. They have lost three straight and Thomas Vanek was sidelined by a strained muscle in Sunday’s 3-2 loss in Washington. The left winger had been on the ice for all 11 of his team’s goals prior to that contest, scoring three and assisting on six – one versus the Maple Leafs.
My cousin, Mike Sullivan (wicked guy, follow him on twitter @mickeysullz) and I have been talking about doing some interviews with bands for a while now and we have our first one up. We’re proud to have Heavy Metal Gods “Sacrifice” as our first guests.
The 14th General Manager in Leafs history Dave Nonis sits down with Bob McCown and Damien Cox on Prime Time Sports. Afterwards McCown, Cox, Brian Lawton and Mike Smith have an interesting conversation on the firing of Brian Burke.