The Maple Leafs have reached the halfway point of the season on a tear, winning five of six games to kick off 2011 in style.
Despite the hot streak the team remains mired in 12th place in the Eastern conference, a full 11 points out of the eighth and final playoff spot. While much can happen over the second half of the season, it is safe to say the Maple Leafs have not -- as a collective unit -- approached pre-season expectations.
The question is, which players are on pace to equal -- or exceeded -- pre-season expectations, and which players are not?
It should come as no surprise that James Reimer received an opportunity to start in the NHL, during his re-call to fill in for the injured Jean-Sebastien Giguere. What is somewhat of a surprise is the amount Reimer has played (3 starts in the pastÂ 4 games) during a time where Jonas Gustavsson was expected to seize the opportunity to prove himself the Maple Leafs' netminder of the future.
The question is, to what degree has Reimer's performanceÂ influenced the decision to use him as the de-facto starter, rather than the incumbent? Is Reimer receiving an extended look as part of an evaluation toward his future in Toronto -- or are the Leafs showcasing him to other teams?
Update: Reimer gets the start tonight ... his fourth in the past five games.
Fresh off the Christmas break, the Toronto Maple Leafs braved a blizzard to get to New Jersey, where they will face the Devils in a match featuring two struggling teams looking for a fresh start.
The Devils, widely expected to be a contender this season following the much-heralded re-signing of Ilya Kovalchuk, have suffered through injuries to key players, a defense riddled with holes, and an inability to score en route to last place overall in the NHL standings.Â The Leafs, initially expected to battle for a playoff spot, have also experienced their own share of scoring woes en route to sitting 13th in the East.
It hangs on the wall, suspended by two cheap metal hinges, a hockey stick which upon first glance appears as nondescript as the hinges themselves. It's a simple, wooden stick; undoubtedly plucked from a bargain bin somewhere, bereft of any manufacturer's name or even the slightest hint of quality craftsmanship.
And it is among my most prized possessions.
31 games and a 12-15-4 record into the season, the struggling Maple Leafs find themselves the subject of several hotly-contested debates over many facets of the club. Is this the real Phil Kessel? Gustavsson or Giguere? And what of Ron Wilson?
My own responses to each of these questions are posted after the jump, and as always I invite you to share yours in the comments below.
Fresh off last night's 5-2 shellacking at the hands of the red-hot Pittsburgh Penguins, the Toronto Maple Leafs return to the ACC to host the Philadelphia Flyers.
Although a loss to the Penguins - who extended their win streak to 11 - was not surprising in and of itself, the manner in which the Leafs' players came out flat in the first 40 minutes certainly was. A strong effort from the opening faceoff will beÂ a must against the Flyers, who happen to be the NHL's top-scoring team.
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity,
it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness,
it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair,
we had everything before us, we had nothing before us,
we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way."
-- Charles Dickens, "A Tale of Two Cities"
How aptly the great literary work of Dickens describes the experience of the rebuilding process. On one hand, there is hope for a brighter future; on the other, the reality of a present mired in frustration and despair. Such is the state of both the Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs, who will face off tonight in the Battle Of The Perpetual Rebuilding Effort.
For as much as Brian Burke continues to show the fanbase that no stone will go unturned in his quest to rebuild the franchise, the fact of the matter is, the consummation of a trade is extraordinarily difficult in a salary-capped league where parity reigns. Especially this early into the season, at a point where many teams are still in the process of determining their needs.
On this Remembrance Day, 2010, I'd thought it would be fitting to take a look back at the Toronto Maple Leafs during the years of the Second World War.
Having been on the losing side of the Stanley Cup Finals for three consecutive years (Chicago, Boston, New York) to close out the 1930s, the Leafs remained on the verge of becoming a championship team. Unfortunately, pending greatness would instead be put on hold as the roster would be decimated while players answered their country's call to duty in the early 1940s.
The following is a quick synopsis of the Maple Leafs' successes and struggles during the war years, and the glory that would ultimately follow.
Following an unfortunate overtime loss to the New York Islanders on Monday night, the Maple Leafs came out flat against the New York Rangers last night in a 2-1 regulation loss. While some may be quick to conjure up memories of last seasons' oft-moments of ineptitude, the truth is a 4-1-1 record offers little reason to panic. After all, that first regulation loss had to come sometime.
Does the fact the team has now lost two straight actually mean anything, in the grand scheme? At this point I would say no: consecutive losses, and flat performances, are something all teams go through at various points in the season.Â Only six games into the season, it is far too early to predict whether the 2010-11 Leafs are closer to the team that looked unstoppable during the first four games of the season or the team that has had difficulty sustaining a full 60-minute effort the past two.
The undefeated Toronto Maple Leafs (3-0)Â takeÂ a tour downÂ Broadway this eveningÂ en route toÂ faceÂ off against the New York Rangers (1-1) at historic Madison Square Gardens.Â
Coming off a narrow victory over theÂ much-heralded Pittsburgh Penguins, the Maple Leafs will look to keep the momentum going against a Rangers team that has had no difficultly keeping the lamp lit ... at both ends of the ice.
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.