The recent buzz around the Maple Leafs has been largely focused on their lack of secondary scoring. Â Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel have put forth consistent efforts throughout this season, but Toronto's offense beyond that duo has been questionable at best.
The team's upcoming stretch of four games in six nights will feature a few defensively-capable squads that would be all too happy to step on the throat of Toronto's struggling secondary scorers. Â This will begin tonight with Phoenix and Mike Smith, who feature the 10th best goals against average in the NHL. Â But it won't get any easier when the Leafs travel to Nashville on Wednesday or return home to face Washington on Saturday.
The NHL's best team prepares to take on the league's second worst at the Air Canada Centre tonight. Â That sentence alone should bring a smile to every Leafs fan's face, regardless of the significant portion of the season that has yet to be played. Â Of course, even though the Bruins are currently among the bottom feeders in the NHL, the reigning Stanley Cup champs will surely be a tough test for Toronto's young club. Â With starting goalie James Reimer still recovering from whiplash, Ben Scrivens will get his second consecutive start. Â More surprisingly, Luke Schenn will sit as a healthy scratch, allowing Cody Franson to draw back into the lineup alongside rookie Jake Gardiner.
As we all know far too well, the Leafs early-season record since the lockout has ranged from dismal to catastrophic. Â At the conclusion of the first month of play, we're typically floundering on the edges of a playoff spot or in the deepest chasms of the Eastern Conference. Â So far, this year is markedly different. Â In fact, this is the first time Toronto has made it out of October with seven victories in exactly a decade, having last accomplished the feat in the 2001-2002 season that saw them hit 100 points (eventually losing to the Hurricanes in the conference finals).
But if this franchise has learned anything in its recent stretch of ineptitude, it's that a successful season cannot be had on the back of one strong month. Â Rather, the teams that are perennial playoff features in the NHL do so through year-long consistency. Â As a unit, this team will need to avoid lengthy losing streaks through whatever means possible. Â Because sadly, while a fantastic month guarantees nothing, a disastrous one can be fatal.
It's eight games into the season. Â Phil Kessel is still the league's leading goal scorer, the Leafs remain on top of their division, and Jonas Gustavsson is still trying to edge his career back onto the right path. Â The Monster was solid in the 4-2 loss, using his large frame and naturally quick reflexes to make a few spectacular saves. Â Yes, the reason Toronto lost last night's game lies elsewhere (chiefly on the shoulders of a certain cherrypicking Czech) but Gustavsson was not perfect.
The reason Gustavsson's potential has and always will be extremely high is because of the gifts he was born with: exceptional size and elite reflexes that are most often shown in his acrobatic cross-crease saves. Â When he first crossed the pond and tantalized Toronto fans with glimpses of this potential early on, we were witness to a netminder that seemed to move without thinking, darting around his crease and employing his frame to a distinct advantage.
A depleted Toronto team will take to the ice in Montreal tonight hoping to bounce back from an ugly outing against the Bruins. Â While Clarke MacArthur will be drawing back into the lineup, the Leafs forwards that find themselves among the injured include Connolly, Armstrong and most recently Tyler Bozak. Â Bozak took a shot off the foot late in the Boston game, and although he maintains that he'll be a game-time decision, early reports suggest that Matthew Lombardi will be taking his spot on the top line. Â James Reimer will also draw back in against a team that he shutout just a few weeks ago. Â Finally, Mike Komisarek will return to man the blueline against his former club, as Toronto's plethora of capable defenders represent a sharp contrast to the dwindling depth at forward.
Toronto will face off against the newly reincarnated Jets at the Air Canada Centre tonight. Â Winnipeg finally picked up their first win of the season on their fourth try, having scored only 7 goals over that span. Â Offense will be a struggle all year long for a Jets team that features former Leafs Nik Antropov and Kyle Wellwood in their top six. Â At the other side of the ice, the Leafs have their usual set of publicized "concerns" that evaporate as quickly as they arise in the early days of hockey season in Toronto. Â As such, there's a number of storylines going into tonight's matchup, with the biggest being: will the Grabovski line start scoring soon? (spoiler: the answer is yes.) Â Has Luke Schenn lost his way? Â Did the Jets need to charter two separate planes to carry both Byfuglien and Wellwood?
Yes, these are all ridiculous questions mired in hyperbole. Â Different city, different jersey, but these are the same Atlanta Thrashers that have seemed to engage the Leafs in some exciting, high-scoring affairs in recent years. Â James Reimer will get the start in net tonight and Jake Gardiner will draw back into the lineup at the expense of Cody Franson.
As one of the premiere pressure cookers of the sporting world, the media in Toronto are experts at bouncing between athletes to question and criticize. Â Phil Kessel's the first star of the week and leading the league in most offensive categories? Â Sure, they'll back off the Thrill, with some insidiously mumbled warnings that a slump is impending. Â Phaneuf is playing like a captain, and an elite defender? Â Fine, they'll throw us a bone every now and then. Â But hey, how about that Grabovski line? Â Then the finger-wagging about depth and consistency begins as one of the league's best lines from last year has not yet found their stride. Â Although they were getting it done in the preseason, it's really notÂ surprising that Toronto's number one line is slow out of the gates.
The Leafs began their three day getaway in Trenton yesterday. From what players and management have said, they're buying into this trip as their chance to embark on some crucial group bonding. With a mix of kids, newcomers and a renovated coaching staff, there are a number of things that have changed since Toronto's remarkable second half run last season. Brian Burke and his colleagues are well aware of the determination, effort and subsequent success that arose as a part of this young squad's camaraderie and budding identity as a hockey club.
As the preseason is winding down, the Leafs and Red Wings played a fast paced game with noticeably more skill and poise than those of recent weeks. Â With that in mind, it was a bit surprising that three of the Leafs four goals were scored by Toronto's Mikes: Brown and Komisarek. Â Jonas Gustavsson was shaky at times, but used his monstrous frame with Allaire-esque purpose at the right moments, finishing with a save percentage slightly under .900. Â More importantly, he clearly bested Jimmy Howard in the matchup of goaltenders, as the Leafs overcame an ugly second period to win it in overtime. [more…]
According to Bob McKenzie, Nazem Kadri's MRI results are in and the young Toronto forward will be missing up to a month. Â It should be made official tomorrow by the Leafs, but McKenzie's as good a source as any. Â Kadri suffered the injury to his knee in last night's preseason game against the Senators. Â It comes at a time when it looked like he had the inside track on the third line LW spot with Toronto. Â Now, that spot is virtually assured to go to Matt Frattin.
Who will suit up as a defender for the Toronto Maple Leafs come October 6? Â The answer is truly up in the air at this point, and will probably remain as such until the conclusion of the preseason. Â The uncertainty was furthered after Monday's practice, when Ron Wilson came out and said that Keith Aulie is most definitely one of the defensemen fighting for a roster spot. Â While this seems fairly logical, considering Aulie's sophomore status and the club's ability to easily send him down to the Marlies without passing him through waivers, many of us armchair GMs have had the towering blueliner firmly penciled in as Dion Phaneuf's partner. Â More fuel was added to this fire as Carl Gunnarsson was our captain's sidekick at practice yesterday.
The summer-long cork on Leafs hockey has been popped open, and the conclusion of the first preseason game (a 4-2 Leafs win over the Senators) has unleashed the expected outpouring of reactions, excitement, and media looking for a controversial storyline. Â There is the unsurprising debate on line arrangements and battles for the few roster spots, but Toronto's newspapers are not known to leave any contentious point unexplored. Â Early into this iteration of the Maple Leafs season, one such point is the future of Jonas Gustavsson.