Here’s your breakdown of last night’s results (highlights in the right sidebar):
21 days off felt as long as it sounds, but the Maple Leafs’ 2013-14 regular season will begin rounding its final corner tonight in New York.
From the sounds of it, the Maple Leafs, after all the time off, may end up with the same lineup they left off with, more or less, tonight against the Isles. That could include Nikolai Kulemin at center along with Mason Raymond and Troy Bodie on line three, the usual top line and Lupul – Kadri – Clarkson on L2. Dave Bolland doesn’t sound ready to go just yet, but Trevor Smith is available and may factor into the lineup. Carter Ashton’s status isn’t clear.
It’s going to be a frantic race to the finish with 22 games in 45 days. The Leafs will need at least 21 points out of those 22 to ensure a playoff berth in April. Two points against the Tavares-less Islanders seems like a good place to start.
GAME DAY READING:
Some Leafs news making the rounds last night as it pertains to Dave Bolland’s contract situation: Darren Dreger floated a five million dollar asking price on TSN’s Insider Trading.
Canadian-born Leafs fans will have their loyalties conflicted this Friday afternoon when Team USA takes on Team Canada in the Olympic semifinals. On one hand we have Team Canada’s gold medal hopes, on the other we have Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk scoring on Carey Price. Hmmm.
Just 17 days until the next Leafs game.
Does this look familiar?
The Maple Leafs are looking for a bounce back performance in Tampa tonight. After all, these good men deserve better:
Good game day, Leafs fans! After a day off to bask in the glory of beating Tampa Bay Tuesday night, the Leafs are back in action this evening as they host the Florida Panthers. Looking at the bottom 3 teams in the East: the Leafs already lost to these Panthers in December, they’re 1-1 against the Islanders, and the Sabres took six points out of five meetings with the Leafs. There has been no such thing as an easy out for the Leafs this season and as such there should be no reason to take this Panther team lightly. While they most recently got smacked by the Bruins 6-2, the Panthers also put up five goals each in two wins over Detroit and Pittsburgh in the past ten days.
Good (victorious) morning, MLHS.
Tonight, the Leafs will host one of the surprise teams in the League this season in the 31-16-5 Tampa Bay Lightning. Despite the loss of Stamkos after his 14-goals-in-17-games start, their reliance on the emergence of an inexperienced netminder and a supporting cast with quite a bit of rookie content, it’s all come up aces for Jon Cooper, who is a serious Jack Adams candidate through 52 games.
The Maple Leafs have four games against the Panthers and Lightning coming up in the next two weeks, along with games against Canadian rivals Ottawa and Vancouver, in a six game in 12 days stretch. From there GM Dave Nonis will have three weeks to consider the state of the team during the Olympic break, after which the team will play just three games before the March 5 trade deadline. Interesting decisions lie ahead.
The Leafs made a minor league deal last night, sending Andrew Crescenzi to the LA Kings affiliate in Manchester in exchange for Brandon Kozun. Crescenzi was an undrafted rookie camp invitee who brought size and had played well enough to earn a contract with the organization, but he was a low-scoring defensively oriented centre. Kozun is a smaller offensively inclined winger, that will – worst case scenario – improve a Marlies attack with just two forwards on the roster with ten goals. Hard to declare a deal of this magnitude a win, but it also provides some SPC flexibility at the end of the year when Kozun’s contract expires.
Tyler Bozak is Toronto’s first line center. For now and the foreseeable future, Bozak has a stranglehold on a very enviable position between James Van Riemsdyk and Phil Kessel. While Bozak has occupied a similar spot in the past, Nazem Kadri’s emergence last season and Bozak’s own untimely injuries had set the stage for a tantalizing possibility – the seemingly natural progression of Toronto’s most talented center (Kadri) into a role on the first line.
Back to work for the Leafs tonight, as they will hit the half way point of the season against Buffalo and Carolina this weekend (Friday/Sunday, with a rare Saturday off) before heading to the Big House for the Winter Classic on New Years Day.
Team Canada has effectively named their roster for the World Junior Championships to take place in Malmo Sweden starting on Boxing Day. Having had a little bit of time to digest their decisions from a Leafs perspective, here are some of my thoughts.
The Leafs pulled out a win in the shootout Saturday over Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals to move to 14-8-1 on the season, good enough for second place in the Atlantic division. Sitting three points back of the Boston Bruins and in a tie with Tampa (Leafs ahead on goal differential tie-breaker), this week is an important one for the Leafs as they approach a real tough stretch of games in early December. This week sees Columbus in town Monday, Wednesday at Pittsburgh, and closing with a back-to-back in Buffalo and Montreal, Friday and Saturday respectively.
With last night’s loss against Nashville, Randy Carlyle’s stint behind Toronto’s bench has spanned more than a season’s worth of games. Recently, there has been much discussion surrounding this team’s identity. Clearly, the current Maple Leafs are one of the best quick-attack squads in the league. They have a collection of highly skilled players, good special teams, and the support of some fantastic goaltending. Yet naysayers are prevalent in the Toronto hockey scene. Their criticism has often focused on the supposedly debilitating shot differential that has characterized this iteration of the Leafs. This is a team that has seen success under Carlyle in spite of the shot differential statistics. Ironically, it wasn’t so long ago that this franchise bucked this category of questionably predictive statistics from the other side of the spectrum.
The Leafs dropped their sixth game of the season against the Bruins on Saturday night, but the optimistic take is that maybe a lineup weak down the middle can still raise their game to compete with the better teams. A solid second period is something the coaching staff and players will no doubt look to as something to build on tomorrow against Minnesota.
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.
Good evening! Prepare for a long week of distraction as the Leafs are off until Friday’s tilt with the New Jersey Devils. With Bolland going down on Saturday the team’s strength at centre is about as weak as you could imagine. Not too many people count themselves as big Bozak fans, but with him and Bolland both out, there is a gaping hole down the middle. It’s all but guaranteed this week will bring a deluge of trade speculation, and maybe even a trade to bolster the position. While the Leafs’ record is still pretty good, it’s difficult to feel optimistic about a team featuring Kadri, McClement and Smith up the middle.
Today’s practice lines were as follows:
Lupul – JVR – Kessel
Raymond – Kadri – Clarkson
Kulemin – McClement – Bodie
Orr – Smith – McLaren
That top line is juicy on paper, but that’s on paper. The transition to center for JvR, who did play down the middle in college but never at the pro level, is far from guaranteed to be a seamless one.