That. That was the win that cemented the Leafs as playoff worthy.
That. That was the win that cemented the Leafs as playoff worthy.
What an impressive showing by Joffrey Lupul last night. Re-united with 2011-12 running mates Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel after an in-game audible by coach Carlyle, he led the Leafs to a not-always-convincing 3-2 win over the lowly Florida Panthers with goals five and six in his last four games.
Toronto overcame a slow start on the second night of a back-to-back set to close out the league-worst Florida Panthers at home. The game featured the return of Joffrey Lupul to the Kessel line, simultaneously heralding the revival of said line as contributing members of the team.
‘Tis the season for Leafs trade rumours.
Now, I’m not about to dig up every rumour out there on the internet and go through it, but I do want to provide some thoughts on the team, the direction of the organization, and what’s out there before the Leafs do (or don’t) make any moves.
Tonight, Randy Carlyle will stick with James Reimer seemingly in an effort to give Reimer a chance at staking a number one’s claim to the crease. Carlyle has stated his preference to have one emerge over the other rather than a 1A/1B rodeo situation, and allowing Reimer to try to play his way through a few shaky goals on Thursday seems to be the approach. Although it could be a simple case of Reimer giving the Bruins a stiffer test than Scrivens in the teams’ two meetings so far this season (at least according to the scoresheet; 1-0 loss to Boston in early February with Reimer in net).
With the boats now foolishly burnt and the season 31 games old, the Toronto Maple Leafs sure look like they’re reeling into form. Since starting the season with a record of 15 – 9 – 0, the Leafs have gone 1 – 3 – 3 in the past seven games, collecting only five points in the standings and now sitting precariously in sixth place in the Eastern Conference.
Through the good graces of the Hockey gods and the incompetence of their direct competition (the Jets, Hurricanes and Rangers all lost in regulation last night), the Leafs are just barely keeping their head above water.
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.
Grabovski was paired with MacArthur and Frattin against Tampa and was still looking a little lost. As Grabo goes, those two go. And something that was enlightening in Randy Carlyle’s post-game interview:
“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.
There’s enough data there to say that Grabovski and Kessel have hardly played together at even-strength.
Toronto’s 1st line centerman might have been under their nose all along.
It’s like déjà vu all over again.
And no, I’m not talking about “The Slide.”
Among certain members of the mainstream media covering the Leafs, there seems to be this idea that won’t go away where Tyler Bozak will name Mikhail Grabovski’s $5.5 million as his starting point if he is going to negotiate a new contract with Dave Nonis.
You don’t need me to tell you it doesn’t make any sense.
With just over three weeks to go until the trade deadline, I feel as if I can get away with a rosterbation post without too much scrutiny. I’ll do my best to not go full HFBoards with my ideas, but certainly have a few players in mind that I’d like for the Leafs to target, and a few that I’d like Nonis to jettison. While I’m sure this won’t be the most intelligent post you’ll read this morning, hopefully it will at least spark some Monday morning conversation.
I took in what felt like a one-point win last night at the ACC. I of little faith was thinking “blow out” after the bang-bang goals in the first, but there seems to be something different about this team (visible in the Bruins game as well). They didn’t slip silently into the night, and by the end of it you had the feeling Crosby, Malkin and co. snuck away, or limped away, with the extra point.
I’ll ignore the awful first period from the Leafs – and how deeply underwater the first line was in its head to head with Crosby’s line, or how off Reimer was for the first 20 – because in many ways the fight back was just that good. Reimer played one of his poorer periods of the season in period 1, but his overall performance matched the trajectory of the rest of the team – started slow, but without him the Leafs don’t get the point.
The Leafs welcomed the Penguins in what was their second meeting of the season. A win in the first game in Pittsburgh certainly felt good, but this was a Penguins team that has 7 wins in their last 10 games and has just now started to push for the top of the Conference standings. It was a different game entirely.
Since we are almost at the halfway point, I thought now would be a good time to write some notes on each individual player thus far. Here is the close-but-not-quite-halfway Leafs Notebook:
On Wednesday, Wade Arnott, Phil Kessel’s agent, indicated his client’s apparent desire to spend the rest of career playing hockey for the Toronto Maple Leafs. This, despite being disappointed in the club’s performance last season (I don’t even want to know what adjective he’d use to describe the two previous seasons in Toronto), and with little guarantee yet that this team is primed for long-term playoff success.
We’ll probably never know why the camera-shy Kessel wants to remain in a media-laden Toronto; Arnott seems to suggest it is an admirable inner desire to win in hockey’s mecca. Perhaps the better question is, what could it cost to keep him?
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The agent for Phil Kessel joined Greg Brady and Jim Lang to discuss the evolution of Kessel’s game, his mindset during the scoring drought and how the forward feels about playing in Toronto.
The Leafs have had a lot of positives to start this season, but the power play isn’t one of them.
Last year, Toronto’s power play was a team strength finishing tied for ninth with Colorado in the league clicking at 18.4% over 82 games. After eight games to start this season, the Leafs are currently converting 14.3% of their man advantages, which is 22nd in the league.
Randy Carlyle has not been with the Leafs for long, but he’s beginning to put his stamp on this team.
Hired on March 2nd 2012, the former Ducks bench boss inherited a team on the decline and wound up finishing with a 6-9-3 record to close out the season in his first 18 games as the Leafs head coach. Questions and attention were given to things such as whether or not Carlyle, a former Norris Trophy-winning defenseman, could turn around Luke Schenn’s game, how he was using Connolly-Steckel-Crabb as a shutdown line, whether he and Joffrey Lupul could get along, if Phil Kessel could produce with him, and the intrigue of the looks he was giving Matt Lombardi and Matt Frattin on the top line.
Through a season of inconsistencies, the one thing that has remained constant for the Maple Leafs is the production of Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel. The duo surely formed one of, if the best, forward duet in the league, consistently tussling with the Sedins for the highest scoring pair (they’re trailing the race by a single point currently). All the while still keeping pace in the Art Ross race individually, as well. With all the success created and sustained, it was at one time far-fetched to believe the two could be split him for any reason.
With a three game losing streak in hand – one that all but made the Leafs four game win streak irrelevant – Ron Wilson made the peculiar coaching decision to split them up. And early progress reports signify it could turn out for the better.
It was far from a satisfying send off but last night’s 4-1 loss to the Habs was in some ways a microcosm of 2010-11 season that was. With their powerplay quite literally working against them, the Leafs put themselves in a hole early, showed some fight back and ultimately fell short, while some promising youthful performances comprised a silver lining for a better tomorrow. That said, it seemed a good portion of the Leafs roster was still suffering from the hangover of a playoff run fallen short, the giveaways and breakaways against were plentiful and the effort generally uninspired.
It’s important to keep one game in perspective but debutants Frattin and Colborne gave Leafs fans a pretty good feel for what the future may hold last night. Colborne’s frame will need some further filling out but he looked like an unrefined model of that big-bodied skilled center fans have been yearning for since Mats Sundin’s departure. Matt Frattin showed no hesitation in getting right in the mix with a high-tempo game and some good offensive instincts in finding the good scoring areas, registering five shots in 15 minutes of icetime. Frattin would have notched his first NHL goal if not for a couple good saves from Carey Price.
It was a relatively uneventful off day for the Leafs, with the only noteworthy news being the report from AM640 that J.S. Giguere will undergo a sports hernia surgery this summer. The teamÂ is back onÂ the ice todayÂ to prepare for tomorrow’s game when theyÂ play host to the Montreal Canadiens.Â Just like the Leafs final gameÂ one year ago, they will be playing for pride and would like nothing more than to finish off their season series with Montreal by defeating their original six rivals in front of theÂ hometown fans at the Air Canada Centre.
There are only tenÂ returningÂ Leaf players from the team that defeated MontrealÂ 4-3 in overtime onÂ April 10th ofÂ last year. Among those players includes a strongÂ trioÂ of defenseman in Dion Phaneuf, Luke Schenn and Mike Komisarek. Up front,Â Tyler Bozak,Â Tim Brent, Mikhail Grabovski, Phil Kessel, Nikolai Kulemin and Fredrik Sjostrom were all members of last year’s team. One key player in last season’s finale against the Canadiens was Christian Hanson, who scored two goals and added an assist in the win. Fellow Marlies teammate and recently acquired centre Joe Colborne is expected to be recalled by the Leafs prior to the game, so he can get a taste of NHL action before heading into the off season.
Colborne has had an impressive stint since joining the Marlies, exhibiting a real scoring touch with eight goals, seven assists and 15 points in 19 games. If Leafs brass decides to bring him up, he could be sampled in various spots in the lineup, perhaps spending some time centering Kessel or Marlie teammate Nazem Kadri. It should be a nice taste of NHL action at the very least and at most his first step in making the case for full-time NHL duty as early as this fall.