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The Leafs are all but set to make the playoffs for the first time in nine years, yet there is an inordinate amount of vitriol being directed at Toronto’s head coach Randy Carlyle, for some reason.
Considering pretty well everyone predicted the Leafs not to make the playoffs, it’s pretty funny to see the coach leading a surprising playoff appearance – and a team that’s currently fifth in the East and 7th in the League – get chastised
Toronto Maple Leafs last 10: 6-1-3, New York Rangers last 10: 5-3-2
As the season winds down, The Maple Leafs find themselves in a position to either pull clear of the teams beneath them, or stumble and fall back into the clutches of 8th/9th place.
The Leafs are back at it after a welcomed four day lull in the schedule. The deadline hurdle has been cleared for the players, with no significant additions or subtractions to the roster. The group that got the Leafs into this position is going to have a chance to finish what they started by clinching the Leafs’ first playoff berth in eight years. It’s tough to imagine James Reimer is viewing this as a vote of confidence, though, after his GM publicly admitted that Miikka Kiprusoff was of much interest to the team and that the two sides discussed the possibility of an extension.
After doing a great job of gathering up points over the past couple of weeks and pushing themselves well in to the playoff picture, it wouldn’t be a big surprise to see the Leafs hold off on any trades going in to the deadline this Wednesday. But despite the amount of success the team has enjoyed this season, there are some glaring weak areas that could be addressed, and players may become available that could help Nonis bring this club to a higher level.
We’ve seen the Calgary Flames finally give in to a rebuild in the past week with the departure of Jarome Iginla, and the Buffalo Sabres have been known to be in fire sale mode for a little while now. As Wednesday approaches, other teams will have to make a decision on which direction they’re headed, and potentially start putting bodies on planes as well.
Last 10: Toronto 4-2-4; Ottawa 7-1-2
The Toronto Maple Leafs are looking to earn at least a point in an eighth straight game Saturday night as they visit the Ottawa Senators, who have been on a decent run of their own.
In what is the most meaningful “Battle of Ontario” in the last few years, it’s more than just pride on the line; it’s home-ice advantage and two teams sizing each other up as potential first-round matchups. Toronto is trying on their new look as a playoff team for the first time in 8 years and Ottawa is revelling in their depth as a team that has been able to stave off huge injuries to Jason Spezza, Erik Karlsson and Chris Anderson with seemingly no drop-off in performance.
Toronto Maple Leafs (17-12-3) at Boston Bruins (17-9-6)
Last 10: Toronto 4-3-1; Boston 5-2-3
The Leafs did it. They beat the Boston Bruins. As a reward, they get to play them again two nights later.
It took a good mix of a lot of things going right to pull it off their first win over the Bruins in nearly two calendar years. To the Leafs’ credit, they finished their hits, got involved in the game early, caused some turnovers and grabbed an early lead. They were patient and the amount of respect they had for their opponent, and their hunger to finally beat them, was apparent in the extra effort the likes of Kadri and Kessel among others were putting in defensively.
Photo by: Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images
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.
- 2010/2011 Even-Strength Forward Combinations
- 2011/2012 Even-Strength Forward Combinations
- 2012/2013 Even-Strength Forward Combinations
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.
That Kadri kid is pretty good isn’t he? Back when Brian Burke stepped up to the podium at the 2009 NHL Draft in Montreal, I imagine this was the player he was envisioning that night: slick, slippery and drenched in skill. That was an absolute clinic Kadri put on out there against the Lightning, displaying all sorts of offensive creativity, patience and ingenuity with the puck. This is a player who is gaining confidence and progressing by leaps and bounds – a player on the verge of making a lasting imprint in this star-starved market. But before we get too far of ourselves thinking ahead, why don’t we take a step back and briefly peruse the timeline that has led him to the “now” (and enjoy a few memorable quotes along the way).
News broke last evening that Corey Perry had signed an 8 year deal totalling 69 million dollars to stay with the Anaheim Ducks and his newly signed centerman (also of 8 years), Ryan Getzlaf.
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.
Photo: Abelimages/Getty Images
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.
Tuesday Morning Leafs Links…
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
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.
In this shortened season it’s never too early to talk about playoff implications. The Leafs currently sit 5th in the Eastern Conference while the Pens come into this game as the 2nd team in the East. In recent years, getting into the playoffs was virtually a lock for Pittsburgh. As we all know, the Leafs have struggled mightily. Given how things have played out so far, this season provides hope. This season can be different.
Last night’s 5-4 nail-biting win over the Sens further fanned the fires of the current “debate” on the role of fighting in the Leafs’ mid-season success. In case you haven’t seen it already, here’s the video of the KO McLaren delivered on Dziurzynski. It seems like McLaren only grazes him but given the speed at which these guys are throwing down, what’s a chin to a flying fist (or sheet of ice).
Kessel also came out with his second 3-point night of the season and generally looked to have given a 200 ft. effort, along with 5 SOG. Nazem Kadri meanwhile continues to roll and shows no signs of stopping. The imminent return of fellow Marlies graduate, Matt Frattin, should have fans pretty excited since prior to Frattin’s injury, Kadri had assisted on 4 of Frattin’s 7 goals. Hopefully, the two youngsters can pick up close to where they left off as Toronto will be facing some tougher competition in the remaining 12 games in March, including two dates with the Penguins and three against the Bruins.
In other news, the most recent installment of TSN’s TradeCentre listed Bozak and MacArthur as viable trade candidates. With Stephen Weiss out for the remainder of the season, you’d have to imagine that Bozak moves up on the list of available centremen. MacArthur’s upcoming UFA status and recent performance also makes him a prime trade target with Lupul returning and if Frattin continues to show he’s the real deal. No matter where he ends up, he’ll likely get a raise on his current $3.25mm salary but in the meantime, I’m not averse to expanding his value by having him ride Kadri’s coattails.
Another point on Kadri. I recently did an NHL impact analysis of top-10 CHL defensemen in scoring and found that Morgan Rielly had big shoes to fill. I then decided to perform a similar analysis for forwards and remembered that Kadri had actually finished 5th in OHL scoring during the 2009-2010 season with 93 points. While Kadri is performing at a tidy 1.00 point-per-game pace, and could be considered for an All-Star berth had there been an All-Star game, he was left out of the study sample because draftees typically need a couple of years before they can make an impact at the NHL level. Therefore, I only looked at forwards from 1999 to 2008. Below is one of the charts from the follow-on analysis. Some of Kadri’s predecessors include the likes of Patrick Kane, John Tavares, Corey Perry, and Steven Stamkos. Check out the piece to see how the WHL and QMJHL fared during the same time period.
Click to enlarge.
Thursday Morning Links:
Michael Stephens’ Game In 10
1967ers: On Fighting - They don’t make them like they used to. Great piece by 1967ers (PPP) on a time when fighters weren’t one-dimensional.
Blue Chip Prospects: Reimer Up to Some Autobotian Heroics - Would you stick with Reimer-Scrivens or give Reimer some veteran support for next season?
Hope_Smoke: MacArthur Odd Man Out - Buy Low, Sell High, says Hope Smoke.
Vintage Leaf Memories: Respect Alfredsson - I grew up on the Leafs-Sens playoff series and learned to hate Alfie. However, Michael Langlois, over at VLM, makes the point: “there’s something to be said for honouring a worthy opponent, too” ala Vince Vaughan in Anchorman.
Fish stink, hockey doesn't!
Watching the Marlies this year partially feels like watching a clock turning its hands back. It was on the first day of training camp that a brand new name appeared on the roster. While roster changes aren’t exactly an AHL novelty, seeing Paul Ranger’s name on a hockey jersey makes one take a quick peek towards the calendar.
If you did turn back the hands of time, Ranger would be a 25-year-old defenseman playing for the Tampa Bay Lightning. With a promising career ahead of him, he suddenly left the game many of us would pay to play. Personal reasons or a different motive entirely, it wasn’t quite clear why he left hockey only to find him himself coaching his hometown’s bantam team in Whitby, Ontario.
Photo Credit: legendsofhockey.net, the 1942 team
Tonight can’t come fast enough if you’re the Boston Bruins or the Vancouver Canucks. For Boston, it means a chance to get back into the swing of things by winning Game 3 in your own building. For Vancouver, it means a chance to put a stranglehold on the series.
A chance the magnitude of which is better explained by going over the probability of a 3-0 deficit comebacks throughout the course of time. In the leagueâ€™s history only 3 teams managed a 3-0 series comeback. In 1975, after opening their Stanley Cup quarterfinal series with three losses to the Penguins, the New York Islanders put together a four-game streak, completing the comeback with a 1-0 win in Pittsburgh. Then of course, we have the Philadelphia Flyers last year and…
Would look good as a Leaf. His wallet would too.
The Leafs need a first line center. Misconception or truth? Watching this team throughout the season Iâ€™d say itâ€™s need is right. But, if the golden goose in the form of Brad Richards lands in a city not named Toronto, how do we get that top end skill at center? Is there a free agent out there that could help this team without having that top end offensive skills?
Seemingly, Kessel always needed that first line center. I say seemingly because he preformed at his best playing with a legitimate No1 skilled passing center in Marc Savard. While that may be the case, whatâ€™s also undoubtedly true is that Kessel is still a developing player, even more so when playing in Boston. A sniper like Kessel does indeed need a more skilled center than Bozak but I think that skill is more likely to come from the draft or inside the organization (Kadri, Colborne) than via this yearâ€™s free agency. What Iâ€™m aiming for in this article is looking at a more balanced approach.
I guess you could call this game a step towards the future. No bigger stage than battling the arch rivals on Hockey Night in Canada on CBC. The game itself wasnâ€™t something weâ€™ll be very proud of but the play of our youngsters made me smile.
Other than the six goals scored, this was pretty much a typical Devils game. You could see the Leafs were somewhat drained on back to back nights. Continue.
This is a sad night for Leaf fans everywhere. We knew it was a long shot for a while now, but knowing it really is over always feels like a different kind of dagger.
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