Friday Mashup: Back to the Grindstone

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Photo: Getty Images via NHL.com

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.

The theme of the week for the Leafs and their coaching staff?  Getting back to the disciplined, hard working game that defined this team’s unprecedented success a year ago.  Yes, the Leafs are off to a great start.  This has been in large part due to their potent offensive weapons, fantastic special teams, and a newfangled stud-goalie tandem.  Yet, the leaders of this squad have readily acknowledged that their compete level could be higher and more consistent.

Last year, this was a Toronto team that most pundits still viewed as irrelevant.  With a combination of skill and determination, one of the youngest squads in the league went out and fought hard every night to prove their naysayers wrong.  The page has turned after said season culminated in an impressive seven game showdown with the Bruins.  Nowadays, with the Leafs slowly regaining the respect of the hockey world, we are witness to one of the most difficult challenges with a young team that has seen success – remaining levelheaded, focused, and in touch with what led to success in the first place.

A lesson in the trials and tribulations of growing a young team with this style of play: the St. Louis Blues.  The Blues emerged from the murky recesses of the Western conference on the back of an influx of youth in 2008.  That team featured talented youngsters such as Backes, Perron, Berglund and T.J. Oshie.  They unexpectedly made the playoffs, got swept by the Canucks, and were commonly viewed as a team on the rise.  Yet finding a harmony with the demanding defensive game of their organization posed difficulties for the young group, as they narrowly missed the playoffs in the following two years.

With growth and maturity (and some better goaltending), the Blues rounded out their game in the 2011-2012 season and have remained a legitimate contender ever since.  They will likely remain as such for years to come, given their young core.  Granted, the personnel difference between the two teams is significant.  St. Louis has the edge in two-way players and an ability to work the cycle that is not present in this group of Maple Leafs.  But the similarity lies in the emphasis on defense and physical play within these organizations and the importance of ensuring that the young and immensely talented offensive players therein adhere to these principles.

In part, this identity will be reinvigorated with the returns of Kulemin and Fraser.  Moreover, we’ll find out if Smithson can bring a physical element and defensive presence that Trevor Smith did not.  Carlyle suggested Smithson may see time on the penalty kill with his faceoff proficiency (mandate likely being: win the draw, make sure the puck is cleared, go to the bench).  Regardless, while a lineup so heavily in flux no doubt poses some challenges, one would expect a determined and driven performance tonight at the ACC given the enormous amount of time off this group had to reflect and recuperate.

Friday morning links:

MLHS is offering free entry into a $500 fantasy contest for Saturday’s games.

James Mirtle compares this year’s team to the 2012-2013 Leafs. A quick look at some of the team’s numbers thus far.

David Clarkson is still finding his groove.  It will come, but Clarkson would be best served by sticking to his game and ignoring the incessant background whine of the Toronto hockey scene.

Traikos tries to drum up some drama in what is a conspicuously more antagonistic version of Mirtle’s piece.  Brief summary: shots shots shots, Toronto’s special teams are too good and Christian Ehroff will fix our “mess” of a defence.

Rielly will take a seat for now.  Not a big deal.  Carlyle likes to have a revolving door of his fringe defenders to keep them motivated and fresh.  He has not had that luxury this year thus far with Fraser’s injury.

Gardiner and Franson are reunited.  This should be the unit on the ice when Toronto is looking to score.

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Nikhil has been writing for MLHS since the site launched in 2008. He misses talking about Mats Sundin and is currently entrenched in enemy territory (Boston) pursuing a doctoral degree. Contact Nikhil here: [email protected]
  • Great Dane

    Good morning guys
    very balanced pieces on Phaneuf new paycheck:

    http://theleafsnation.com/2013/11/7/assessing-the-value-of-dion-phaneuf

  • Great Dane

    Is Liles being showcased around the league.  Just for scouts to check if he still got the wheels?

  • lieffan

    Great Dane Has to play to be “showcased.” Not that there’s any such thing

  • http://mapleleafshotstove.com/ Radar O’Rielly

    This past week has felt like an entire off season.

  • Burtonboy

    I hope by moving Jake up to 2nd pair back to his natural side Carlyle now lets him loose to weave some magic. Jake was playing like he was always scared he was going to get benched at any minute . Like any PMD there is a certain amount of risk in their games and if you want that type of player on your back end you have to live and adjust to those risks. IMO the advantages of having a couple of good PMD’s on your backend far outweigh the risks.

  • Burtonboy

    Radar O’Rielly After the Bruins game we have another 4 days before the next game on Wednesday . Schedule sucks moose balls

  • mcloki

    Morning Gents. Great that opening Day is finally here.

  • Zep2

    High anxiety for Hapless Habs

  • Dan39

    Zep2 Watched half the game yesterday, they had zero fight in them. Barely played Parros. Didn’t notice Tinordi if he hasn’t been sent to the Bulldogs already. No Prust. No Tarnasky. They never learn…

  • Zep2

    Dan39 Zep2  Tinordi was sent down, Prust injured. I only saw the 3rd period. Subban tried to do too much.
    Lehner suggesting he’s going to get even with Gallagher , loved that
    Habs are at a disadvantage when it comes to front office personnel because of the French thing
    Bringing back Therrien reminds me of Jays bringing back Gibbons. Not the best available .