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]
  • MaxwellHowe

    twitting_sg vinoa MaxwellHowe May want to take a class in logic

  • Burtonboy

    ingy56 Holy fuck . I really didn’t expect that

  • GiuseppeM

    MaxwellHowe ingy56 -Keon- I like Tim Thomas. He is a great guy, has a great story.

  • http://i.imgur.com/MyKj5C3.gif ingy56

    Burtonboy ingy56 Craig Ramsay’s a good coach. Not sure about Dineen, but I’m guessing none of them deserved this…even with the bad losing streak.

  • Burtonboy

    http://mapleleafs.nhl.com/v2/ext/live/
    http://mapleleafs.nhl.com/

  • Burtonboy

    ingy56 Burtonboy Two yrs ago they won their conference and have since started a rebuild . Seems a bit harsh

  • B_Leaf

    Hey guys, I am home and not well today so I thought I would write up a positive comment/article. Hope you enjoy.
    With David
    Bolland possibly gone for the season and Tyler Bozak out for 4 weeks or
    possibly more it seems to be a time for Leaf management to look at the critical
    position of down the middle. If a transaction that makes sense were available
    the Leafs would have to look at it. In the meantime they are not without
    options. For starters they have signed Smithson to play on the bottom six,
    adding size there and more importantly a legit face-off man. The big move
    though is shifting JVR from the wing to center. This move has potential. If it
    doesn’t work, well you move him back to where he is one of the best wingers in
    the league. But this move is making my spidey sense twitch with delight.
    Good center
    ice men take ownership of the ice. The really good ones are strong at both ends,
    having the ability to be what their team needs at any given moment. I don’t
    think JVR was that player when he came into the league. How many guys are at
    that age? However we have seen him evolve into a player who takes ownership of
    the ice. He listens to his coach and many nights has been the Leafs best player.
    Furthermore JVR has been what is needed at any given time for his team. On a
    league top five PK he is a key guy using his assets on the defensive side of
    the puck. Because of that he is already playing very close to top C minutes
    already.
    The two
    questions that arise with JVR at C are: Can he win draws? And can the team
    manage on the wings? The second question is that probably the Leafs can with
    two excellent 2-way forwards back in their line-up in Clarkson and Kulemin.
    Furthermore Lupul should get more meaningful minutes. Long term we have Leivo
    waiting in the wings for a top six forward position. The question of face-offs
    is a big one. Ideally you want to see JVR be at least a 55% guy in your 1C
    spot, but that will take time. Eventually Bozak will be back and he can bring
    that to the third line, with Smithson available to back him up. Now JVR has
    strength and excellent hand-eye so maybe he excels on the dot. If so we really
    hit the jack-pot. If he only wins 40% it could be a problem. Some may have
    concerns about JVR playing on the defensive side at a new position. There will
    be a learning curve. However he is smart and his PK prowess makes me confident
    he can grow into this aspect of the role quickly.
    I just love
    the new ingredients for our top line. All three of these guys can make their
    own time and space and all three can score. I have always felt Kessel would be
    best playing with two guys with size/physicality and skill. Lupul and JVR hold
    their own with anybody and both are more physical than given credit for. JVR
    has never shied away from battling Chara hard…that is the gold standard. The
    beauty right now with Kessel is that he has also grown in his physical game. He
    is much more engaged but should still benefit from playing with two bigger type
    guys. Kessel’s playmaking ability can really be explored to its max with these
    two players. They can also play the power-play together leaving Kadri to
    bolster the second unit. The other thing I like about this line is that it will
    get your best players on the ice more often. Is there any concerns with this
    line? Defensively there may be issues. If that is the case Carlyle could move
    Kulemin into Lupul’s spot dropping Lupul to Kadri’s wing which may not be a bad
    thing anyway.
    Last year
    when the Leafs spoke of moving JVR to C it smelled a little of desperation. But
    now with JVR established it is being facilitated out of necessity. There really
    is nothing to lose right now by giving it an extended run. I believe this could
    really work well. I hope JVR loves it. There is enough time for him to get
    acclimated before the playoffs. Down the middle we would have JVR, Kadri,
    Bozak, and Smithson. This moves McClement to the wing. If Bolland comes back he
    can fit on the wing or at C depending on the circumstances at the time. That
    group in the middle has a great combination of size, speed, offence, defence,
    face-off ability, and seasoned youth.
    Kessel JVR Lupul
    Raymond Kadri Kulemin
    McClement Bozak Clarkson
    McLaren Smithson Orr
    Leivo or Broll
    Bolland (LTIR)
    This may put to rest the endless
    debate about who should play center on the number one line in Toronto. As Kadri
    grows we might end up having two.

  • vinoa

    twitting_sg Well if in your eyes Tampa Bay is more of a world class city than TO, I guess you’d get rid of the Jays and Craptors.
    The point is that in the NHL the Canadian teams are supporting the Phoenixes of the league. I don’t think that’s the case in the MLB or NBA.

  • vinoa

    Great Dane No Timonen!!

  • B_Leaf

    oldrugbyguy 
    Fraser is rock solid