Toronto must find a way to get back to their winning ways
For the second consecutive season, the Toronto Maple Leafs have wasted a very impressive start to the season.
After Saturday night's 3-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets, the Leafs have fallen to 10th place in the Eastern Conference heading into the New Year.
Something needs to happen in a hurry if the Leafs are to end up playing in the post-season.
Here are my six keys to success for the Maple Leafs in the New Year.
Cody Franson could be Toronto's wild card when the trade deadline arrives later this season
Cody Franson may be more important to the Toronto Maple Leafs than most people realize.
If Franson can play like he has until the return of Mike Komisarek, it will give the Maple Leafs more options before the trade deadline passes.
Franson's value has surely gone up, allowing the Leafs to use him as a potential cornerstone piece in a trade with any team that is looking for young defensemen.
The Leafs could also opt to keep the 24-year-old blue liner and trade Mike Komisarek to either free up some cap space, or send his salary to another team in order to take on the salary of a big name player via a trade. The Maple Leafs would have to make sure they trade Mike Komisarek to a team that is on his list of teams he would willingly go to, which is part of his modified no-trade clause.
After being benched earlier in the season by Ron Wilson, Luke Schenn has been much better with the puck and in his own zone
It's been a problem for the Toronto Maple Leafs time and again so far this season. Too many players are trying to thread the needle with long passes and end up turning the puck over.
Stemming mainly from the defensemen, these long passes can prove to be costly when used unwisely. More often than not, long stretch passes end in turnovers or icing, both of which can lead to extended periods of time pinned in your own end. This is one of the reasons the Maple Leafs give up an average of 31.4 shots per game, good for 27th in the NHL.
Short, crisp, stick-to-stick passes are what Toronto needs to do more, especially in their defensive end. Getting back to the basics would certainly help Toronto shore up their defensive woes.
Captain Dion Phaneuf is also the quarterback of the power play, and needs to be instrumental in its resurrection
It's been a major role of any Toronto Maple Leafs success this season. The problem is that during the month of December, Toronto's power play success has run dry.
The month of December saw the Maple Leafs only manage to cash in 6 of 43 power play opportunities. That works out to about 14%. Not very good and well below the league's average for the season.
Naturally, not all of them were full two-minute power plays, but that is the team's fault in the first place. This team needs to find a way to get back to being one of the top power play teams in the NHL.
One way to do that would be to start moving a bit more. It seems like the Leafs set up the power play, and only the man with the puck is skating or trying to get away from defenders.
While passing the puck around the horn looking for a good chance is fine, a team must also find a way to get the penalty killers moving around (I suggest watching some tape of their own penalty kill and copying other teams).
The Maple Leafs will need young guns Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin to step up their play in 2012
This one should come as no surprise to anyone who follows the Toronto Maple Leafs closely.
Last season, these two were the primary sources (along with Clarke MacArthur) of the Leafs secondary scoring, lighting the lamp a combined 59 times.
This season, they've only managed to find the back of the net a combined 14 times. They also combined for 115 points last season, yet have only managed a combined 34 points this season at the turn of the calendar.
For this season to end in success, the Maple Leafs will need both Grabovski and Kulemin to start producing at the same pace as last season.
For the Maple Leafs to be successful, they will need James Reimer to return to his 2.60 GAA and .921 save percentage form
It seems that Brian Gionta's elbow may prove to be more disastrous than anyone had imagined.
After a 4-0-1 start to the season, the Toronto Maple Leafs are just 14-14-3. Much of this has been due to the lack of stability in the crease.
From the up and down play of Jonas Gustavsson and Ben Scrivens, to the struggles of James Reimer since his return, the Maple Leafs have not been able to find a goalie that can play strong, consistent hockey.
For the Leafs to make a run for one of the eight playoff positions, they will need James Reimer to re-capture the success he had in the latter half of the 2010-2011 season.
The Jets celebrate after Andrew Ladd's goal, which was scored seconds after a Toronto penalty had expired
The most important key to success in the New Year for the Toronto Maple Leafs? The penalty kill.
Coming in at 30th overall this season, the Leafs penalty kill in the 2011 portion of the schedule has been anemic. Whether it's the coaching strategy, or players not following the system properly, something needs to be changed heading into 2012.
An improved penalty kill for this Toronto squad could be a game changer on its own. Saturday's loss in Winnipeg is proof that a poor penalty kill can literally be the difference between a win or loss, and in a tight Eastern Conference, it can be the difference between 7th place or 10th place.