Toronto Maple Leafs: Positives and Negatives from the Start of the 2013 Season
As the Toronto Maple Leafs get set for their fifth game of the season tonight in Broadway, we look back at the week that was for the Leafs and also look ahead to the rest of the season.
The Leafs began the first week of the season with an even 2-2 record, with the final game of the first week to take place at 7 PM in New York City tonight against the red hot Rangers, led by Marian Gaborik, Rick Nash, Brad Richards and King Henrik Lundqvist.
What stands out? What would we like to forget about? What facets of the game can the Leafs improve on?
I don't believe all those questions can be answered after the first week, but hopefully in due time, the answers will slowly start to trickle in.
Here's a look at some positives and negatives from the first week of the season.
Positive: The Return of James Reimer
What a way to return to the NHL by much-maligned Leafs goaltender James Reimer. Often criticized for not being a big game goalie, Reimer stood out against the Penguins on Wednesday night, helping lead the Leafs to a 5-2 victory over the Penguins.
Reimer did let in a few soft goals, but for the most part, he played well enough for the victory. What he did that reminded me of two years ago was that when he allowed a soft goal, he shut the door after that.
There was no opening of the floodgates after a soft goal. He stood tall, he battled and he eventually led the Leafs to the win.
He will likely be getting the start against the Rangers Saturday night, so we'll see if Reimer can continue his resurgence as the Leafs number one goaltender.
Negative: Ben Scrivens Start to the Season
Initially granted the starting goaltending role with the Leafs, Ben Scrivens was given the keys to the Leafs nets early in the season due to his play this season with the Toronto Marlies.
Unfortunately though the AHL is a completely different animal than the NHL. The speed of the game and the skill of the NHL players is clearly getting to Scrivens, as the extra milliseconds Scrivens got to stop pucks in the AHL have clearly evaded him in the NHL.
I didn't have high expectations for Scrivens, but so far, he's looked incredibly nervous as the goaltender. Often noted for having a still heart rate, Scrivens is showing he is human, and he can let the pressure get to him.
His performance against the Canadiens was average. He stopped some pucks, but he was sloppy with his rebound control, and couldn't seem to stay on his skates when he skated outside his crease. He was better against the Sabres in the home opener.
But his performance against the Islanders was not only pitiful, but it may just have cost him from getting the majority of starts as the Leafs goaltender.
Unlike Reimer, when he let in a bad goal, he let the floodgates open against the Islanders and allowed another four more goals before getting pulled for Reimer.
Scrivens is not a starter in the NHL, and probably will never be one. This game showed me why.
Positive: The Penalty Kill Is Improving
Currently sitting in the middle of the pack in the NHL at 80 percent, the Leafs have definitely improved a pretty abysmal penalty kill from last season. New additions Leo Komarov and Jay McClement have steadied the forward penalty killing core of the Leafs, and Mike Kostka has helped out the defence.
However on a negative note, the goaltending has been up and down still for the Leafs, and like the old saying goes, your goaltender is always your best penalty killer.
With the variety of different forward combinations the Leafs have used for penalty killing, the new systems they have used and the different head coaches they have gone through, one constant has always remained: Inconsistent goaltending.
In the end, it will come down to goaltending when we look back at the Leafs penalty kill. It will only improve with better goaltending. Here's hoping the penalty kill improves.
Negative: The Powerplay Hasn't Looked That Impressive
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With only four power-play goals scored this season, the Leafs power-play hasn't looked all that great this season.
Not only have they had the most power-play opportunities in the NHL, but they have had plenty of 5-on-3 chances as well and come up empty.
With all the chances on the power-play, and with stars Dion Phaneuf, Phil Kessel and now injured Joffrey Lupul all without a goal on the power-play, the Leafs will need them to wake up fast if they hope to save a listless power-play.
Part of the problem is a lack of a net presence to stand in front of a goalie, and for that matter, a Dion Phaneuf slapshot. Another problem is the Leafs have no dump and chase game on the power-play, often electing to try the Detroit Red Wings back pass option to enter the zone.
This works sometimes, but not all the time. The Leafs need to dump and chase hard and overload the dump-in side. With that, their power-play can get started easier and not rely on a face-off win in the offensive zone.
The addition of playmaker Nazem Kadri could also do wonders for the first-unit power-play.
Positive: The Play of the Rookies
The emergence of Nazem Kadri this season has not only been a positive, but it has been the only reason the Leafs won their first game and got back into the home opener game against the Sabres.
Kadri's ability to create offense out of nothing, and his ability to finish, have been a pleasant surprise for the Leafs. With three goals and two assists in the first four games, Kadri currently leads the Leafs in scoring.
The play of Leo Komarov next to him has also been a nice addition to the squad. He leads the Leafs in hits, and his style fits in perfectly with what Randy Carlyle wants out of his third line role players. Komarov's ability to block shots and penalty kill will allow him to play bigger minutes as he gets more used to the NHL game.
Mike Kostka, a journeymen defenceman at the age of 28, made his NHL debut this season and has really shined brightly, at least for the first three games. Playing alongside Dion Phaneuf, Kostka has seen big minutes and has handled himself pretty nicely.
Ben Scrivens, in his first two games, owned a 1.51 GAA and a .929 SV% and really looked like a veteran in a rookie's body. But his last game against the Islanders, Scrivens came crashing down back to Earth as he allowed five goals against the Islanders, and you can argue at least four of them were easy saves.
Negative: The Unimpressive Start of Our All-Stars
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The combination of Phil Kessel, Dion Phaneuf and the now injured Joffrey Lupul have accounted for three total points. To put that into prospective, the Leafs have eight players currently with three points or more this season.
With Lupul now out with a broken arm, it will be more of an offense by committee as the Leafs try to replace the point per game Lupul.
Dion Phaneuf has actually injured more players with his shot than he has goals scored. You could take that as a positive if it were the opposition, but sadly, he's taking out his teammates with the uncontrollable he cannon he possesses.
Positive: The Return of Colton Orr
He's back! The return of tough guy Colton Orr was a welcomed sight for many Leaf players as their protector returned to the fold this season after dealing with post-concussion symptoms most of last season.
How did he kick off his return? With a fight against the 6'8" 260 pound John Scott of the Buffalo Sabres. It was a hard fought battle, with Orr eventually toppling the giant with a massive right hook.
The next game, he took on Deryk Englelland and gave him a black eye. Now two for two, Orr has returned back as one of the elite fighters in the entire game. Sadly though, the need for a goon might be going by the wayside in the "new NHL," but for now, I'll just enjoy the nightly fisticuffs with Orr and his other willing combatants.
Negative: The Return of Jake Gardiner
His first two games back after sustaining a concussion on a hit by Rochester Americans forward Kevin Porter, have been forgettable to say the least. Looking a step slow, and very rusty, Gardiner's usual tape to tape passes have disappeared. His ability to skate the puck in and create offense has also disappeared.
With that said, after practice Friday the Leafs demoted Gardiner to the Marlies, and have elected to start Mike Komisarek or Mark Fraser in his place tonight against the Rangers.
Hopefully his timing can return while he's back in the minors because the Leafs need his offensive creativity, his speed, his vision and his puck moving skills on the back-end.
Positive: The Departure of Brian Burke
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Much Leafs' early success has been due to the work put in by Brian Burke. Nazem Kadri, a Burke draft, has been sensational. And the replacement for Lupul, Matt Frattin, scored a goal and assisted on two more in his first game with the Leafs.
The addition of Mike Kostka was all Brian Burke's doing. The confidence he had in James Reimer looks warranted as Reimer backstopped the Leafs to a 5-2 victory over Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The draft of Leo Komarov and the signing of Jay McClement was all Brian Burke. Scouring the college ranks and finding Tyler Bozak was all Brian Burke. Acquiring various players from lopsided trades in the Leafs favor: all Brian Burke.
The season begins a new chapter in the history of the Leafs. Turning over a new "Leaf," the Leafs hope to continue building upon the foundation Brian Burke created. If they manage to make the playoffs, Leaf fans can thank Brian Burke for the much-needed playoff appearance.
Negative: The Roberto Luongo Rumors Continue to Swirl
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One move Brian Burke did not make was trading for Roberto Luongo. He didn't budge when it came to giving up his best prospects like Nazem Kadri, Jake Gardiner, Matt Frattin and Morgan Rielly.
He stuck the course and held true to his word that he wouldn't overpay for a goaltender, even though he probably needs one.
Sadly though, with every Leaf loss, the Luongo to Toronto rumors heat back up.
We all know how the Leaf players deal with trade rumors, not very well. Last season, after a very good start to the season, the Leafs in the New Year lost a boatload of games and went from one of the better teams in the East to one of the worst.
You can point directly at the trade rumors swirling that season, or you can point at the extension Ron Wilson received at Christmas as reasons for the downward spiral last season, either reason is valid. Hopefully this year, they put that behind them and can deal with the pressure of playing in Toronto.
Leaf Nation wants a winner, and the pressure will be immense this season, can they take it?