Even though the Leafs pulled out two wins this week, they had the opportunity to make it three.
It was an up-and-down week, to say the least, for the Toronto Maple Leafs. There were several moments of very good hockey, very good goaltending and many reasons to be optimistic about the season.
Then, there were moments that just blended in together so well with the last eight years that I couldn't tell if the team had Ben Scrivens or Vesa Toskala in net. Whether they had Jamal Mayers getting beat on the wing, or was that Nikolai Kulemin? Was it Mike Kostka turning the puck over in his own zone, or Jeff Finger?
I know this is still a work-in-progress team and they are going to make mistakes, but for the majority of this season, the Maple Leafs have played some very good hockey. I think as the season continues there will be more weeks like this in which other teams start to really come together, and the Maple Leafs will be exposed as a team with a lot of inexperience. That isn't a bad thing, though, as you can see all these players have natural skill and ability. And since the top brass isn't intent (at the moment) on selling these guys for veteran players, then by all means, let them make those mistakes and become better with time.
The Maple Leafs went with a win-one, lose-one style this week to go 2-2-0 against (in order) Florida, Tampa Bay, Buffalo and Ottawa. Here's this week's review of the Maple Leafs: the good, the bad and the ugly.
The Maple Leafs power-play and penalty-killing units were analyzed on Saturday night's broadcast of Hockey Night in Canada against the Ottawa Senators. They showed, through the first nine games for the year, that the Leafs special teams were subpar. This correlated with a 4-5 record.
In the nine games since then, the Leafs special teams have dramatically improved, and their record is 7-2.
Again, this is going off memory, but those were roughly the numbers. Doing my own math, this past week those numbers continued to improve. With the man advantage, the Maple Leafs went 4-of-12, which is a 33 percent success rate. In fact, the only game in which they didn't score a PP goal was the 4-2 loss on Tuesday to Tampa Bay.
Of the 10 goals they scored in 12 periods this week, four were with an opponent spending time in the sin bin. It is great to see the Leafs taking advantage when given the opportunity. I said last week that it was something they needed to work on. I noted that playoff teams in the last couple of years were constantly making the opponents pay for playing too rough.
This also means that the six other goals the Leafs scored this week came at even strength. Again, important to note, the Leafs are establishing themselves as a dangerous team no matter how many guys are on the ice. They are starting to show they have that scoring capability, no matter the situation. It is something that I hope continues to develop and maybe spread out a little more.
There were six different goal scorers. Phil Kessel, Nazem Kadri, Clarke MacArthur (two), Mikhail Grabovski (two), James van Riemsdyk (three) and Dion Phaneuf were the contributors this week. That means the team got goals from players on three different lines/two different PP combinations.
On to the defensive side of special teams, the Maple Leafs were simply awesome. Thirteen times they found themselves shorthanded. Only once did they let the opposition take advantage, and that came on one of the six PKs in the loss to Tampa Bay; that's a 92 percent success rate.
I don't expect the Maple Leafs to be able to shut down the opponent at this level every week. However, knowing they can frustrate other teams is fun to watch and is one of the stepping stones to a consistent winning atmosphere.
It's no secret that head coach Randy Carlyle is a defense-first coach, and it's really starting to show. Overall on the season, the Leafs PK is at 82.54 percent, which is right in the middle of the league at 15th place. It is a much more welcomed sight after the last few years, when the Leafs were constantly finishing in the high 20s.
I thought I could blame the Leafs' poor showing on Tuesday against Tampa Bay on tiredness. It was their third game in four nights. They were coming off back-to-back shutouts over Ottawa (3-0) and Florida (3-0).
With the Leafs going up against the league's highest-scoring team, it was the perfect combination of excuses for the Leafs to end up in the loss column. And while they did exactly that, they just really never looked like they showed up at all.
They were beaten to every puck and as the game wore on, they lacked the physical presence that has helped them earn their victories so far this season. Again, I thought I could blame that one on tiredness.
And I feel I might have been correct, as they returned home and pretty much reverted back into top form to beat up the Buffalo Sabres. I was lucky enough to be in attendance for that game, and while at certain points the Leafs looked like they were about to unravel, they didn't let the Sabres get back into it. Everyone around me agreed that this was the Leafs team they were excited for both now and in the future.
Then came Saturday's contest against Ottawa. Once again, there were times when the Leafs moved the puck really well, crashed the net and did all those little things that help a team win. But those times were few and far between.
For the majority of the night, the Senators controlled the play. They got to the areas they wanted; they forced the Leafs to turn the puck over seemingly at will. The Leafs didn't make many smart passes and took shots at really bad angles. And worst of all, they made Ben Bishop look like an NHL-caliber goalie.
After beating Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller—a former Vezina Trophy winner—two nights before, you'd think the Leafs would be able to do the same to an AHL netminder. But it's these kinds of games that make it frustrating for Leafs fans, and their coaches.
Even though they were able to tie the game, they didn't do enough to really set themselves up for a win, and they ultimately paid the price.
To be blunt, both the second goal by Eric Condra and the game-winning goal by Colin Greening should have been stopped.
While Condra came in and basically ran over Scrivens (and there's still debate as to whether that was a good goal or not, in my books), the fact is that Scrivens made an initial save and then coughed up the puck and allowed Condra to get his stick (more like his hand) on the puck and put it past Scrivens.
After the Leafs tied the game, Scrivens stopped the puck on a long shot in. Then, with no Senators really in the zone, Scrivens decided to hold onto the puck instead of letting the Leafs take it back up the ice with less than 30 seconds remaining in the game. On the ensuing faceoff to Scrivens' glove side, the Sens put the puck on net right off the drop. Scrivens again made an initial save but put the puck up in the air. Greening was standing by and batted at the puck, which ended up in the back of the net.
Now, you could argue that if Leafs defenseman Carl Gunnarsson had taken care of Greening, he would not have been able to put the puck in.
You could argue that if Korbinian Holzer hadn't pushed Condra in Scrivens' direction, then maybe the referees would have called goalie interference.
You could also argue that if the Leafs played a little better in general in front of Scrivens, they would not have been in a do-or-die situation at the end of the game.
These are all good points and arguments, and believe me, I'm not trying to throw Scrivens under the bus. The fact of the matter is, he mishandled two pucks that resulted in two goals against.
I think that Scrivens may be in a little over his head coming off two shutouts and having to play seven straight games. I think he is a talented, young goalie that will continuously need work. I think he has already played to and above fans' expectations. I think he has been one of the good surprises so far this season, but I also believe he is a while away from truly being a No. 1 NHL goalie, and I don't think it's fare to him that the Leafs have had to rely on him for seven straight games, regardless of it being out of necessity.
It's a short three-game week that will bring in some welcomed rest for the Blue and White. They kick things off Monday on the road against the Philadelphia Flyers (9-10-1). Then, they come home Wednesday to welcome the Montreal Canadiens (12-4-2). And they finish the week on Thursday when they travel to Long Island to take on the New York Islanders (8-9-1). I think this is a week that Leafs fans may find frustrating.
After already beating the Flyers 5-2 on home ice a few weeks ago, the Leafs bring their 7-4-0 road record to the City of Brotherly Love. The Leafs have actually fallen to 1-3-0 in their last four road games, and the Flyers have just penciled Scott Hartnell back into the lineup.
The Maple Leafs have also already beaten the Montreal Canadiens twice in Montreal this season. Could it be too much to ask them to go 3-0 against the streaking Habs?
And the last time the Leafs played the Islanders, it looked like it was going to be a blowout with a 3-1 lead after one. The only thing getting blown was the horn on the Islanders' end of the ice, as they ended up with a 7-4 win. The Islanders are just 2-6-0 at home, but the Leafs will have to play a full 60 minutes against this team to avoid another embarrassment.
What could help matters is the return of James Reimer by week's end and maybe even Matt Frattin. Last week, I predicted the Leafs would go 2-2-0 in beating Florida and Ottawa but falling to Tampa Bay and Buffalo. I got the right record, but not the right games. This week, I hope I'm wrong, but I see the Leafs going 1-1-1.
I think they will, surprisingly, beat Philadelphia but fall to the Canadiens in regulation and lose the extra point to the Islanders via over time or shootout. With 29 games to go, it really becomes about stockpiling as many points as you can and holding off the teams that are surging. They didn't get a crucial point against Ottawa; hopefully they can pick up three in three games this week.
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