Biggest Takeaways from Toronto Maple Leafs' Start to the 2013-14 Season
The Toronto Maple Leafs are no longer unbeaten in 2013-14, but it has been a very good start to the season.
The fact that fans and the media are critiquing wins, generally means an organization has turned a corner. Leafs Nation is no longer hoping this team wins, they are expecting it every night they play.
There are a number of emerging stories in Toronto, but here are the biggest takeaways from the Leafs’ start to this season.
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Dion Phaneuf Will Be Counted Upon Heavily
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Dion Phaneuf might be the most polarizing Toronto Maple Leaf. Read through any of the online comments sections of any article that focuses on Phaneuf, and you’ll see myriad fans on both sides of the debate.
Phaneuf does make gaffes, but he plays a lot of minutes, important minutes, so he is under the microscope more than any other Leaf defenceman.
The Leafs' captain is eighth in the league in ice time per game at just under 26 minutes. That is more than two minutes more than fellow rearguard Cody Franson.
With two points in four games, expect Phaneuf to continue to play big minutes in all game situations.
Dave Bolland Is Motivated and Contributing
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Some players just look right in their hockey sweaters. David Bolland looks right in a Toronto Maple Leafs sweater.
It seems obvious he is comfortable and relishing his role of playing gritty, two-way hockey, and chipping in offensively when Nazem Kadri has his minutes reduced.
The former Blackhawk has two goals and one helper in Toronto’s first four games. He’s taken key draws, and has offered both skill and sandpaper in equal parts.
His play has been a large element in the Leafs’ team success so far.
Phil Kessel Hasn't Changed Despite the Contract Extension
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While it would have been surprising to see any change in Kessel’s game following his multi-year contract extension given his professionalism and maturity, it was something to look for as the season began.
Kessel has been exceptional in the first four games and fans can rest assured that he’ll continue to deliver high quality scoring chances, shift after shift.
Kessel has been attacking his opponents’ net relentlessly with 22 shots in the first four games. His shooting percentage is under 5.0, but that will necessarily improve over the course of the season.
He’s got three points in the first four games, but he’s due to explode with three or four points in a game soon with the way he’s played so far.
The Leafs' Team Defence Must Improve
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Quite simply, the commitment to team defence has got to improve, and in a hurry.
Jonathan Bernier’s save percentage is not sustainable, and while James Reimer’s will improve, the Leafs cannot continue to give up the current number of shots per game.
Yes, the Leafs have played more games than most teams, but their 138 shots against is the second worst in the league. Only Buffalo has given up more, and the New Jersey Devils have given up 32 fewer shots in the same number of games.
The Leafs’ defencemen have not played well collectively, but shots against can also be attributed to turnovers and poor defensive zone coverage. Those last two items are the responsibility of both forwards and defencemen.
Jonathan Bernier Has Been Sublime
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Jonathan Bernier has been excellent since the season began. His fundamentals look sound, his positioning is excellent and he is an athletic netminder when needed to be.
There seem to be no confidence issues with him and he’s only gaining increasing trust from his head coach. Trust is essential in any goalie-head coach relationship.
His .963 save percentage is dynamite. His goals against average is 1.18 and is also superb.
The Leafs are going to need two good goaltenders throughout this challenging regular season, but Bernier might force his way into the starter’s role indefinitely if he continues his current play.