Every team wants to start the season off strong, with a lot of wins. Well this wasn’t the case for the Maple Leafs. They did the opposite. Goals were hard to come by; the brand new, all-star defensive line up was anything but all-star material. And when they needed their goalies to play the best, they both (The Monster and Toskala) were injured and the entire burden was placed upon MacDonald’s shoulders.
The entire team had no confidence and it needed some kind of push or morale boost, and it came in the form of Phil Kessel. Since Kessel’s return from offseason shoulder surgery, the leafs have turned their season around and of late have been one of the hottest teams in the league. The leafs nation has seen a different squad with the return of Kessel.
The blue and white are an entirely new team now. Beauchemin has been playing with a lot of confidence, which was shown in the pre-season but was somehow lost during the beginning of the season. Stajan has shown that he is capable of competing with the best centres in the league on both sides of the rink. Gustavsson and Toskala have played great and made some keys saves when called upon and even Macdonald has stepped in and won a game or two for the buds. And who can not mention the play of Hagman, leading the team with 14 goals, is playing probably the best hockey of his career. Hagman has scored goals in bunches and has stirred a lot of attention from other teams seeking his services. Also Grabovski, Blake, Stempniak, Ponikarovsky, Mayers, and Kulemin have put on solid efforts and they have been rewarded more ice time. The defence is starting to take shape with the always consistent Kaberle leading the way, they have pitched in with goals and blocked shots and just solid play, making it finally seem like the defence the fans wanted to see. Every member of the team has stepped up their game and this has been shown as of late as the leafs are a team that everyone had hoped back in September.
Finally, there is the messiah, or the saviour or many other nicknames he has received from the fans. Phil Kessel’s return to the ice is probably the one reason leafs have shown us a new team. But not only has he helped other players mentally, but also on the score sheet. He has scored 10 goals and pitched in 6 assists in 17 games this season and is on pace to have a career year this season.
With everyone playing with a sudden boost of confidence and pitching in different ways to win, the leafs are for sure a team that no one will take for granted now. Looking at the standings, they are 14th place with 27 points, but the playoffs are not out of the question anymore. The 8th place Montreal who is ahead by 5 points (32) are not impossible to catch up to, especially with the sudden onset of offense the leafs have shown and their urgency to win. If anything, look at it this way, if the leafs are to not to make the playoffs again, and finish 9th or 10th again, at least the Bruins don’t get a chance to even look at Tyler Seguin or Taylor Hall.