Toronto Maple Leafs: Four Keys To Improve the Power-Play and Make the Playoffs

Brad LeClair@beerad87Correspondent IDecember 1, 2010

TORONTO, ON - AUGUST 18: Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke speaks to the media during the afternoon session of the 2010 NHL Research, Development and Orientation Camp at the Mastercard Center on August 18, 2010 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Matthew Manor/Getty Images)
Matthew Manor/Getty Images

The Leafs rank as one of the worst offensive teams in the NHL, and one of the worst teams on the power-play.

My feeling on the Leafs' power-play is simple—and it's saying they miss Dion Phaneuf. The power-play is anemic for a simple reason, the team is far too small to ever be successful on the power-play.

That's only a small reason though.

The power-play, and not the penalty kill, is the direct reason why the Leafs just plain suck this year. You improve the power-play, the Leafs will be a playoff team—just my opinion.

The holes on the power-play have a direct correlation to the the Leafs overall team struggles. To improve the team, GM Brian Burke should look no further than looking the at teams' power-play and try and improve it that way.

I have three keys to building the Leafs into the power-play through the power-play.

Key One

Acquire that first-line center the team desperately needs

This can be done either via trade or free-agent signing. It's obvious right now, the Leafs cannot win draws at any good rate. When the team had Mike Zigomanis in the lineup, they seemed to be alright. But since his demotion, the team has struggled to win with any consistency in the face-off circle.

In a recent game on TSN, color man Pierre McGuire said, "The Leafs seem to start every powerplay from their own zone, they HAVE to win some draws in the offensive end."

As much as I think McGuire is full of himself most nights, he hit the nail right on the head here. Start out with the puck and it makes the power-play that much easier to get set up.

Could that be cured by the acquisition of a first line center? Yes, if they are good at draws. But can also be taken care of by Mike Zigomanis who is currently on the farm rotting. Not saying Zigomanis is the cure to what ails Toronto, however.

Key Two

Park a body in front of the net: acquire larger players

Another pretty simple observation here, but the Leafs lack size on their top nine and is pretty much the reason why they get man handled nightly.

Having bigger players takes some heat off the smaller snipers such as Kessel because they get into the dirty areas and either screen goalies or pick up dirty goals.

The bigger play, such as a Dustin Penner, who parks himself in front of the opposition's goalie, will help the power-play out immensely. Also, will help in keeping pressure on the opposition as well, with good puck control, and tenacity in trying to get the puck back.

How could you cure this problem? Possibly a trade to get a Penner-like player, but I think a short term fix could be a combination of Dion Phaneuf, Luca Caputi, Nikolai Kulemin and Mike Brown, along with a new commitment to screening the goalie and going in the rough areas.

Parking Phaneuf in front of the net and having Kaberle and Versteeg, the more accurate point options, firing from the point gives the Leafs a new dynamic to their power-play.

Key Three

Forecheck hard

Since this team is smaller up front, you would think the Leafs have wheels. But lately, the Leafs have shown their wheels about as often as a lunar eclipse.

You put pressure on the other team by being strong on the puck and making things happen on the forecheck.

The Leafs scored a cheap goal, just solely based by dumping the puck in and putting pressure on the opposition. Kulemin tallied the goal that night for his ninth of the year.

How to improve that? Pretty much get the team to believe in themselves and play for pride. They can forecheck, they proved that in the early part of the season. Where the tenacious forecheck went—well, that's anyone's guess.

Key Four

Leafs still need a puck-moving defender not name Tomas Kaberle

This may seem a bit out there, but the Leafs do have a decent defence, but their ability to move the puck is really lacking. The two young guys, Carl Gunnarsson and Keith Aulie, are decent at moving the puck, but are still very young. I would consider Aulie defensive and Gunnarsson offensive.

However, the Leafs, with the exception of Tomas Kaberle, really don't have puck-moving defenceman.

Luke Schenn is a decent puck handler, but still cannot lead a team out of his own zone and create something.

Francois Beauchemin has the ability to pass well, but for some reason he just plain sucks at moving the puck effectively.

After that, we come to the center of the shrubbery maze, Mike Komisarek. A failed keep in at the blue line, coupled with a bad pass to his partner, resulted in a penalty against him in the first period of the Tampa Bay game on Tuesday night.

This isn't the first time though, as he's pretty much had the lead on the Leafs team in giveaways for the last few years. He gave Mike Cammalleri a goal on a platter when he forgot which team he played for. At $4.25 million a year, Komisarek ranks among some of the worst contracts of the NHL.

The Leafs should really be looking for two shutdown defenders and four puck moving defenders in the future. Right now, they have the shutdown pair of the future in Aulie and Schenn, and two puck moving defenders in Kaberle and Phaneuf, but after that it gets hazy.

The Leafs failure to gain the zone is a direct result of not having speed through the neutral zone, not having the size to chase down pucks, and just an overall failure to use the forecheck as a way of playing the game.

Having Phaneuf back will undoubtedly help the squad, bit it probably won't fix the power-play unless all four issues are addressed.


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