Toronto Maple Leafs: 5 Glaring Holes That Could Haunt the Leafs Down the Road
In the offseason in an effort to improve the depth of the Leafs, GM Brian Burke decided to sign Tim Connolly, trade for Matthew Lombardi, John-Michael Liles, Cody Franson, and Phillipe Dupuis, all in hopes that he could shore up all three facets of the Leafs attack.
All three parts of the Leafs game, even strength, power play and penalty kill, needed improvement from the previous season.
Albeit it's only preseason, and the full Leafs lineup has not played once yet, you can argue that we haven't seen what they can do. However, I'm basing my opinion of the type of player acquired, as opposed to the early preseason reviews I have.
In this short slideshow, I'll go through five aspects of the Leafs game that in my opinion still need to be addressed before we can call the Maple Leafs a playoff team.
Lack of a Net Presence, a Player Who Will Do the Dirty Work Down Low
This is the type of player I feel the Leafs have missed since the days of Gary Roberts. A player that scores his goals from the crease and in. Ryan Smyth, Tomas Holmstrom, Dustin Penner, just to name a few, cause havoc in the offensive zone by standing in front of the net.
The main thing here is puck control, and the Leafs right now lack that extra ingredient. Having that net presence would not only help out their power play, but also helps draw penalties and of course get in the opposition goaltenders head.
It's the main reason why the Leafs struggle so much against Ryan Miller. If he can see it, he'll stop it 99 percent of the time.
Step 1: Get a big net presence down low.
A Legit Top Six Faceoff Man, a Critical Part to a Successful Power Play
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Right now as it stands, the Leafs have one of the worst top two centers in faceoff percentage in the NHL from last season. Both Mikhail Grabovski and Tim Connolly lost more than 50 percent of their draws, and in today's NHL, you need to start out with the puck.
Winning the draw in the offensive zone means two things, you have more time to work in the offensive zone and also, you don't kill valuable seconds trying to get back into the zone.
The last part of my sentence there is yet another reason why the Leafs power play is very inconsistent. They rarely start out in the offensive zone with the puck.
Next, due to a lack of a net presence, they struggle with puck control most of the time on the powerplay, which results often in a one and out scoring chance. With some more size, and starting out with the puck more on the power play, you could easily look for the power play numbers to improve greatly.
Step 2: Time to nab a top six center with faceoff ability.
Could This Be Another Year of an Anemic Penalty Kill? Only Time Will Tell
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A full year of Darryl Boyce, Phillipe Dupuis, Mike Brown, Colby Armstrong, and hopefully Matthew Lombardi should help the Leafs improve upon their rather ineffective penalty kill from last season that just mustered up a 77 percent efficiency rating last year.
A main sticking point still in the Leafs penalty kill is a real lack of defensive awareness and the ability to ice the puck. Countless times I've seen the Leafs come five feet from clearing the zone, but elect to try a cross ice pass in hopes of starting a breakout.
More often than not, the puck ends up in the back of the Leafs net as a result.
With new coaches Scott Gordon and Greg Cronin now assisting Ron Wilson, the Leafs hope that these three along with coach Rob Zettler, can help revive Toronto's penalty kill.
So far though, not so good.
Step 3: Get back to the basics, use the boards, and don't worry about the fancy play.
Lack of Veteran Experience Could Hurt the Leafs If They Are Playoff Bound
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Currently on the Leafs roster, only the recently acquired John Michael Liles, and the recently signed Tim Connolly are over 30 years of age.
Obviously in most cases this is a good thing as the Leafs have one of the more younger and exciting teams in the NHL. But now the Leafs appear to be heading in the right direction, and with that, a possible playoff berth.
Teams have succeeded before with not a lot of veteran leadership, but for the Leafs, in the hockey mecca known as Toronto, the pressure to perform might just be too great for such a young team to handle.
Could another veteran piece or two help them in their pursuit of a Stanley Cup? You decide.
Step 4: Bring in some more veterans to help out a young Leafs core.
Leafs Finally Have a No. 1 Goalie...Or Do They?
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James Reimer took the Leafs Nation by surprise last year as he carried the Leafs the second half of the year as they nearly made a bid for a playoff spot, despite a poor showing pretty well until the New Year.
Now with the all success early in his career, comes the exceeded expectations and of course, the league catching up to Reimer.
I still have a funny feeling that Jonas Gustavsson may end up being the better goalie, because scouts may end up getting a good book out on James Reimer. Reimer struggles handling the puck and has a very weak glove hand.
These are two facets of his game that are critical to improve upon as he grows as a goaltender.
As he grows, Leafs Nation waits on baited breath as they hope Reimer isn't the second coming of Andrew Raycroft, and more the second coming of Ed Belfour, another Manitoba native.