Toronto Maple Leafs: 6 Questions After Season Opener

Curtis NgContributor IIIOctober 7, 2011

Toronto Maple Leafs: 6 Questions After Season Opener

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    During the preseason, there were numerous questions swirling around not just the Toronto Maple Leafs, but around every NHL team.

    With the Leafs, there were questions about which players would make the team, which line combinations would work best, what would have to be done to improve special teams, and more.

    Now, after having played a regular season game (finally), a 2-0 shutout of the Montreal Canadiens, some new questions have arisen while others remain.

    Let's take a look at some of these questions.

What Will Happen When the Leafs Give Lombardi More Ice Time?

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    The Leafs were pleasantly surprised when they learned Matthew Lombardi would be able to play during the season opener against the Habs.

    However, after having missed all but two games last season, the Leafs thought it best to slowly ease Lombardi back to the NHL rhythm.

    To do so, they started him on the fourth line between Mike Brown and Jay Rosehill.

    Lombardi looked pretty good during the game and even got the game-winning goal, a short-handed marker, just 33 seconds into the second period.

    He is one of the fastest skaters in the NHL and showed off a bit of his speed during the game.

    It is possible that he will end up playing the wing on the third line, but wherever he ends up, I'm sure all Leaf fans are curious as to what this guy can do when he's healthy and playing decent minutes.

Given the New Additions, Will the PK Improve, and by How Much?

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    The Leafs took five penalties during the season opener, but killed them all off.

    Their penalty-killing unit was terrible last year, so the arrival of Philippe Dupuis and David Steckel should greatly help the PK.

    Both are proven penalty killers, with Steckel also being an excellent faceoff man.

    If memory serves, he won about 75 percent of his draws during the game.

    The last time the Leafs got a "proven PK guy" in Fredrik Sjostrom, it didn't go quite as planned. This time, however, they've seen the two new guys in action already,

    The Leafs' PK can't get much worse than it was last year, but surely it'll get better with Dupuis and Steckel, not to mention guys like Mike Brown and Tyler Bozak.

    The big question is: how much will it improve?

What Will Happen When MacArthur Returns?

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    Clarke MacArthur has one more game to serve in his suspension for his hit on Detroit's Justin Abdelkader. He will return for Toronto's match against the Calgary Flames next Saturday.

    For the first game of the season, the Mikhail Grabovski line was made the Leafs' top line. Matt Frattin played alongside Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin, filling in admirably for MacArthur on the line.

    When MacArthur returns, he'll most likely take his old spot beside Grabovski while bumping Frattin down to the third line.

    However, I am wondering if Frattin's decent play in the season opener will be rewarded with more ice time. He held his own against the skilled and speedy Montreal forwards and even got a couple nice shots on goal.

    This is a young player who I think would benefit from increased ice time and from playing with better players.

    Barring any surprise roster moves, however, I have a feeling Frattin will simply have to continue his development from the third line.

Will the Power Play Improve?

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    The Leafs fired blanks on the power play during the season opener and looked especially bad during a five-on-three that lasted well over a minute.

    It took them a lot of time to get set-up and they got very few quality shots through.

    That was the story of last year's powerplay as well.

    With a few new players and a couple new assistant coaches, however, the Leafs are hoping to do much better this season on the man-advantage.

    Hopefully Dion Phaneuf will learn how to actually hit the net with his slapshots.

    Maybe Tim Connolly or Cody Franson will prove to be capable point-men.

    The stats from game one of the regular season aren't encouraging though, so big question marks remain regarding the Leafs power play.

Will the Leafs See More Offense from the Defense?

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    The Leafs barely got any offense from its defense last year and it hurt.

    This year, they've got John-Michael Liles and Jake Gardiner in the lineup, two offensive-defensemen who like to join the rush.

    During the game against Montreal, it was Dion Phaneuf who wired a slap shot past Carey Price off a rush.

    It's tough to win games when you rely on your top-six group of forwards for the vast majority of your offensive numbers.

    It'll be great if the bottom-six can contribute of course, but it'll be very important to see some numbers from the D as well.

    Players like Luke Schenn and Carl Gunnarsson aren't known for their offense, but they should start jumping in on plays when they see good opportunities.

    As long as defensemen don't get sloppy or flat-footed, I'm all for them taking risks. I'm sure the coaching staff would like to see more smart risk-taking from the D as well.

Can the Leafs Consistently Play Three-Period Games?

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    The Leafs looked awful during that first period against Montreal.

    They gave the puck away a lot, they were stuck in their own end and only got four shots on goal. The Canadiens got 14 shots on goal.

    After Lombardi's shorty early in the second period though, the game turned around.

    During the second and third periods, the Leafs were aggressive on the puck and were able to control it for good chunks of time.

    However, their nice play during those last two periods does not excuse their bad play during the first.

    Getting scored on first all the time was a big reason why winnable games were lost last season. Instead of playing the type of game they wanted to play, they would often end up in deep holes by the time the first intermission came about.

    I don't know what it is about first periods that causes the Leafs to forget how to play proper hockey.

    I just know that it isn't a good strategy to win games by hoping you can survive the first period and then hoping you can rebound with good second and third periods.