Toronto Maple Leafs: 6 Reasons They'll Still Struggle to Make the Playoffs
Given the improvements the Toronto Maple Leafs have made over the past few months, I think they have a decent chance at making the playoffs.
That said, I believe they will struggle mightily, with no guarantees that they'll even make it.
I don't mean "struggling" as in doing poorly, but rather, it'll be tough for them during the regular season regardless of whether they actually make it or not.
There are a bunch of good things happening with the Leafs, but I wanted to keep it real by creating this list of potential stumbling blocks for them this season.
Penalty Killing Woes
The Leafs have been awful on the penalty kill (PK) for as long as I can remember.
They did kill off all their penalties during the season opener against Montreal but, of course, it was only one game.
They've added two solid bottom-six guys in Philippe Dupuis and David Steckel, who are supposed to be great on the PK but, again, it's only been one game.
Steckel showed great face-off ability during his Leafs debut, so that'll be a huge benefit for the Leafs on the PK.
The Leafs have got great shot blockers like Mike Brown and big bodies like Luke Schenn to clear out the front of the net.
On paper, the Leafs' PK unit looks great.
Underwhelming Power Play
A lone forward picks up the puck and tries to go one-on-three. He tries a fancy deke on a defender only to get beaten by an unspectacular stick check. The defender coolly ices the puck, shaving 20 seconds off the penalty.
If the Leafs power play doesn't learn how to get set up properly, form traffic and get shots through that traffic, they'll have a very hard time making the playoffs this year.
Reimer Not Guaranteed to Be Great All Season
Leafs fans were so high on James Reimer during the offseason, but then he had a dreadful preseason.
To be fair, it wasn't all his fault. The people who were playing in front of him often let him down which was why he got lit up a bunch of times.
The preseason reminded Leafs fans that Reimer isn't superhuman and that the Leafs could put up stinkers even with him in net.
Which brings us to the regular season.
Will Leafs fans get last season's James Reimer, or will he prove to be average?
Potential Lack of Chemistry on Top Line
The Leafs top line this season is supposed be the Connolly line.
However, they were kept apart for most of the preseason. Tim Connolly is nursing a minor injury right now, so he might not see any action until next Saturday's game.
None of them have impressed at all so far.
Joffrey Lupul has been invisible, Phil Kessel has been ineffective and Connolly has actually been absent for a little while.
If this line can't get it together, the Leafs will have to make the so-called "1B line," consisting of Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin and Clarke MacArthur, the actual top line.
The Leafs were supposed to have a decent top-six group this season, but if that top line doesn't gel, they'll be stuck with only one effective top-six line.
Unfortunately, the Grabovski line is an excellent second line, not a first line.
Nazem Kadri was in a battle with Matt Frattin for a roster spot until he got injured. Frattin may have looked a little better in training camp, but the injury to Kadri iced it.
Tim Connolly, to the amusement of Sabres fans, got injured before the puck dropped on the new season. He'll be back soon enough, but given his history with injuries, you never know when he'll have to sit out again.
The Leafs were lucky to have Matthew Lombardi healthy enough to play in the season opener, but they'll need a little time to figure out if he's 100 percent. He could be one hit away from another year off.
The Leafs are also lucky because their third game of the season is scheduled a full week after their second game, so the little bumps and bruises from last week will hopefully have enough time to disappear.
However, it's a long season.
A single injury to a key player could sink this Leafs squad.
Could you imagine if Reimer got injured?
Tough Competition in the East for the Eighth Spot
To me, there will be three serious contenders for the eighth playoff spot, not counting the Leafs.
The New Jersey Devils have Zach Parise back, this time sporting the "C." They've also got Martin Brodeur, who I would never underestimate, but who may be playing his last season before retirement.
The Carolina Hurricanes took a hit on their offense when they lost Erik Cole, but took a step forward on defense when they signed Tomas Kaberle. They've still got their All-Stars, including goalie Cam Ward.
The Montreal Canadiens signed Cole during the summer, but lost Wisniewski and Hamrlik to free agency and Markov to injury. However, they've still got Carey Price and a more experienced P.K. Subban. The Canadiens are a bit weaker this season in my opinion, but they're still a dangerous and annoying team to play against.
Looking at each of these three teams, you'll notice that they all have star power, especially in the goalie department.
The Leafs don't really have any Parises, Kovalchuks, Staals or Prices. We've got Kessel, Phaneuf and Reimer.
Do the Leafs stack up against these teams?
My gut tells me...I don't know.