NHL Playoffs 2013: How High Should Leafs Expectations Be This Postseason?
After nine long years of waiting, the NHL Playoffs have made their return to the Air Canada Center, and the entire city of Toronto is buzzing.
Talk shows are discussing who the Leafs would prefer to play. The Boston Bruins offer a tough, gritty opponent who has pretty much owned the Leafs souls for the better part of a half decade. The Montreal Canadiens are the sentimental favorite to play the Leafs and likely offer the Leafs the best chance to advance in the playoffs.
Other than them, the Washington Capitals offer the Leafs the best matchup going forward. Alex Ovechkin has been unstoppable lately, but in a seven game series, their deficiencies in goal and on the back end defending could come to the forefront. However, Ovechkin could likely carry the Capitals past the Leafs despite those downfalls in the Capitals attack.
Here are five expectations I am setting for the Leafs for this playoff season. I'm setting them rather low because I'd rather not expect too much and get disappointed.
James Reimer: How Will the Netminder Handle His First Taste of Playoff Hockey?
This will be Reimer's first playoff appearance in his career, and expecting him to carry the Leafs through the first round may be asking too much for a playoff rookie.
His ability to handle the pressure in Toronto and deliver a 50 save performance against the Senators last Saturday was enough for me to believe that he has arrived.
Expectation: Win the First Round having a GAA of 2.50 and a SV% of .910. The Leafs' offense helps him out as Reimer will have his struggles battling the puck.
Line Matching May Kill the Leafs' Chances
I'm not a giant fan of linematching because quite honestly I feel matching lines could tax a team in a seven games series. Not only that but it could lead the Leafs into taking more too many men on the ice penalties.
I personally feel that Carlyle opting to take out one forward for another may be the better option, rather than taking out the entire line.
For example, instead of playing Nazem Kadri in the defensive zone, you add Tyler Bozak or Jay McClement in his center spot, and allow them to play in the defensive zone with Joffrey Lupul and Nikolai Kulemin.
I always feel that defending the better line just leads to more shots on goal and more heartache. I'd rather have Toronto's more skilled forwards try and make the opposition work rather than have the opposition dictate how the Leafs will play against them.
Expectation: Leafs Will Continue Linematching because Randy Carlyle has gotten them this far by doing that, why not keep it going in the playoffs?
Secondary Scoring Will Be Needed Come April 30th
This will likely be the biggest story for the Leafs this postseason. The Leafs are one of nine teams with at least five 10 goal scorers on the team (Anaheim, Los Angeles, Minnesota, Vancouver, Boston, Montreal, New York, and Pittsburgh).
With Dion Phaneuf and Mikhail Grabovski close to 10 goals as well, the Leafs could boast a team with seven 10 goal scorers, here only Pittsburgh has at least seven too.
Simply put, the Leafs will need their secondary scoring clicking on all cylinders if they are playing the Bruins, and if they are playing the Habs, they will need it to at least show up.
Expectation: Leafs' second and third lines will outscore their first line.
Phil Kessel: Praying That He Doesn't Have to Face Zdeno Chara in Round 1
Easily one of the most explosive offensive forwards in the league, Kessel is going to be playing in his first playoffs with the Leafs since he was acquired by the club four years ago.
Kessel, depending on who he plays could be a major factor in the Leafs outcome in the playoffs.
If the Leafs draw the Boston Bruins, expect Kessel to be non-existent as Zdeno Chara has all but stopped any of Kessel's production. If he gets Montreal, look out as Kessel has absolutely owned the Habs this season.
Expectation: Depending on the matchup, Kessel Could Be a Stud or a Dud. If he gets the Bruins, expect Kessel to nearly go pointless. If he gets the Habs, expect big numbers from Kessel.
Dion Phaneuf: How Will the Captain Handle the Pressure
If the Norris Trophy was handed out today, I could see Phaneuf being a top five defender being considered for the award. PK Subban, Ryan Suter, Kris Letang, and Duncan Keith will all likely garner attention. Zdeno Chara is always there in the discussion, and don't count out Mike Green either.
Needless to say, Phaneuf--when partnered with the right defenseman, is a beast for the Leafs on the backend, and is an all situations defenseman.
The Flames have never been the same since they dealt Phaneuf, and the Leafs would never been the same if they dealt him too.
The one thing I don't particularly care for in his game is his ability to cough up the puck and turn it over. In the playoffs, puck possession will be a key facet to any teams' playoff success.
Expectation: I expect Phaneuf to limit the turnovers and help lead the Leafs to a first round win over the Montreal Canadiens (Yes I said it, that's why they'll be playing. I'm crossing my fingers for home-ice advantage in the playoffs.).