When this shortened NHL season eventually started many Leaf fans were wondering if this was going to be the same ‘ol-same ‘ol-thing? With the startling firing of Brian ‘I’m right your wrong’ Burke (I still like the guy) just before training camps starts and then the unsettled roster of who stays and who goes from veterans to rookies it isn’t any wonder the confusion that develops quickly in Leaf Nation. But just maybe there is a small glimour of light at the long winding road to a successful season in Leaf land.
With wins in Montreal and Pittsburg and the two losses coming against Buffalo and most recently in New York, Long Island (soon to be Brooklyn) Islanders the Leafs are sitting at 500 with some bright spots in their line up.
For starters it seems Nazem Kadri has maybe turned the corner in finally being able to play in the big leagues. It will help that Coach Carlyle has shown some confidence in the young gun and playing in situations that might not hurt him as a player as well as the team.
One of Burke’s moves was to bring in James Van Riemsdky, a good move in my opinion as he will bring you the power forward the Leafs were lacking and now he is showing us the reason why. After a slow start in his frst two games V.R. was switched to playing with Grabovski and Kulemin and told to go hard to the net and make some ‘noise’ and noise he has made picking up 3 points in the last two games and playing the agressive style Coach Carlyle wants him to play. With this style of play it also allows his two line mates to be more creative with the play as Mikhail Garabovski has netted two goals and a assist and Nikolai Kulemin has had three helpers himself.
The ‘bummer’ of this equation is that the Leafs have lost a big part of their offence with Jeffrey Lupul receiving a fracture forearm from accidently getting in the way of the ‘missle’ shot of Dion Phaneuf in the game vs the Penguins. Don’t look for Lupul to be back anytime soon, as it’s been stated he will be out for up to 6 weeks, man that hurts. Also hurting, not physically but in the outcome of their play is Phil ‘The Thrill’ Kessel and Captain Phaneuf. The way these boys play and how much they play, it isn’t any wonder that Phaneuf is a -4 on the +/- stats. He gets to play a tonn both on the power play and penatly kill units but we have also seen him take to many risks and not always making the proper decisions. We know those things will be corrected very soon with the watchfull eye of Coach Carlyle but it can be a concern.
Another concern is the lack of scoring coming from Phil Kessel. It is not like he isn’t getting his chances, he leads the team in shots over the first 4 games at twenty but we don’t see the same creativity from him on the power play. He isn’t getting open to those spots where he could recieve the pass and just shoot. I know the Leafs have been working on their PP but something has to give soon, since Lupul is out now too. As Coach Carlyle stated after the game in Long Island where they had two 5-on-3 advantages and did not captailize on them, ‘ It’s huge, it ususally comes back to haunt you if you don’t score on those 5-on-3 at some point as you can loose the momentum and it switches very quickly to the other side.’
Now after the lose in Long Island Carlyle also stated this,’ I don’t have an explanation for any of you on the teams showing tonight, and my message is that we accept responsibility for the way we played tonight – but we will be judged on how we perform on Saturday.’
As the Toronto Maple Leafs enter their game on Saturday in the ‘Big Apple’ against the Rangers of New York they will going up against a team who has been playing well below par for what their line up is made up of. With newly acquied Rick Nash and veteran Brad Richards back in the line up after fighting the flu plus Marian Gaborik and the host of other ‘Blue Shirts’ the Leafs will have their hands full this Saturday night. But what we have seen so far in the Leafs first four games is speed and following a game plan set out by a determined coach who wants to win with the players he has, which in this Coach’s view is the right game plan for this Leafs team going forward.
Until next time,
See you after the game.
By Warren Nye, UltimateHockeySource.com
Photo by Chris Young, Canadian Free Press
January 29th, 2013