Looking at all the write ups and sports/news articles lately about the Toronto Maple Leafs you would think they are the next coming or shall we dare say, ‘Stanley Cup Champions’ (don’t worry I didn’t jinx anything ok!)
But we have to admit these ‘Boys in Blue’ are playing some good hockey lately and I think we may see more of it come the second part of this shorten season and maybe there are several reasons why? Let’s check them out.
First of all, as a coach, we have to stick together right! So my opinion is that the Leaf players are playing really well because of the guy behind the bench and that being Randy Carlyle. It was interesting to hear the other day when Coach Carlyle was asked if he feels the Leafs are playing his style of hockey after just going 4 wins in 5 games? Coach’s quick and short comment was, NO not even close but they are learning what it will take, trust me! That is a classic answer from Randy for sure but it also shows a little bit of a different attitude in Leaf nation.
A couple of other reasons that the TML are moving in the right direction is that have some good chemistry happening with some good line combinations and a couple of surprises to boot too.
After the 24 game mark the Leafs stand in 6th with 30 points (nice surprise) with a 18% PP and a 82% PK and with 73 goals scored for, as mentioned they have some nice chemistry. What else seems to running along nicely is that some of the moves that past GM Brian Burke had made are starting to pay off. Lets take the easiest one of them and that would be James van Riemsdyk, acquired from the Flyers in exchange for Luke Schenn. JVR has been a steady player since after a couple of games with the ‘Buds’ when the Coach pulled him a side and said, ‘ start going hard to the net and start getting nasty doing it!.’ Once he started to this JVR has been on a steady climb to accumulating over 24 games, 19 points (13 goals, 6 assists). With a little luck and keeping this good pace JVR should be in the 25 goal range and 45-50 points.
Along with JVR and one of the ‘Young Guns’ to the team this year is the play of Nazem Kadri. Rising Star-Nazem Kadri After brief stints with the Leafs over the past 3 seasons, this kid has finally found his stride. Over the 24 game mark ‘Naz’ has 24 points with 10 goals, 14 assists and a plus 13 (smoke that Coach Wilson!) Kadri is becoming a human highlight reel in the Toronto market that Coach Carlyle has told the local scribes to settle down about the kid. He is young, he is playing well yes, but watch some games and you will see, he makes just as many mistakes in the different zones, that there is along way to go with him! But under Coach Carlyle and his teachings, this kid has only one way to go and that’s up!
Not to spend all our attention on the forwards (haven’t spoken about Phil ‘The Thrill’ Kessel even yet) but another nice surprise is the play of defenceman Mark ‘Too Tall’ Fraser. Playing last year with the ‘Baby Leafs’ the Marlies in the AHL and coming over from the NJ Devils organization this tower of strength was improving steadily. In the minors he ended up a plus 15 and now with the big club and after 21 games he is a plus 16, 4th best in the league and playing a steady 20 minutes a game. What this kid is bringing is the toughness the Leafs were missing but also he can play hockey, a smart player who plays steady and keeps things simple, another Carlyle type player.
The last player which has been a good influence on the whole team is Jay McClement. A 8 year veteran who knows his role and knows it well. He can play the wing or take a shift in the center spot and not miss a beat. I remember watching McClement when he was playing for Stan Butler in Brampton in the OHL where he was looked upon as a scorer but Butler kept harping on him to play the defense game as well and you will have a good long steady career in the pros. That is exactly what he is having with stops in St. Louis and with the Avalanche, he has found his ‘groove’ showing off his defensive play and when needed, some scoring punch.
As the Leafs skate into the second half of the season I haven’t even mentioned the solid play of Clarke MacArthur, Dman Cody Franson and Captain Dion Phaneuf plus the play of goalies Ben Scrivens who had to step into the spotlight with playing some great games while number one tender, James Reimer was out with a injury. Now back and healthy the ‘Duel tenders of the Twine’ can move forward together and carry these ‘new found’ Leafs to a better record then in the past, plus just maybe play hard for the rest of this season and finally make the playoffs. Which all of ‘Leaf Nation’ would truly love to see happen.
Until next time.
See you after the game.