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Secondary scoring will be the watchword for the next 48 hours

 “Secondary scoring” will predictably be the media catch phrase in Leafland until Toronto plays again on the weekend.  After their surprise start, the loss to the Rangers will be micro-analyzed and we can bet this “hole” in the Leafs' production will be talked about at length.

 The team continues to work hard.  But for a Biron breakaway save on Versteeg, the game goes to overtime.  They almost came back again against the Rangers. They are spirited, faster, harder to play against. They aren't giving up much defensively.

 But as Burke himself knows, he is still painting the roster canvas.

They don’t have a lot of scoring depth.  That’s been talked about in this space for ages, and in a lot of other places, too.  It’s not “news”.  Anyone who follows the Leafs closely knows they are one injury to a key forward away from a major issue in terms of scoring goals. Many of us have asked the obvious question:  where will the goals come from this season? (Virtually no one in today’s parity-immersed NHL has the depth to make up for the loss of a good goal-scorer. The Rangers are playing without Gaborik right now.  Not easy.  How would the Leafs fare without Kessel?)

At the end of the day, in the regular season, you do need your first line to score.  And I think the Leaf “first line” will score goals.  But my concern from the get-go was the second line, and I still wonder how strong their second line will be over the course of a long, difficult NHL schedule.  MacArthur has had an outstanding early part of the season, but few expect him to continue to be a big-time scorer.  Long term, I believe the second line, whoever ends up there, will be a key to the Leafs’ success or lack thereof.

 In the early going of a season, you can sometimes cover up serious flaws with guts and a bit of luck.  The Leafs have had both, but ran out of luck against the Islanders the other night, and that’s just the way things go.  The surprise is not that the Leafs will lose games.  The challenge is how they respond when they lose one, two, three in a row.

 Fans desperately want to see the Leafs have a line that is a true “top line”, and a true “second line”.  That is why there has been excitement about Bozak, Kessel and Versteeg. Three young guys who weren’t even here 18 months ago and they bring some speed and skill.

 They may mesh perfectly together.  Kessel is an elite-level sniper and Bozak is smart, quick and sees the ice well.  Whether Versteeg may actually, long term, fit a little better on a second line is something Wilson will no doubt tinker with.  Kulemin could flip with him back and forth.

 (I’ll coach for a minute.  It’s always fun.  They could put Kulemin on the first line for a while, but keep Versteeg on the first power-play unit with Kessel and Bozak, just to switch things up.)

 It’s funny, when the Leafs first acquired Versteeg, my first thought was, “hey, really nice pick up for their second line”.  I never honestly thought he would immediately be a first-line winger.  Not saying he is not talented enough for that, I just didn’t think that was the idea.  Long-term he’ll be a big plus for the Leafs, no question.
  • It sure seemed like the Rangers blocked a lot of shots Thursday night.  I don’t know the final stats, but it felt like a ton. In today’s NHL, that’s a huge factor most nights.
  • Bozak was off the top line as the game wore on.  I would expect a number of young guys to spend some time “watching” when they don’t show the smarts or drive Wilson wants to see on any given night.  Last week it was Kessel.  Now Bozak.  It’ll happen- and it usually helps.\
  • I loved the move Brent made while killing a penalty in the third period to drive to the net.
  • Zigomanis is a determined player right now.
  • It was interesting to hear the TSN analysts talk about Komisarek.  Are Leaf fans just convincing themselves that he is playing well?  I say this because there seems to be a feeling “out there” that he still is not playing like he did a few years ago.  His minutes are obviously down.  Gunnarsson has already spent a couple of games up in the press box.  Is Lebda automatically the guy to go back upstairs when Gunnarsson inevitably gets back in?
  • Armstrong tried to get the Leafs going with a hit in the third period, and then potted a goal a few minutes later.  Credit to Grabovski for going to the net on the play.
  • Del Zotto certainly looks comfortable in his sophomore NHL season on the Ranger blueline.  He’s playing big minutes.
Around the NHL
  •  Fans push the panic button with goalies on a regular basis.  It’s natural.  It’s what fans do and part of the fun of being a fan.  Carey Price was a conquering hero when he joined the Habs.  Then he seemingly lost his way.  Now he’s number one again.  Ryan Miller seems to have a great season, then a not-so-great year.  Tim Thomas was the new late-life Johnny Bower (making it to the NHL in his 30s) for a while, but lost his job to Raask last year and the team wanted to unload him any way they could to dump salary during training camp.  Now, he’s playing like he did when he was on top of the world. Thomas just may become a difference-maker for the Bruins this year, if he has indeed found his confidence again.
  • It’s not the first time I’ve said this, but I see the Eastern Conference as pretty much twelve or thirteen teams who look a lot alike, with maybe two elite teams.  My guess is that almost every team will go through a winning streak like the Leafs just did, and they will look “legit”.  Then, they will at some point lose a few in a row, and it will feel like they’ll never win again.  Just look at the rosters:  there just aren’t a lot of deep, experienced teams.  The Leafs are in that mix—like everyone else.
  • Kovalchuk is minus 3 in the early going in Jersey, with  5 points in 7 games.  He will get his goals, for sure.  But is it too early to suggest this will be the mismatch observers like myself have been forecasting?

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