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Despite massive overhaul in personnel, Leafs stuck in neutral, it seems—but they’re not alone, fortunately


Do you have the feeling that if Kessel ever gets one against the Bruins, the floodgates will open?

I’d like to know how many shots on goal he’s taken against the Bruins since last season and how many legitimate scoring chances he’s had—or created.   It sure feels like it’s been a lot.

A play in the third period was an example of what’s been happening against his old team:  he makes a nice move, takes a dangerous shot, but the goalie (Rask, in this case) makes the save, and then Bozak can’t quite jam home the rebound with Rask sprawled on the ice.
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Grabovski…what can you say?  Where would the Leafs be without him this season? As Wilson said after the game, it wasn't a great game for that line, but Grabovski, right now, is the straw that stirs the production drink for the Leafs.
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I was surprised to see Rask start, given how well Thomas had played the last time the Bruins were in town and the fact that the ex-Leaf struggled in his last start.  But Rask played very well.
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You got the feeling the Leafs were eventually going to take advantage if the Bruins kept throwing it up the middle…unfortunately, they couldn’t.
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Toronto
’s fourth line couldn’t get the puck out against the Savard line with five minutes to go in the second.  The Bruins scored on that sequence and that was enough for them to hang on in the third.  That said, the Leafs have certainly played the Bruins tough at the ACC this season.
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Reimer hasn’t hurt his chances of being the first guy up the next time the Leafs need a goalie.  My sense when he was called up was that he was here as a back-up only, as much to let Rynnas run with the ball with the Marlies.  Wilson was likely hoping Gustavsson would play well and run the table, but that didn’t happen. So Reimer got his chance and has made the most of it so far.
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Seguin tried a between-the-legs drop pass in the third, which likely make Claude Julien age a bit.  Marc Savard did much the same thing later in the third.  I’m guessing Seguin will get more of an earful than will the veteran Savard.
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Leaf management has worked very hard to re-make this team, and they have made significant roster changes over the past 36 months or so, dating back to when Cliff Fletcher assumed control of the team’s direction.

Of all the acquisitions, the most notable (and perhaps surprising) “new” players have been Mikhail Grabovski (a Fletcher move) and a last-minute free-agent this past August, Clarke MacArthur, a Burke signing.  (Whether those two players can continue to play at the level they have so far this season, or may be more useful as trade bait while their value is seemingly “high” will no doubt be debated both internally— and by the team’s fan base as well.)

Other moves have perhaps disappointed a bit (Komisarek, Beauchemin to a lesser degree) while we will likely see benefits to the signings/acquisitions of players like Bozak, Versteeg, Phaneuf, Gustavsson and others over time.

The Kessel deal?  That will be debated for years to come, but Burke showed guts- although I'm sure he just looked at it as an opportunity to upgrade the team's thin talent pool quickly, not as a risky proposition.

In any event, while the win one-lose one scenario won’t be enough to get them to the playoffs, Leaf fans can take (some) solace in the fact that many of the teams they are competing with are having their own struggles.

So far, it’s been an up and down season for many clubs across the league, and certainly in the East.  Montreal is a good example.  The pre-season started with many questions and boos heaped upon Carey Price.

A few weeks ago, Jacques Martin was a coaching genius (yet again), Price was on fire, they didn’t seem to be missing Markov at all and the Habs were sitting pretty in the standings.

Now, while they are still comfortably in a playoff position, they don’t look like quite the same team, though they have earned three out of a possible four points in their last two games.

New Jersey changed coaches but still have the same roster issues.  They have won one game since Lemaire took over, perhaps a sign their issues are long-term in nature.

Buffalo has been fighting a season-long slumber where they lose two, win two, it seems.  Washington, for all its talent, couldn’t seem to win a game for a couple of weeks and all the talk was that Boudreau would be fired.  A couple of wins and calmer heads prevailed and now they appear to be back on track.

Ottawa seems to have a lot of holes to plug.  Florida, like Ottawa, has some talent but remain inconsistent.  The Isles have won a couple but I wouldn’t bet a lot on their making a serious move this season.

Pittsburgh and Washington still seem to be the only teams sort of in a league of their own in the East, with maybe Boston in the next tier.   But after that, all bets are off, it would seem.

Out west, the young Oilers, for example, were surging and all was good with their rebuilding plan.  Suddenly they are supposedly “slumping” and things look a bit less rosy. The Flames have already shifted direction, with a new GM in place.  Minnesota fans are calling for changes.

So the Leafs are, it seems, like so many other teams.  Not good enough to play consistently well.  Not able to separate themselves from the pack.  Waiting for a play, a save, a spark— something, to kick start a run where they win, say, ten out of twelve.

For that to happen, I’ll say it again, they will need out-of-this-world goaltending, at least for a couple of weeks.  And that hasn’t happened—yet.

Maybe the Crabb-Boyce duo will help.  They have certainly provided energy so far.  But that’s a lot to ask of guys who are primarily role-players.  Energy should come from every guy, every night.

And the rest of the way, that will be the challenge.  Can the Leafs play hard, consistently?

If they do, they can still do some damage in the mediocre East.

1 comment:

  1. Long suffering Leaf fanJanuary 4, 2011 at 5:51 PM

    Sadly on Boston second goal, even though the puck did defect off Beauchemin wrist, it also looked like Lucic interfered with Reimer catching hand a little.

    What is really disturbing to me about the Leafs is how there is absolutely no offence from the back end. Of the top seven only Luke Schenn has more then one goal with a measly two, and Lebda who was to be a power play specialist in limited action has served up donuts. This is unacceptable out of one of the highest paid defense in the the NHL!

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