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Finding positives in a sobering loss in Beantown

Many fans realized the Leafs were leading a bit of a charmed life heading into Boston on Thursday night.  Not that the early going hasn’t provided some nice surprises and exciting moments (and 9 points in only five games!) but I think we knew their record could just have easily been reversed.

That said, I’m generally a fan of waiting until we’re ten games into the season before we start getting too high or too low, and twenty games before we make serious assessments in terms of what’s going on with the team—and individual players.

Leaf fans have to be satisfied with Toronto’s point total only six games into the season, for sure.  In the same breath, I sense (and understandably so) that many Leaf followers are not exactly enthralled with how the team is performing overall.

They have a good record, yes, and have been a “comeback” club at times, but we’re still waiting for a few guys (more than a few, actually) to play as we think they can.  Since we all managed to find things to criticize despite their great start, while it would be hard to proclaim anyone was a standout in  a 6-2 loss, let’s look for some “positives” from Thursday night in Beantown:

  • Kadri played with the big club before he even stepped on the ice for the Marlies (after being assigned there), what with Armstrong unavailable. (There we'll go again with that stat about the Leaf record when Armstrong is not in the line-up.)  He picked up an early point and he may end up staying with the Leafs.  He started to show a more determined, physical side to his game at times last season, and that carried over into the Boston game.   
  • The Monster finally got in and while fans weren’t unanimous in their approval on Twitter, he made some big stops and demonstrated, in case we had all forgotten, that he can play the position.  He kept the Leafs in the game during the second period and made two outstanding stops early in the third to keep it close.  He was less than stellar after the fourth goal, but he’s big, athletic and skilled.  He’ll be a good goalie somewhere, I sense—hopefully in Toronto but more than likely somewhere else. (I’m hoping Wilson does not bury him on the bench now.)
  • Steckel scored his first.  He’s a fine face-off guy, obviously, but a little offense won’t hurt his playing time, including on the power play.
  • Frattin continues to show he can play at this level.  It’s a matter of time before the puck starts to go in for him. 
From a broader team perspective, there are some things that require attention, of course.
  • I'm no coach but Schenn needs to simply get back to playing his hard game.  Eliminate guys like he did much of last season. Be tough along the boards and make simple plays. He started to show some of that Thursday night.

  • Komisarek sat and I wonder where this leads?  Fans can’t blame him for what happened in Boston.  But we were hoping Komisarek would turn things around but an early season benching can’t help but make me wonder where things go from here.
  • Gardiner is showing he wants a spot, and not just a spot but significant ice time.  My view is that Phaneuf and Gunnarsson have been the “best” Leaf defensemen so far (small sample size, I realize, after only six games) and Gardiner looks very comfortable.
  • I need to see more of Franson.  I feel he has more in his game than we’ve seen in the three he has played so far.  I sense he was affected by starting the season unexpectedly in the press box.  No excuses, but given the kerfuffle afterwards, it may take him some time for him to feel completely comfortable here.  (Some will want to jump on him for the fourth Boston goal Thursday night, but Phaneuf was caught flat-footed up ice and then was beat again down the ice…)
  • Grabovski is certainly working, and he may in fact be trying to do too much.  I know that’s a cliché, but it may be true here.  The late goal, while “meaningless” on the surface, may spur him on and give him a shot of "goal scorer’s confidence".  He and Kulemin have not quite been themselves but again, it’s early.  Seldom do we see everyone clicking at the same time, though that’s what fans would like to see, of course.

Overall, Lucic played hard all night, Chara did what Chara does to take guys out of the game.  It was hard not to notice young Seguin come back hard when he was gassed late in a power play when the Leafs had a shot at a short-handed chance.  He dove head-long to tip the puck away and save a dangerous chance.  For a young player, he showed some defensive awareness that likely made coach Julien take notice.

There’s no doubt a few Leafs that are not quite playing at the level we’d like to see, but others are perhaps playing better than expected.  That’s the way it goes, eh?

Biggest concern may be the special teams.  I’m not a big stats guy, but I know what I see and, well…I’ll leave it at that for now.

I’ll say it again, though, it’s early.  Let’s talk more in depth after the ten game mark.


  1. Your right Michael it is early. The team is there to see, I get the sense they could be a really good young team they just need something. If Kadri can keep playing like tonight, maybe he could be the guy. Gardiner looks more and more like a sure fire top 4 NHL guy.

    The challenge now is the same as I said last night, can they rebound from this loss? Will Kessel now go just as cold as he was hot? So far the start looks eerily similar to last year. Now with a years experience can the Leafs show they are growing as a team.

    As an aside if they don't get the special teams fixed in a big big hurry, nothing else will matter they will be dead in the water.

  2. I know we should wait 10, 15 games, and really, I am... but...
    I'm seeing some disturbing trends already - and they're the same ones that have bitten us on the behind for the past few years: an unwillingness to play a physical game, sloppy passing, and poor positional play. And a feeling that we're being out-coached. Wednesday night, it seemed as if Winnipeg knew exactly what we were going to try on our break outs, or in their zone, and they picked off our passes and broke up our plays with ease. We didn't seem to have an answer for them. And tonight was more of the same - we didn't have an answer for the Bruins' attack.
    As for the bright spots: I don't think Komisarek deserved the press box, but there's too many guys on D and I suppose we need to see what they all can do. I think his orneriness might have helped. I also keep waiting to see the skills that Franson is supposed to bring, but for every glimmer there's a clanger. Kadri showed his usual spark, Gardiner continues to look very comfortable at this level, and I liked how Gustavsson played, for the most part. And I agree - Frattin's a keeper.
    What I'm waiting for is the day we play in Boston, or Philadelphia, and don't seem intimidated. When that happens, we'll be on our way.

  3. I find the posts today, once again, concise and comprehensive. I can only reiterate/reinforce what has already been said. I agree with Michel L. that the twenty game point is usually the benchmark. I agree with Gerund O’ and Wilbur’s various reservations about team play and systems. The positives about yesterday’s game seem more individualistic and the team play incoherent. The young players, Kadri, Frattin, and Gardiner, in particular, look very promising. If the Leafs can somehow mesh this could be a good year and I won’t feel so bad about shelling out for Center Ice and padding the coffers of the NHL corporate empire. Gardiner’s quick maturation is unexpected. The coaching staff deserves credit for seeing that potential. With indicators showing that they belong, AHL time for Gardiner and Frattin might be less productive than NHL experience would. Kadri has to stay. These signs bode well for the future. The management team has, in a few short years, replenished an empty prospect pool and instituted a development system that is not only bearing fruit, but is timing maturation with young, NHL-ready players. The best ones are neither being pushed too early, nor left to languish. Therefore, in spite of messy team play, there are a number of positives. I too like to see consistent/persistent effort that Grabovski showed. In this era two and three goal leads can evaporate quickly, therefore it is best to keep playing and not be too effected by the score clock. Several players seemed to lose their focus and will, hanging hard-luck Jonas Gustavsson out to dry. I do not want to see a bunch of robots, just consistent focus and determination. Hopefully, it will soon mesh, because after the twenty game point it is usually too late.

  4. The team is going to be ok/fine this year. We'll find ways to win games and Reimer will give us a fighting chance to catch the playoffs. We've got more focus on offense deeper into the line-up and lots to choose from in call-ups. We have Burke who seems to be able to pull breath-taking trades out of his hat at will.
    I disagree with Gerund on the physical play aspect over the last few years, I think we've simply been honing it away from needless fighting and more to productive hitting (which should be one of Schenn's primary goals). I do agree with Gerund on special teams- on nights like last night, I picture the coaches reviewing video after the game, scratching their heads then throwing up their hands. It's not rocket science, guys, and it's not particularly complex. On PP, establish presence as soon as possible in offensive zone, get some net presence (Steckel!) and start pounding the puck/looking for a good pass opportunity. On PK, hassle the opposition all the way in and continue to hassle them in the zone, clear the front of the net as much as possible and block passes and shots. Jeez.

  5. Thanks everyone...great comments, as usual. I sense we agree that it's early, but some of the young guys show genuine promise...though our overall team performance is less than it can be, at times.

    And yes, we sent people to the moon 40 years ago but somehow we can't find a way to set up on the power play or cause problems for the opponent when killing a penalty...

  6. KidK I am glad to hear someone else say the same thing I have been thinking. Truculence isn't useless sideshow fighting (hello Orr and Thornton) its being tough on the puck and actually having more hits than the Bruins last night. I respect Orr and Rosehill because they do a good job at a very tough job, but in the end it is still a useless job.

    Please don't get me wrong, I still like a good fight in a hockey game but give me fight where Schenn drops the gloves because of hard physicahl play along the boards where the other guy gets pissed off and fights. Orr and Rosehill were the guys on the ice for the critical 4 goal I believe (it may have been the fifth) and it was directly because Rosehill being the third guy back didn't pick up the third man in the zone. We don't need one dimensional players, we need guys who can contribute in more than just one way. We have a top end talent thin line up as it is.

  7. Just to clarify - when I say physical play, I mean "productive hitting", as Kid K says. Like we were doing in the second half last year.. I hate the phony fights.

  8. There's been some chatter that Schenn is hesitant simply because he's adjusting to the Shana-banhammer. Hopefully he finds that groove to fit flattened Habs into again tonight.