After six games, I think a lot of us would agree there are some things to like about this year’s roster. It's not all rosy nor is it doom and gloom. The Ranger game exposed weaknesses we already knew we had. We aren’t big and tough and overly physical. But we can skate and move the puck, and try to play Carlyle’s “system”, obviously, while maybe being a bit crustier than we were in the past.
After a road win in Buffalo, here are a few random observations about some Leafs:
- I like Reimer’s game. I recognize that I’m a broken record and I’m not suggesting he is the reincarnation of Turk Broda. But let’s be honest, he’s been pretty good, eh? I wrote after the Ranger game that there were little signs that he was more and more like the ‘old’ Reimer. Against the Sabres, he did his job and certainly kept the Leafs in it when they wilted in their own zone. (The only difference between Tuesday night and the Ranger loss was that the Rangers finished better later in the game. The Leafs struggled at times in the third in Buffalo, but the Sabres don’t have much finish at this point.) To me, Reimer looks solid. Is he in that so-called “zone”? Don’t know, but he looks, and here’s that word—confident.
- I generally am fine with Kessel’s effort. I mean, to me, most nights he looks the same. Some nights the puck just doesn’t go in for him. In six games, he has points but no goals, despite plenty of ice time—and lots of scoring chances. But I will say this: when the puck is on Kessel’s stick right now, I don’t feel like he’s going to score. I wonder how he feels?
- I’ll same the same about Kulemin—very different player, of course, but when he gets the puck on his stick in a position to score, I don’t have that good feeling that he will find the back of the net at this point, either. With Kessel, you know that will change. I’m not sure at this point about our man Nik. We’ll see.
- The Leafs TV crew has a tendency to over-state things, as in, when a Leaf scores, suddenly that player is having a great overall game. I was thinking about Franson, McClement and Frattin and how the announcers were going on about them after they each had scored. They had played well enough, for sure, but I didn’t think they were quite flawless. But Frattin sure showed me, with a nifty game-winner in the dying seconds of overtime. (And Carlyle said after the game Franson played his “best game as a Leaf” so maybe he did. And he spoke at length about Frattin. In fairness to my observation, Millen does that—a lot. Maybe you disagree?)
- I’ll say it again: those who follow VLM know I went on at some length last year about Frattin’s ability to make plays from his off wing and create power moves to the net from that side. His OT goal was a classic example of that, eh?
- Along those lines, Kessel is at his dangerous best when he does much the same thing—attack from his off wing and cut suddenly to the middle of the ice. He did that against against Buffalo and Miller had to be sharp.
- Kadri also is using a similar move—a quick sort of step-move shift from his off wing to his forehand in that dangerous area in the center of the ice. Kadri again was one of the Leafs causing problems for the opposition on a consistent basis.
- Carlyle tried to cut back on Phaneuf and Kostka’s ice time, but Dion still played more than 27 minutes and Kostka close to 25.
- Hey, I still like Kostka a lot. I’ll keep saying it. I know a lot of folks are now calling him “an AHL player” who is dragging Phaneuf down, but I don’t see it that way. I think he makes some smart plays and can skate really well.
- McClement got to play away from his fourth-line linemates, Brown and Orr, and did respond well. Carlyle cited him after the game as well. I saw McClement lapse in his own zone at times leaving guys uncovered when it could have cost the Leafs, but there are a lot of gassed players out there in this shortened season. He may well have been exhausted. Overall he was quite good. Is he a second line player? I don’t think so but that’s not really his role. That he can play bigger minutes helps a lot.
- Komarov remains a player much as advertised. I find you have to watch him closely to notice the important little things he does. He’s maybe not as obviously a big-time agitator as advertised, but he’s been fine for the most part.
- Kessel played more than 26 minutes, van Riemsdyk over 24. I’m still in a wait and see mode with van Riemsdyk. He is willing to lodge himself in the front of the opposition net, which is good. And yes, he has scored some goals, which never hurts. Maybe I’m waiting for something that isn’t there? Not sure.
- After almost every game this year, I walk away feeling that Gunnarsson does something that makes me think he’s not quite himself yet. Mental lapses? Fatigue? Or maybe I’m judging him too harshly.
- Fraser was a plus 3, though I’m not sure he did anything out of the ordinary to earn that stat. Maybe that’s a good thing.
- If Franson can be consistently good, he will surely play more than 13 minutes in future games, perhaps further lessening the load on Phaneuf.
I ask because it may come down to the Sabres and the Leafs for that 8th playoff spot. I honestly think the Leafs are like a lot of other teams in the weak-ish East. So who knows? Your thoughts?