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Leafs get contributions across the board, take out Phoenix…

With the Leafs on the cusp of what might be termed an actual ‘hot streak’ (some may be asking…”where exactly did this come from”…?) it may be timely to sit back and ask ourselves: what are the Leafs doing differently now than they did (if anything) over the past couple of months?

Is it all Bernier?  Has Carlyle finally made some of the adjustments fans have been clamoring for?  Have the players looked in the mirror and decided enough is enough?

Not matter how you assess it, the Leafs are now, suddenly, on a roll. Five wins is a legitimate streak.

Whatever his critics say, Bozak has had an impact since his return.  Gleason seems to have helped to solidify the back end.  Bernier has been outstanding for the most part. We’re seeing Gardiner put up the kind of points he is capable of producing.  Rielly continues to gain confidence.  Kulemin quietly played an effective 20 plus minutes Monday night against the Coyotes.

Kessel is scoring, Phaneuf continues to do his job.  McClement has been much more effective since playing more modest minutes.  Kadri, the subject of my most recent post, is now on a roll—just like the team.  There may just be a connection here. And, we got by with two plays playing a grand total of two minutes each against Phoenix.  (Though Ashton did pick up a point, which was nice to see.)

I’m not sure that kind of fourth line utilization is sustainable in the playoffs, but here we are nonetheless, and the Leafs are now back where I have felt they should be all along: 57 points in the standings, and within shouting difference of the Division and Conference leaders (notwithstanding the Penguins).


So, you tell me:  what’s different now?

25 comments:

  1. Hi Michael,

    To directly answer your question, nothing. This is the same team that we have watched all season. When they get out of this world goaltending, from either of their netminders, and score more than their opposition on the power play, they win. They are capable of doing this as long as their opportunistic fortunes will allow. There is no difference in the way they are playing right now, still out shot, and out chanced, than at any other time this season. Or last season, for that matter.

    They are who we thought they were. This will come as a surprise to some fans, but this is the same mediocre hockey team I have grown over the years to hate, in a loving, benevolent kind of way. As long as they have a goalie able to put up a .951 save percentage, the are capable of winning any game they play. More average goaltending than that, and the results will be horrifying.

    Pretty tough to be any of the Leafs who barely see the ice. As you mentioned, Ashton picked up a point, and then was stapled to the bench for the rest of the game. Way to reward the young guy coach. I guess watching Troy Bodie fall down, is the kind of play our staff needs to see more of. Oh good, Troy Bodie is playing tonight, said no hockey fan, ever.

    Two points, good for the team, guess the bounces went their way. No further thoughts needed in Toronto. What is everybody going to say if this team misses the playoffs? Those other mediocre/crappy hockey teams had more things go their way?

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    1. I appreciate that your views regarding the Leafs don't shift with the wind, Jim. It's easy to get caught up when the team wins games, as I noted in a post here not that long ago. Then, everything is rosy, when, in reality, the same issues are usually just beneath the surface of a great goaltending performance. Thanks for keeping us grounded.

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  2. What's different? Scoring from the second line and the D. Less onus on McClement. A stronger third line that even generates a point or two every now and then. Holland. Gleason.
    We're still giving up too many shots, and need to find a fourth line that can play meaningful minutes. The giveaways are brutal, but it feels like we're reducing them. Let's face it - they can't all be classics, and 5 in a row is something to celebrate.
    I sense a slowly growing sense of confidence in the team.

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    1. That O'Malley glass is half full again, Gerund?

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    2. Ha! It would be - if the giveaways didn't make me take a drink so often! But I do like the addition of Holland and Gleason, and I think the new line combinations are working well.

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  3. Hi Michael.
    Nice to have a win at the start of a challenging road trip, 4 games in 6 days. They'll need minutes from the 4th line.
    I thought Phaneuf seemed a bit off tonight (did anyone else?), but good play by Gunnarsson charging for the net on the delayed penalty. Maybe issues with his hip have improved. He looks like he's skating better lately. Franson is so sharp offensively, but that pass right onto a Coyote's stick was awful. I can't complain about the offense.
    Happy they got the win and maybe winning 5 in a row and being in reach of the Habs will be motivation for the games ahead. C.N.

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    1. Well, they needed a jumpstart, and now we'll see if they can build consistency into their play in the weeks ahead. We can notice some good things, but as Jim says (and as you and Gerund noted as well) there are still issues. So we'll see. Thanks Colleen.

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  4. "Has Carlyle finally made some of the adjustments fans have been clamoring for?"

    "Whatever his critics say, Bozak has had an impact since his return. Gleason seems to have helped to solidify the back end. Bernier has been outstanding for the most part. We’re seeing Gardiner put up the kind of points he is capable of producing. Rielly continues to gain confidence. Kulemin quietly played an effective 20 plus minutes Monday night against the Coyotes.

    Kessel is scoring, Phaneuf continues to do his job. McClement has been much more effective since playing more modest minutes. Kadri, the subject of my most recent post, is now on a roll—just like the team.?

    I think you have most of it there. The only thing missed is Peter Holland

    The return of Bozak allows Kessel and JVR more freedom. They know he will be the the first and the fastest one back to help prevent a goal. It also takes pressure off Kadri. He's good on the shoot out too.

    Kulemin's size and solid defensive play helps Kadri and Lupul in a similar way.

    Bringing in Holland provides a third line that can score and takes pressure and some defensive checking off the top two lines. They can't key on Kadri like they did in the slump.

    McClement on the 4th line is fresher for a good penalty kill .

    Carlyle has been more effective by making these changes but he has also been giving Kessel extra time on other lines and away from the top checking. That started in Boston.

    The question is...can Carlyle take the next step?

    Bodie looked good on the third line. How much better would he look on the 4th rather than Colton Orr. Play Bodie against the softer teams. Your fourth line would be Ashton, McClement and Bodie. You could play that line for 10 minutes and keep the top three lines more fresh and energetic.

    When he comes back, perhaps Clarkson plays on the third line with Raymond and Holland. That's a nice 3rd line.

    Until Clarkson is healthy, why not sneak Spencer Abbott in on the third line for a game against the softer teams?

    The guy had a 3 point game today (in on every goal) for 41 points in 36 games and is plus 11. He's 4th in AHL scoring!

    His coach raves about him:

    http://video.mapleleafs.nhl.com/videocenter/console?id=542776

    He was a Hobey Baker finalist as one of the best player in college hockey.

    We might have a late blooming little college guy like Martin St. Louis. Martin was once a Calgary Flames prospect, but they didn't play him and went to Tampa for nothing. We don't want to repeat that mistake.

    Abbott had instant chemistry with Peter Holland. The Marlies don't play again until Friday, so he would be fresh and useful on a tough road trip.

    Orr can play against a tough Colorado team Tuesday. Maybe we could sneak Abbott in on Thursday against Dallas?

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    1. You've spoken about Abbott here before- didn't we get a bit of a sneak preview of him at this level early this season? St. Louis was certainly an overlooked player who went on to have a remarkable NHL career. Whether there's a third-line role at times here for Abbott right now, I don't know.

      I would like to see a reliable fourth line play more significant minutes, for sure.

      We'll see if Carlyle continues to make modifications to the lineup. Thanks as always for your input and perspectiva, DP.

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    2. "...didn't we get a bit of a sneak preview of him at this level early this season?"

      Just one game. That does seem nearly enough in comparison to the chances given to other players.

      McLaren has played 22 games, Smithson 17, D'Amigo 19, Ashton 25 and 16 games for Bodie.

      The above group has played a total of 99 games and has produced 7 points while going minus 9.

      Considering the chances given to others, Abbott deserves a better chance, at least 5 games. 10 games would not be unreasonable for the 4th leading scorer and number one assist man in the AHL. He is still young, only 25 years old.

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    3. I definitely agree with that, DP. You know I've said here many times that young players need a run of games to show what they can do. I just said that a few days ago about Holland, when people suggested he could play a second line pivot role. If the Leafs were to try that, they would need to really give him a chance to play a lot of games in that situation.

      So yes, Abbott, if he is ever going to play here, needs to be given a legitimate opportunity. Thanks DP.

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  5. Hi Michael
    It is still very hard to get a read on this team. They are playing well during this stretch but they still haven't played 60 minutes of dominating hockey at all this year. Maybe its an unlikely expectation for any team to dominate, but they haven't controlled a game for 60 minutes either. Every game it seems must go down to the wire and right now the bounces are going our way.

    Recently carlyle has been putting a better combination of players on the ice especially having to sit out McLaren, Frasor, and Ranger. The timely production from the scorers, great goaltending and special teams has made this run possible. As mentioned, McClement playing on the 4th line is a more suitable roll keeping him fresh for the pk. Also, for Carlyle, sending the young kids back out there even after having made a mistake on the ice has renewed confidence to let the players play, not having to worry about being benched if they make a mistake and causing them to squeeze the stick the next time they do go out there.

    I would not be surprised to see our team play their best hockey of the year now that we are on a roll and have the mojo back. Especially when we consider that there are players still not producing as much as they even like to with Lupul, Clarkson, Kulemin and with more ice time players like Ashton perhaps on the verge of breaking out the way Kadri has recently. Imagine if we can get everyone going at the same time. Secondary scoring has been key but there is still more to give from some of the players.

    Equally likely is another losing streak, if the goaltending should falter and the scoring dry up. As we have cleaned up some of the areas of our game but have a ways to go before we can say it is for real.

    So call me to be sitting on the fence right now. Until we see something more from this team.

    I'll enjoy the wins for now as we are again in control of our own destination being on the inside looking out as opposed to being on the outside looking in.

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    1. Some of your reflections today, BlueANDwhite, made me think of the baseball player on a hot streak, where everything goes his way. When that's happening, fans are thrilled with his play. But when the inevitable cold streak happens, they want him traded.

      There is a little more to it in a team sport like hockey, of course, but similar principles apply. The Leafs are still usually getting outshot and out chanced, and excellent goaltending has kept them in a position to win these games. If the sticks turn cold or the netminding goes sideways, would we be winning these games?

      That's not being negative, just realistic. And you provided a dose of reality today- thanks, BlueANDwhite.

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  6. This to me was a tale of two games. The Leafs played the type of up-tempo game, pinching d-men, beat the opponent to the puck, out-physical them in the corners game until they were up 3-0. Unfortunately at that point they simply went into cruise control and nearly let the Coyotes back in the game.
    It's been cited many times here recently that mixing up the third and fourth lines has made a difference, playing to the assets the Leafs have in Holland and McClement. I was very impressed with Ashton in the first period, not just for his goal, but all-out hustle. Looking at the final score sheet and seeing that he played all of 2:01 all night tells me everything I need to know. The Leafs simply need to find a way to keep that fourth line rolling throughout the game. If they are that afraid of Orr being a liability, then they need to insert a defensive minded Marlie in his place.
    They are right back at it tonight. Two games in two nights on a western road trip. I found it interesting that Joe Bowen, who is not known for making excuses for the Leafs, kept citing how tiring the travel was for the Leafs and it showed. That kinda frightens me going into Colorado tonight. They need last night's first period team to show up for three periods. That team was definitely different than what we have seen all season.

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    1. The Avalanche are a strong team this season and will bring a lot of intensity to this match-up I suspect, Pete. Like you, I very much want to see a fourth line that the coach has enough confidence in to play real minutes. Good teams can roll four lines. Sure, you rely on your top lines as needed, but you ultimately need contributions from everyone- including guys who aren't in the lineup every night. That's how you build that team feeling. Thanks Pete.

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  7. Last night was again a tale of two games. The first game lasted until around the 5 minute mark of the second period. The Leafs were skating, checking and scoring. They were the dominant team. Then the rope-a-dope Leafs took over. They stopped skating, seemed content to defend and were constantly beaten to the puck in their own end.

    This seems to be a constant theme with this team and is frustrating to watch. With a number of players coming off the flu, a long flight to Phoenix and a 4 games in 6 days ahead doesn't it seem obvious that a 10-12 minute stint by a 4th line would take some pressure off the top lines and keep them much fresher for the 3rd period. A line of McClement, Ashton and D'Amigo would certainly be able to acquit themselves more than adequately in that role.

    Regarding last night's game I agree with Colleen that Phaneuf was off his game. In fact he and Franson looked awfully slow. It is also important, I believe, that Franson partners with Gleason. He is gifted offensively but his giveaways are becoming worrisome.

    The Leafs have certainly improved since the Carolina game but they still have a ways to go. A better utilization of the bottom six would be a step in the right direction

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    1. I think it's fair, Pete Cam, especially with the team winning some games, to pause and continue to reflect on the things the Leafs need to be better at (including coaching decisions) down the home stretch.

      Just as smart coaches usually lay off the players a bit when the team is really struggling so as not to beat them down even further (and do their ranting when the team wins games because guys may actually be more receptive!), fans can enjoy these wins but also recognize the areas where the team needs to continue to improve. The fourth-line deployment you cite is but one of those areas, Pete. Thanks for posting.

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  8. Late in the third period the camera showed Carlyle behind the Leaf's bench. My eye was drawn instead to Orr and I couldn't help feeling sorry for him, sitting there nearly the entire game watching, when anyone would want to contribute more. Not to forget McLaren who would be sitting in the stands, not dressed.

    Those saying these two shouldn't be with the Leafs are right based on minutes played, but I wonder if the rest of the team thinks Carlyle and Nonis sticking with Orr and McLaren is a good thing as a sign of loyalty to veteran players. Speculation on my part, but based simply on minutes played it is clear Orr and McLaren aren't on the roster mainly for on ice reasons.

    Those guys playing or not playing on the fourth line aren't what's making this team win or lose. During the past dozen games, its been the same core group on the top 3 lines that have been on a losing streak and a winning streak. So you can't pin either streak on Orr and McLaren.

    What's different to me is that Bozak has rounded into shape, which improves play of the top line, and his presence has pushed Kadri and McClement into more appropriate slots where they are more effective. It also seems the addition of Gleason has settled down the D a bit, allowing Gardiner and Reilly to play as third pair rather than on the 2nd pairing.

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    1. Your comments regarding Orr and McLaren do give pause, Steve. Carlyle is a coach who, I won't say favours, but who appreciates what good veterans bring to a team and a locker room. So you may be right. He sees that players like that take one for the team every time they suit up, and they are likely good team guys in terms of approach, attitude and work ethic.

      I also agree that they aren't particularly making a difference way or the other in terms of the outcome of games most nights. That said, I do think it's fair to believe that a reliable, trustworthy fourth line would be very valuable for the Leafs heading into the playoffs. Thanks Steve.

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    2. Michael, I was going to touch on what will happen with Orr and McLaren once the playoffs begin, but decided not to bring it up. Since you raise it, what I was going to say is I expect to see Leivo and another Marlie called up, and that we won't see either McLaren or Orr dress for any postseason games. And I expect we'll see Orr retire after this season ends.

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    3. That could well transpire exactly as you outlined, Steve.

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  9. what are the Leafs doing differently now than they did (if anything) over the past couple of months?

    And now, for an answer completely out of left field:

    The team has finally appropriated the inspiration derived from hanging a banner in honour of Jon Bon Jovi !!

    In a satirical article from The Beaverton (like the Onion News Network), we learn something from everyone's favourite president/CEO...

    "When approached for comment MLSE President and CEO Tim Leiweke said he was unfamiliar with Keon, but is certain the banner of an old 1980s rock star from New Jersey who knows nothing about hockey will inspire the Leafs to bring home the Cup."

    Of course, Keon had finally taken action as reported in the article: "Dave Keon begins crafting hit single in hopes of finally getting banner in ACC"

    Thought you might like to keep up on the recent report on a Vintage Leaf, Michael! Kinda' cool how the contributions of great players of Leafs Past can be related to current events, too bad you didn't get ahead of the curve on that idea!! ;)

    http://www.thebeaverton.com/sports/item/981-dave-keon-begins-crafting-hit-single-in-hopes-of-finally-getting-banner-in-acc

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    1. I wasn't aware of that article, InTimeFor62. Our smile for the day!

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  10. Ha! I just read the Keon story. ( I got sidetracked initially by another story -Marineland CEO Can't Have a Puppy Until He Proves He Can Take Care of Fish) Leiweke is still determined that the Leafs problems can all be solved by re-decorating. C.N.

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    1. Thanks Colleen- I find I'm happier (in sports fan terms) when I don't pay attention to Leiweke.

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