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Tampa next on the Maple Leaf ‘hit’ list…

As dismal as the sentiment was in Leafland not that many days, it feels as though a mood of optimism now prevails.  With a win over the Panthers Thursday night in the rear view mirror, the Leafs have 64 points when that total looked awfully far off three weeks ago. That means that Toronto is now in third place in the Atlantic Division, only three points behind the Lightning.

Some concerning trends have still been in evidence, including possession and shot differential issues (and penalty killing concerns as well) in many games.  But the goaltending has been there.  The young rookie pairing of Gardiner and Rielly has generally been impressive. The guys who are supposed to go to the net, like van Riemsdyk, are doing that and creating havoc every once in a while.  The scorers, including Kessel, Kadri and Lupul, are now producing points regularly. 

To me, they just look more, well, confident.  Some goals—and a few wins—will do that.  This is a lot more like the Leaf squad many of us were expecting to see back in October.

Of course there are plenty of things to work on.  But the trend, it seems to me, is positive.

Importantly, the Leafs have not followed a six-game winning streak with a drought in the win column.  Building on that foundation has been key. Had they suffered a letdown after the winning streak, it would have largely undone what they had accomplished.

What’s changed- is the system different?  Are the roster adjustments paying off? Is the coaching staff doing a better job of putting players in a position to succeed? 

I think it’s a bit of everything.  Bozak’s return has helped.  Bernier has given them the netminding they need. Gleason has made a difference as a stabilizing influence on the back end. 

Leaf supporters will no doubt be monitoring the club as we get closer to playoff time, and wondering about certain recurring themes like leadership, toughness—things that make a difference in the playoffs.  

But there is help on the way, too, especially if Bolland is fully healthy after the Olympic break.

Maybe the most interesting thing to follow in the weeks ahead will be whether Nonis feels the roster is good enough to make a run in the Eastern Conference.  If so, will he leave the squad as is, with only minor tweaks- or look to enhance the roster in a significant way?


Right now, the glass is better than half full in Leaf country.  But as I said on my most recent podcast, the one thing we can count on when we follow the Leafs: win or lose, it is rarely ever dull.

12 comments:

  1. As you say, there are certain elements of the Leafs game that still require work. But the O'Malley glass is definitely half-full these days. It would be more filled if we could get a handle on the giveaways and defensive zone coverage - ands the PK - but there are things to cheer about.
    I'd say Gleason has been a major part of the Leafs renaissance. His steady play is exactly what we've needed for a while - a guy who stays at home, is physical, is smart, and is willing to pay the price to prevent a goal. I like pairing him with Rielly - a stabilizing influence that also allows Morgan to join the rush if he wants to. I've liked Gardiner and Rielly too - but sometimes it seemed they both wanted to take off with the puck..
    The emergence of the second line as a scoring threat - something we've been missing all year - has really changed the complexion of the last few games. Kadri and Lupul finally seem to be on the same page, and even Kulemin is looking a bit like his old self.
    The reduction in stupid penalties has also helped - particularly since our PK unit seems to have lost last year's mojo. I think we've been playing smarter over the past few games, and it shows on the score sheet. We've also been drawing a few more penalties, I believe, another plus with our strong power play.
    And it's difficult not to notice that the team seems better without Clarkson. I know he was rounding into shape just as he got injured again, but let's face it - he's not been missed. I assume he'll return to the third line - it will be interesting to see if he can make a contribution once he gets back.

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    1. Good teams need contributions from four lines. Right now, the Leafs are getting some offensive traction from the top lines. If the other lines can hold their own and play their roles effectively (and our penalty-killing settles back to what it was) that would bode well, for sure. Thanks Gerund!

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  2. Hi Michael
    It was about two and a half weeks ago we were in Boston and we won. You asked if that was a statement game. Looking back now, that game could be looked at the one that turned our fortunes around. Suddenly we have been on a roll. The additions of Bozak, Gleason and to a lesser extent Holland, Bodie and Ashton has certainly rounded out the lineup in good form.

    At the moment there is no goaltending issue as Carlyle has been rolling with Bernier having establishing himself as the 1A at the moment. Kadri, McLement, Raymond have played better in their rolls since the changes and winning has made it easier to keep the lineup intact for the most part. Gleason has been the veteran d man who has settled the team at the back end logging minutes, with his shot blocking, being tough to play against and keeping things simple has been key to having the other defencemen overworked.

    Carlye has made changes that have been working for us. I think we need to give him some. credit as some of us have been negative towards him and some of it deservingly so. But tonight after the sluggish start, he broke up the kids and paired Franson with Gardiner and put Reilly with Gleason. I think that was an excellent move. It gives Reilly the chance to utilize his speed and skating up the ice for the attack with Gleason playing the defensive roll.

    Bodies has complemented the 3rd line very well helping to establish the forecheck. Lupul and Kadri are clicking again and the top line has been dangerous almost every night.

    However, it is good to look up at the standings and see us making ground on TB, but all know how quickly things can change as we are only 6 points ahead of Ottawa who hold.down the 8th spot. It'll probably be a dog fight right to the end but it is good to be in the drivers seat.

    Interestingly, as Clarkson, Bolland and Smith are all getting close to returning, I wonder who will be the odd guys out. I am assuming Ashton is automatic but after that it could be Holland and perhaps Orr. But it is a decision that won't be easy as it may be hard to break up a lineup that has seen some success. I am glad to see Raymond have a nice game as I was afraid he may have been one of the odd men out. Maybe Smith will end up going down to the Marlies with Ashton. But the added competition for the forwards cracking the lineup may be good as it will push each other to be on top of their game.

    A good problem to have. No doubt

    Tonight we were outshot again to nobody's surprise, but feel we carried the play for the most part and had the superior scoring chances and to me that is more important.

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    1. I like the notion of Reilly playing with Gleason, BlueANDwhite. That's the classic stay-at-home veteran with the energetic, talented rookie pairing. It may not last, but the notion is good.

      As you note as well, it's a nice problem to have, when it comes to who will be in the lineup when those three players return. By the time they are all back the Leafs may need a jolt again, so the roster adjustments may happen naturally. Thanks BlueANDwhite.

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  3. Hi Michael.

    It's great to see the Leafs winning at home ice again. I hope they continue with Ottawa coming up and am wondering whether Reimer will be in net for that game.

    One of my complaints this year was that the second line was not re-formed once Kulemin returned from injury so I'm happy to see them re-united. They clicked well last year. I'm a bit worried that Clarkson will replace Kulemin again when he returns. I like Clarkson best on the third line.

    I wish Holland had been given more minutes and opportunity-- I really like him and, as players come back into the line-up , I wonder where he will fit. To me he is well above the AHL level. I'm sure none of us expected "too many centers" to be a problem this year.

    I think Orr and McLaren filled a very important role last year and were a big part of forming the team's identity but the Leafs now have several young players with better skills and speed. Other teams will not engage them in a fight and Bodie and Ashton are quicker to step in when there's an issue. It's time for Carlyle to make some decisions here. He recently described the Leafs as a "skating team". I think they are also a skilled team and as they compete harder we may see more of that grit that's been missing.

    With confidence returning, the Leafs seem to be improving in many areas--I therefore have less to say. If all goes well for Bolland, we are on the brink of seeing Carlyle's team as he first planned it. I think that's important.

    If anyone starts a collection to buy Gleason some extra padding and Carter Ashton a goal I'd happily chip in. C.N.

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    1. The second line is now playing as it can, and that's so important. Clarkson may well be a great fit on the third line- less pressure.

      As you note, some younger, more versatile players are pushing for fourth line spots and that's a good thing.

      And it's true- when the team is winning, sometimes there's not as much to say! Thanks Colleen.

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  4. This has been the most exasperating Leaf team I have witnessed in over sixty years as a fan. Just when I think that I have somewhat figured them out they execute a U turn. They looked dead and buried three weeks ago and now they look like a playoff team that could do some damage in the post season. Who knows what team will turn up during the rest of the season. I fervently hope that it will be the team we have seen during the last ten games but the trust is not yet there.

    If a few key players (Kadri, Lupul, Bozak, Rielly and Gleason in particular) can maintain their recent high level of play then I think they can be that strong playoff team. These are players who were not playing well, were injured or were not with the team before the streak. Kadri and Lupul have regained last season's form, Rielly has showed a marked improvement and added flair and confidence to his game and Gleason has been a solid addition. Bozak is another story.

    A while back you asked the question of what Leaf we could least afford to lose from the roster. Most of us emphatically named Dion Phaneuf, I would not do so if you asked the same question today. In my opinion, Phaneuf's play has dropped off lately and has certainly been below the elite level that his position and salary demand. On the other hand, Tyler Bozak has quietly raised the level of his play. He is scoring at a point a game pace since coming back from his injury. He plays on the powerplay. He kills penalties. He is sent out to take key defensive zone faceoffs. He is defensively responsible in his own end. He has provided stability to the number one line and to the other lines by allowing the other centres to move into more appropriate slots. Isn't this the description of a number one centre? I believe so and I feel Bozak should be a leading candidate for team MVP.

    I hope last night's game heralded the reemergence of our second line of Kadrt, Lupul and Kulemin. At their best they can provide, not secondary, but complimentary scoring to the first line and provide a quandary to opposing coaches trying to match lines.

    I really want to believe in this team but sometimes they make it so hard to do so.

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    1. Your point on Bozak may not be one his detractors will embrace, Pete Cam, but I'm with you. I've always looked at him as a 'ice' player. But he clearly has demonstrated his value of late. He is a significant piece of this puzzle, whether some want to accept that or not.

      This is, as you say, a difficult team to figure out. But the identity I've long talked about here may emerge yet. Thanks Pete.

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  5. Mark Fraser has gone to the Oilers. This could be very good for him and the OIlers as well. He sure gave us everything he had before his injuries. C.N.

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  6. Pete made two good points I agree with.

    First off Bozak. He has many detractors because he doesn't score "big points" as a supposed first line centre and gets paid pretty good bucks. But he brings soooooo much more to the table that allows Phil and JVR to do what they do best. And he has been very good to great all year and especially after his injury.

    Phaneuf. I REALLY hope this isn't a reality but Dion's first big year was the last time he was up for a new contract which. Last year was ok. Earlier this year he was very good ..right up until he signed his new contract. Maybe he is just worn out from being played way too many minutes earlier this season. I hope that is the reason anyways. or my nickname from last year when he aggrevated the hell out of me, Phu**ing Phanuef , is going to come back.

    I like Colleen's idea of everyone chipping in to buy Gleason some extra padding. :)) Might want to get him some tylenol too. When we traded Liles for him I was yeah..fine..ok. Sheesh, what a nice addition to the back end for us. The man is a leader by example..period.

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    1. There's little doubt Phaneuf draws the attention of fans, Pep. Always has. His new contract should give him the opportunity to play "free" in the years ahead. For now, any struggles may be temporary. He has been relied on during his tenure with the Leafs and the ice-time demands may make it difficult for him at times to sustain the level of play he and fans would like.

      Gleason has found a second life here, for sure. And Bozak continues to do what he does. Thanks Pep.

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  7. The word is that the Leafs are actively shopping Kulemin and that there will be more transactions to free cap space and room on the roster before the Olympic break. It could get interesting in the next few days. C.N.

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