The Leafs made yet another valiant third-period comeback Tuesday night, but fell achingly close in their 5-3 loss against the Blues at the ACC.
As the Leafs struggled to find their skating legs in the early going, I couldn’t help but wonder if it’s time for a lineup change. I know there are cap realities, but it would be interesting to see an energy line with youngsters like Holland, D’Amigo and Ashton, who surely would provide an early game boost for a Leaf team that often seems slow to get into a contest.
Some veteran Leafs are not giving them much at either end of the ice right now, and a “Kid Line” just might provide a spark.
Certain things are clear: the Leafs are what they are—a team that is often outshot, has persistent defensive deficiencies but has a very good netminder in Bernier. They also have a first line that is among the most dynamic in hockey. When the second line chips in offensively and Bernier keeps them in the game long enough (as he did against the Blues), it can be a winning formula.
It’s not a blueprint for long-term success, or for building a championship team, but it got them to third place in the overall Eastern Conference standings just a few days ago, until the recent slippage.
Some idle observations:
- The Leafs showed—against a tough, experienced, well-coached and technically sound Blues team—that even a good team can give up scoring opportunities (and a lead) if you pressure them. It’s the old story: why do teams (it’s not just hockey, and not just the Leafs) so often wait to play with that kind of passion until they are in desperation mode?
- That said, the Leafs are definitely a comeback team. How many times have we seen them pushing the play in the third period, often getting a result? Against the Blues, they just couldn't quite get the tying goal.
- I wonder if Kessel will get serious consideration as an end-of-season All-Star? For his occasional defensive lapses, he has to be one of the most dangerous players at his position in the world. His array of offensive skills (not to mention his hockey instincts) was on display again in creating the third Leaf goal.
- Watching a team like the Blues, you are reminded just how important having good defensive defensemen is. I would venture to say the Leafs need two stud defensemen to be serious contenders for a championship, along with Phaneuf and the kids, Rielly and Gardiner.
- Are the Leafs strong enough up the middle? Contending teams are generally really, really good at center (and of course on defense and in goal). I like Bozak and what he does for Kessel. We can all see Kadri is a dangerous, cagey player and Bolland brings determination and leadership. But do we need more?
I’m not into predictions and I don’t know what the odds are for the Leafs right now regarding the playoffs. I didn't think this was going to be an issue. But time is running short, and they have a crucial back-to-back coming up this weekend against the Flyers and Red Wings.
Are you hopeful? An unhappy camper?
It’s your turn: you can choose to find the positives, or vent…