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The Maple Leafs: some good signs or an early season funk?

With only 5 points in six early season games, the Leafs are hardly going on a run but neither are they so far off the pace that a couple of wins this week (Isles, Sens and Bruins on the agenda) won’t make things look a whole lot better.

That said, I’m more interested in how the team is actually playing than how many points they have. Of course, points are just as important in October as they will be in March, but I think we have all been waiting to see if, once the games meant something, the Leafs would play with the urgency and discipline required to be a playoff team in the Eastern Conference.

We’ve talked here at VLM about a number of “needs” regarding the Leafs in recent years. These include better coaching and utilizing the roster better, for sure.  But it also includes leadership, experience, work ethic and being hard to play against.

We’ve added players that should help in a number of these areas. Robidas certainly provides experience and leadership, and Komarov adds urgency and that ‘hard to play against’ factor.

You still need, even in this day and age of skill and speed, an element of toughness, which I’ve referred to over the years as ‘team toughness’.  To me it’s a mindset that goes through the team. So I was pleased to see Brendan Shanahan talk a while back about his definition of toughness—it seems to fit precisely with what I’ve been writing about here for years. For me, toughness, including “team toughness”, has to do with a willingness to engage and do the tough jobs all over the ice—including in the corners and in front of both nets. It’s about taking a hit to make a play. It’s not simply about being willing or able to fight.

Shanahan believes in analytics, but he recognizes you also have to have some grit and legitimate toughness to win. He wants players who will rise to the occasion at what he called the "big moments". That has to do with with skill, with "will" and mental toughness, too.

I’m not sure there have been a lot of “big moments” just yet to be able to judge whether the team has improved in the above areas. This group still seems to be finding its way, which may be understandable to a degree.

Reimer was good in his first two games but struggled in his third consecutive start against the Wings at the ACC.  Bernier was not himself the first two games of the season but certainly held the Leafs in at the Joe Louis Arena on Saturday night. If they both play the way they can, we should be OK to pretty good in goal.

On the blueline, while we were better Saturday night, I can’t say we have been really good in our own zone.  Friday night we saw Red Wings getting goals when their forwards were wide open.  (The fourth Red Wing goal, the tap-in at the edge of the crease, I think it was, seemed to symbolize the way the Leafs played in their own end.) Of course the forwards play in role in that, but I’d be hard-pressed to say we have a defenseman who has truly excelled consistently in the first half dozen games. 

Rielly has looked pretty good at times but is a minus 3.  Gardiner was scratched in two games and game back pretty strong but remains a minus 4 on the season. We know Robidas has yet to play to his reputation, given injuries, etc.  Franson had an offensive impact after his return from but has struggled at times defensively. Polak has had some nice moments but was a minus 3 on Friday night. Phaneuf has had to play his off side, but still plays significant minutes and is a plus player despite working in new partners.  Percy has looked quite good, and had a night off Saturday as the designated healthy scratch, to get Robidas back in the lineup.

I’m a bit uncertain about the work we are seeing from the forwards.  In broad terms, the first line, despite some early goals from Bozak, has not been overly productive. That can change in a hurry, I realize, and if so, these early games will be forgotten.

I like Komarov and the work he has done for the most part with his linemates on the third line, but I guess I expected more from the second line in the back to back games against Detroit.  Kadri has nary an assist through six games and I have not liked his work defensively at times. People have talked about him becoming a first line player but the jury is out. He’s a cagey player with fine hands and great offensive instincts, but this is a big season in terms of his development.

Again, it’s awfully early, and these are just idle observations.  As we have discussed here, I’ll be much more inclined to feel more definite about how the Leafs “look” once we’ve hit the 20-game mark.

But I do think some guys are already not pulling their weight.  There were issues on Friday night at home, and while the team played better overall in Detroit, should the coach already have to talk about being frustrated by a lack of performance (effort?) this early in the season.  Are there so many stars on this team who have had so much success at this level that they can coast when they feel like it?

The Leafs are still largely a team with players who haven’t won a thing, and should be determined to wear the sweater with pride every night.

For me, inconsistent preparation and effort is not just on the coach—it has plenty to do with the players, too.

Hey, scoring only one goal over the course of two games against a solid team like Detroit happens. No big deal.  But overall, I would have thought this team would at least start the year by playing with consistent determination. They haven’t yet, and while there is still lots of time to right the ship (look at the Bruins), some teams, like Montreal, are already beginning to separate themselves, though their reality can change very quickly, too.


Are you satisfied with what you’ve seen so far?

25 comments:

  1. Hi Michael,

    we can be sure Shanahan knows all about team toughness. Analytics won't change that.

    Why do you think Reimer struggeled? He did not.

    Phaneuf played his offside his whole NHL career but he now plays his strong side, nevertheless he needs to adjust to that. He was not so strong the first six games but still managed to be a plus player. The only D-man on our club.

    I said it multiple times before the season and we can see it know. The mix on our D is not right.
    Pairing Franson and Phaneuf did not work. Gardiner and Franson didn't work either. Gardiner and Rielly is equally bad. No wonder they are -3 and -4. There is no place on this D core for at least one of the two (Gardiner / Franson).

    The biggest problem the Leafs have is their top two centers. We need centers on these lines who can drive play consistently and can pull their weight on defensive play consistently. Neither of the two can do that. Bozak is only a complimentary player on the first line (as a center!) and Kadri is only showing his magic hands from time to time. 2 Goals 0 assists is a bit weak.

    The first line depends on Kessel, if he struggles they struggel. But he will get on the map soon as he always does.

    The 3rd line is good so far but could be more dangerous offensively.

    The fourth line needs one guy with experience. It is clear now that the experiment so many guys demanded last year, a fourth line of Holland, Ashton and D'Amigo, would not have worked. Carlyle was right.

    No I am not satisfied with what I saw so far. Some things are better this season but I still do not know where we are and there are some Players that have to prove they can pull their weight.

    Nonis is looking for a center.

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    1. Hi Marcus,

      Regarding Reimer, I just felt he wasn't quite at his best against the Wings. Fine but not as sharp as he can be. Just my view.

      My reference to Phaneuf: yes, his "off" side is his natural side, but he has shifted this season to the other side, so it's a challenge.

      I remember posting at one point last season, asking: do we have the centre strength we need to compete with the best teams in hockey? That may still be a valid question.

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    2. It is a challenge for Dion to change sides. Carlyle talked about it as if it is not a big deal, but it is. Lot's of things are easier on your strong side especially on that level but to change is not that easy because now he has to do anything diffrent. And I like the idea of three lefties and three righties but in Dions case I thought it is not a good idea and it is still my opinion.

      We do not have the center strength to compete with our direct competition for a playoff spot,
      let alone the best teams in the league.

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  2. I loved your comment on "team toughness" Michael, as it's so relevant to today's game. I don't even look at it as the sort of toughness that Komarov brings, although that's amazing and needed as well. I more view it as the sort of grit that bleeds into compete level and consistency, you know... the type that has the Red Wings at a staggering 23 consecutive years of playoff appearances. If you look at last year's Wings, most of the elite side of the roster gone long term to injury, and the squad peppered with call ups, they seemed to carry a resolve late in the season that I wish this Leafs team habitually possessed. I use Detroit as an example, as they make the case that well prepared and motivated players make a difference, and you don't necessarily need the "giants of the game" on your squad to have success. Sure, a Getzlaf, Toews or Kopitar (that damned conference) makes a big difference, but the Wings have proved how you can maximize the results of so-called lesser pieces. Not calling the Detroit elite lesser pieces, but they were injured.

    The good? I love pretty much every shift from Morgan Rielly this year, as he's definitely not slowing down any, and his hockey IQ almost seems ridiculous, mind you that might just be athleticism being able to compensate for momentary lapses in judgement. I think both goalies are fine, despite Bernier having a small stumble. Their combined salary versus output makes them an asset, for sure. Gardiner hits and misses in terms of success from shift to shift, but he can quarterback his way into the offensive zone as good as the best of them.

    Worries? Not to beat a dead horse, but Phaneuf looks slow more often than not, and when he makes a poor decision, he doesn't have Rielly's ability to jump back in the mix sooner rather than later. The top line is also perplexing, going from world beaters to invisible on a night to night basis.

    I guess the biggest worry are some hot teams coming out of the gate in the East. The Islanders, Senators, and Capitals seem pretty consistent early on, not to mention the teams that we knew would be good. That 8th playoff spot will be hotly contested this year. I really hope we peak late in the year for a change, and head into the playoffs with momentum!

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    1. I think the Detroit example is an excellent one, Russ. At times they have had some very physical players (Shanahan himself, Chelios, etc.) but mostly they have achieved through high-level skill and a remarkably consistent willingness to compete. The Draper-Maltby-McCarty line of years past sort of epitomizes what I mean by the best kind of "tough" hockey"- smart, active, aggressive, finish checks, can also contribute on the scoreboard.

      I like Rielly's play a lot, too. I don't think he'll have a sophomore slump. He should get better and better.

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  3. Because I decided not to get my hopes up too high this year, I'm rather 'ambivalent' about the team's performance... They may have deserved better against Montreal (and Detroit last night), but were full measure for the losses otherwise. The Friday game had some decent early moments, but devolved amidst the rustling of the crowd in a symbiotic relationship that's hard to define (which affects which? It seems the crowd is ready to bail at the first sign of deficiency and the team spirals in front of the home crowd. Sure wish the home fans were more like the Leaf road fans.

    But there's still 'the team'. I really do think the retooling of the bottom six was to allow for a real serious look at the core. It would appear that Spott is quite surprised about the latitude that Kessel is afforded on the team, and it must be hard to realize the vision if he doesn't agree... it kind of 'rubs off' on others. Since, we're not seeing an overwhelming 'buy in' playing itself out on the ice AND because rumours abound in this market, I noticed that a real shakeup trade proposal would be quite 'balanced' (if you factor in injuries, with Toronto suffering the receipt of players who are presently unable to play).

    What if the Leafs decided to change direction? What would it take to acquire Eric Staal?

    We would probably have to try for Jordan, too... and why not Marc from the Rangers! That would create a whole new environment/culture, wouldn't it? I think Eric would come if we 'tried' for one (or both), not to mention Marc might just wait for UFA this next summer... but what kind of trades would be reasonable?

    I figured if the Hurricanes decide to blow it up, AND Eric is actually interested, we might try to acquire Marc and I think it would cost Gardiner to do so, but Marc may be more in keeping with the 'template' the Leafs are aiming for. The Rangers may fear his departure already, so may be willing to part with him while acquiring a young man like Jake, signed for a few years (just like we enjoyed getting JVR, and may regret losing Gardiner as much as the Flyers miss JVR).

    If you go for Eric and Jordan, they need 2 centremen in return (Bozak and Kadri, seem most likely), but that would split up Kessel from a good friend and linemate. The question becomes, where do the Leafs most need a shakeup within the organization? And, who would the Hurricanes want? I see 2 prime candidates in Phaneuf and Kessel. The former plus the centres almost match the cap hit for the 2 Staals, Kessel would 'unbalance' by another 1M. Phaneuf has the 'advantage' of already receiving a large signing bonus that the Canes wouldn't have to pay.

    All the Staals replacing some core guys would be a major shakeup and I'm wondering if this has any appeal (or likelihood) in your eyes, Michael?

    They are significantly different kinds of players that seem to match the 'template' we keep hearing about and something like this would surely blow up the airwaves if it were to happen, eh!

    Apart from my musings, I do like the game put on the ice by Percy, Reilly, the 3rd line, JVR and the unfortunately injured Kozun (to some extent). Reimer has been good (except for that 3rd goal vs. Detroit) and Bernier looked on his game in the last one (I wonder if more road games would be good for him with the crying new baby at home!) Both seem ready for a decent run at this point, so our problems don't lie in the net - at least (also Bibeau is looking pretty good in the A, too, and I'm liking Connor Brown, Leivo, Loov and a few more awaiting their time in the Leaf lineup later this year. So the future is not all bad in my view).

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    1. A good point about Leaf fans on the road, InTimeFor62. They are loud and boisterous and I'm sure the players notice it in their travels around the league- including Western Canada (all Canadian cities, for that matter) and Detroit, too.

      Hard to know if any of the Stalls are really available!

      There are some things to be pleased about, including the young players you cite, and some of the kids down on the farm. It provides hope.

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    2. Hi InTimeFor62 and Hi Michael (because it goes out to you as well),

      I watched fridays goals about ten times, because of the things you two said about Reimer.
      He was over agressive on the second goal where he tried to fish the puck from Zetterbergs stick and ended up on his stomack while Franzen scored (but this is complaining on a high niveau). And he had no chance on the other three goals where the Wings outplayed and outsmarted the Leafs by a great margin.

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  4. Hi Michael

    I'm OK with what I've seen so far. The bottom two lines are looking a lot more effective than last year and the top two certainly aren't worse. Your concern about our centres is one I agree with but it's hard to imagine how they could make a trade for Eric Staal work given his salary and our cap restraints.

    The defense is still finding out how the new pairings ought to work and I assume they will for another 10 games or so.

    Carlyle seems to be swinging between making an effort to toe the new line and regressing to what he knows, which I'd interpret as being pretty stressed at his job security. Little sympathy here: he's made his own bed.

    So no panic just yet, our results sit kinda where I would have expected given the opposition although I would have liked to have seen us get at least one against Detroit. We haven't played Carolina or Buffalo yet: I'll start stressing out if we fail to give them the requisite hidings they deserve.

    Cheers
    Glenn

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    1. Hi Glenn (KiwiLeaf),

      I think the third line has shown a lot of jump, though the fourth line is not getting a lot of minutes most nights and I hope Carlyle can find the right mix there. And you're right, the defense is still a work in progress- too early to make any firm pronouncements.

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  5. Leafs Fan in MexicoOctober 20, 2014 at 10:45 AM

    Interesting points all. Some thoughts.

    1. Offense: First line needs to be in the news after every game for their great play even if they don't get points. That is, 3rd line cant be the leadership line aka noted for relentless play and hustle

    2. Defense: more solidly invisible, aka not in the news after every for gaffes of attention or decision making.

    3. Team: Be harder to play against with more hustle, determination and grit (in that order)...just is not enough sheer talent to win on current offensive talent alone.

    Prediction: 3 more weeks see-sawing between good and less than average = Carlyle gone, one or two big names traded.

    Personal opinion:

    I don't like this core it lacks the right attitude, need to be Gary Roberts fit, mentally and physically, to win with level of talent. Kessel can stay if we get a leader to lead him, if not he is a false promise and trade him.

    Sum of parts should be greater than that of individual talent and so far its not even close, but then again I am willing to wait a few more games but not 20... right now when Leafs win its because of one or two great individual efforts instead of all-round team effort. With a team like this that cant happen if they expect to make the playoffs.

    No leadership, no accountability, and not ready to play every minute.... what to do???

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    1. The Leafs have long missed a player like Roberts, Leafs Fan in Mexico. But they're hard to find.

      There is talent here, but there is talent on every NHL roster. I guess it's what you do with the talent, how committed the skill guys are to be more than just skill, and the contributions of the rest of the roster. Leadership matters, for sure. And accountability has to be more than just a word the players use after a poor performance.

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  6. Hi Michael,

    I agree that it isn't a matter of talent with this team, but talent seems to be the only thing it isn't sorely lacking. What is lacking? It's a lengthy list: character, commitment, consistency, cohesion, courage, discipline, leadership, grit, resilience, pride, accountability. And I'm just scratching the surface! Yup, just six games in but I definitely DO NOT like what I see.

    Short of heart transplants for everyone in the current core, it would be unreasonable to expect anything other than what we've seen from this group over the past 80-plus games. They'll play just hard enough to stay out of the dog house and justify their next contract. They'll have the odd good run, and then predictably coast for a spell. They seem to enjoy winning, but don't hate losing nearly enough. They prefer to play a selfish, easy, free-flowing style and trade chances rather than conform to the more demanding team game that the coaches preach. Is it any wonder they're seen as the easiest team in the league to play against? Precious few "hungry" players actually willing to do the dirty work necessary to consistently succeed and - tellingly - none of that ilk in the core group. Every successful team has leaders who consistently play that way and demand it of their teammates too, creating a culture of accountability that's utterly foreign to these Leafs. I can't think of a single core player on the current roster that fits this description. Can you?

    I remain astonished that they brought back Carlyle after the entire team so obviously tuned him out throughout last season and ultimately quit on him to wrap up the schedule. Another coach might have more success, but this core is deeply flawed with or without Carlyle. Bottom line - this group is, for the most part, OK with losing as long as the paychecks keep coming. Need to change it up!

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    1. Your comment that this Leaf team does not "hate losing nearly enough" resonated with me, DaveyBoy. I always think back to when the Habs were so good (in my lifetime, that was the mid/late '50s and then again from the mid 1960s through to the end of the 1970s). They had so much pride and they hated to lose. The Leafs seem a long way from that at this point.

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  7. Hi Michael.
    I don't really know what to say and it is very early. I'm neither "half-full/half empty" I'm mostly confused.

    We still don't have a 4th line, especially in the last couple of games in spite of promises this would be a four line team. If Carlyle doesn't like the mix he can change it. He's not given Ashton a chance yet and Frattin only got in through injury to Kozun. There is no acceptable excuse in my mind not to have a fourth line.

    Gardiner is confusing me completely. On dump-ins when he could easily beat the opposition with speed to the puck and be gone with it, instead he slows right down while looking behind him while the opponent catches up. Then it's a battle he's not likely to win. Randy has told him not to carry the puck so often and, while I love short quick passes in the break-out, I thought carrying the puck was Jake's strength.

    The first line has been a disappointment and easily shut down--on Saturday it was Kromwall. Instead of switching Phil around the other lines willy-nilly, I'd rather they change the mix. I'd still like to see what Santorelli could do with a shift with Kessel. He has lots of speed. Defensively, the first line has been awful, and Phil wasn't the worst. For whatever reason, Bozak shows very little effort to get back to his own zone. As a center I think that's his job. (And I like Bozak). Do you feel a disconnect from the coaching staff, or at least from Randy, from all three players or are injuries still a problem? I could add Kadri and Lupul to a certain degree. They never thought Randy would be back.

    Someone asked Randy about shots against the other day and he replied that it's the quality of the shot that matters! In spite of having Dubas and a whole analytics department, Randy still does not understand that "shots against" is a possession stat. I lost whatever small amount of confidence in Randy I had left. We may have picked up some players that help possession but Randy hasn't changed and hasn't learned anything.

    Though it's early and a few losses right now doesn't concern me that much, what I've seen from Randy does. Win or lose, I hope he's gone. The sooner, the better. Thanks, Michael.

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    1. I don't know the inner workings of the organization (or the relationship between players and coach) so it's difficult to really know what's going on. I realize fans are tired of Carlyle, and maybe the players are tired of the same old message. I don't know.

      But as I mentioned in my post, I still put responsibility on the players, too. These guys have not won a thing together in recent years. And even with the new players on this year's roster, we're not seeing the determination that should be evident on every shift. You'd think a team with so much to prove would play like every game mattered. Thanks Colleen.

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    2. Hey Colleen,

      we are not so deep as it seems. The fourth line seems a bit lost. They Need at least one experienced part. Ashton and Frattin shouldn't even be on the team. Both will never be constant NHL players.

      I hope you have read carefully what I told you once about Gardiner, therefore you shouldn't be suprised that carrying the puck is one of the areas where he needs improvement. You can always ask me if you want to know something. You are right on his defensive behavior.

      There is no disconect from the coaching staff to the players.

      The first line depends completely on Kessel that is the problem, we lack some pieces (especially at center). And there could still be injury problems.

      I know you do not want to hear this, but I am afraid Randy is not the problem here. And if he is gone it will only buys some time for the players and after a while the 3rd coach will have the same problems. What really ticks me off is Kadri again he said in the game day skate interview today (unfortunatly the do not show this part on the Leafs side) that there is not much that separates him from John Tavares, he is on the same talent level he only needs to get his work ethic going. This guy is not for real, he isn't even smiling. He is dead serious.
      That is not the first thing from him but where do you want to go with this guy?
      He is not even close to Tavares! If Kadri could be named in the same breath things would seem a lot brighter.

      I could not find the interview where Randy said this about shots against. I really liked to hear it myself.

      I can only give you the advise to be very careful with the analytics stuff. It can be very confusing. And mixing SOG and shots against and Corsi with the term posession (what everybody does) is very dangerous.

      Shots against is not a posession stat, I believe there are people that want you to think it is but it is not. Shots against is simply the SOG by the other team. Imagine yourself standing at the boards near the goal line, pressing your nose on the glas. And you are watching the goalie for the whole game and he gets 45 shots. Do you really think in that moment "this is a posession stat"? Do you really think Randy is wrong here?


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  8. No I'm not satisfied. In fact, the games so far this year feel like "deja vu all over again". We lack a leader like Zetterberg, someone who'll drive the team to victory. We lack team determination, focus, grit, and 60 minute effort. Have you noticed how often Leafs are coasting as they enter the O zone? They might as well be standing still.
    Beyond that, I'm not ready to give them the 20 game slack I normally would. Many of these players have played together for a couple of years now - how come they act as if they've just met? More importantly, how can we keep playing combinations like Kadri and Lupul, who have never had any chemistry? When was the last time Kadri dished off to a winger on a rush?
    To my aged eyes, dimming though they may be, the players are still not on the same page as the coaches. Until that's addressed, we're not going anywhere beyond mediocre.
    As you can tell, the O'Malley glass is less than half-empty these days - mainly because of the drinking I have to do while watching Leaf gaffe after gaffe during a game. If it weren't for the third line, I'd be hard-pressed to find much that's positive about this year's Leaf model. And I don't think trading Gardiner, say, or Kessel's 35 +/- goals a year is gong to help. And heaven help me, if we trade another young talent for an oft-injured veteran at the tail end of his career, I'm going to start drinking straight from the bottle!

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    1. I guess the concern I have, Gerund 'O, is this: if the Leafs continue to play generally uninspired hockey and the coach is replaced, does that just buy this group of players more time?

      We'll hear how good a communicator the new guy is, how much better his system is. The team will play better for a while, but will they then just slide back into the same patterns we have seen for ages?

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  9. Rielly looks really good in his own end. Phaneuf is just a great defenceman. Polak, I'm afraid, may not be better than a third pairing defenceman. Same old with Franson and Gardiner. Some nights, when they're not throwing pucks away and completely missing assignments they look like they belong - Franson hitting and throwing ridiculous amounts of shots on the net and Gardiner skating away from forwards and weaving his way through the natural zone. But most nights they are liabilities - their brain just seem to stop working. I wonder how much longer they can play the way they play before the management gives up on them. It's pretty clear by now that Franson's time has run out. Gardiner, they seem to believe in more. Not me. I've had enough. Robidas will be fine - he seems to play a nice quiet game. I like how he followed up a giveaway the other night with a huge hit. I wish the above mentioned duo had that kind of stamina. Percy looks very promising but who knows if he'll stick. I can see his play going either way - he's not dominating the play and he does make some mistakes but he seems to have that 'defensive IQ' that I'm not sure anyone other than Rielly and the Captain on this defence have. I trust Horachek to improve the defence and I think they're coming along well actually. I'm noticing that there always seems to be a man back covering for the pinching defenceman, whether the other defenceman or a forward.

    Bad changes, frequent offsides and such other minor offences that have cost us will be fixed soon I hope once the players get used to their new lines and get more into game-shape.

    The offence has not been a problem for years and I'm not worried about the scoring. The first two lines have looked pretty dangerous for the most part - the puck will go in. I wonder if Bozak will ever get recognized for being an offensive dynamo and the best defensive forward on the first two lines - 1st line centre that is an integral element of the 1st line success.

    I'm loving Winnik's game. He is the new Jay McClement. All of a sudden the PK is fixed. Kozun played well. It really sucks that he got hurt but it was to be expected given his size and inexperience in the league. That fourth line was all him - the other two are not impressing me. I guess it doesn't matter since Carlyle doesn't seem to want to play the 4th line at all. It must be frustrating for the players. He did win the Cup like that so I guess it's a thing to do... I don't know.

    Everybody seems to agree that the third line looks good. Clarkson is amazing with that cage - he should keep it on forever.

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    1. Hi leafdreamer- the first two lines should score- as they have in the past. We've seen Kessel goe through times when the puck won't go in, and then he goes on a run.

      I think you're right that some of this early-season play is connected to the players getting used to new linemates/partners, etc.

      We will eventually need a fourth line that contributes regularly.

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  10. I tend to agree with Colleen and "Bottle Glasses" O'Malley on this question. Some new things. Some interesting things. 3rd line has saved the team's bacon most games by being good and eating up minutes. The first line looks lost. The 2nd line has been mixed and Winnick has been the best player on it with Lupul having a couple good games. Kadri looks..no clue how he looks other than not in tune with his line mates.

    The dmen have done a better job of moving the puck now but more often than not they actually have forwards to pass to closer to them than the far blue line which is a nice to see system change. The change in the defensive system has the dmen confused at times but it IS a simpler system that should pay off in the long run. It does take 20-30 games or so for a system to become a habit according to most coaches.

    Goaltending overall has been a bit up and down but I suspect it will be fine to great again very soon.

    The PP has been up and down but really should be better. Gardiner and Reilly should be the first unit dmen over Phaneuf and Franson. They generate so much more puck movement and help get setup much easier as well.

    To me THIS is the big kicker this season so far. The PK has looked fantastic. Thanks to be that they signed Winnick and Corporal Komorov because if the PK was as bad as last year this conversation might be more along the lines of when will the Leafs get their first win of the season with full blown panic setting in. Losing Kozun will hurt some in that regard.

    I have to wonder if JVR is injured. He has not looked his strong self at all. He is getting knocked off the puck regularly and losing front of the net battles that he was winning consistently last year. Either that or he went to the Phil Kessel school of off ice training instead of asking someone for Gary Robert's phone number.

    And Phil. Yeah, Phill will end up with 35 goals again. But I am starting to look at him more of "What could he be". He has been getting lippy with the media who was on him about his weight and training but it is obvious he is carrying more weight than last year and at this level that WILL effect a player. Garry Roberts had an interesting comment in an interview I heard. He said players need to start looking after themselves and training properly in their early 20's and not just as they hit 30 and start to lose a step. That is too late.

    I can honestly see Kessel as one of those guys whose career starts to fall off the map really really hard in his early 30's once he starts to lose some speed. He is has amazing skill and talent and no one can doubt how bad he wants to win when he is on the ice. But he is not a professional athlete when it comes to attitude and determination off the ice that is becoming more and more obvious. How great could he be if he had half the determination to truly succeed and be great like the Crosbys, Tavares, Toews, etc of the game??

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    1. Good to hear from you, Pep. As the comments above illustrate, we all see the same picture a wee bit differently, though some observations are certainly quite similar.

      The PK has indeed looked good though, again, it is early.

      As for Phil...well, a wonderfully talented player. Some Leaf supporters love him to death; he frustrates others. I guess there aren't many players as dedicated as the ones you mentioned. Thanks Pep.

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    2. Michael I think more and more players in the NHL ARE becoming more dedicated off ice as they realize that more other players are. Peer pressure, trying to keep up with the Jones, etc... The outliers start to stick out like a sore thumb. Dany Heatley is the poster child of it.

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    3. pep, lemme play devil's advocate. phil looks like a lazy blob, and when he's in street-clothing, i don't think anyone would think of 'elite professional athlete' as his profession.... however the fact remains... he IS an elite talent! he is fast as can be... his shot is laser-guided... he produces on a consistent basis at an elite level! so i think this is a clear case of where appearances are deceiving, and the more the media and the opponents scoff at him the better! look at your 'average' nhl player who produces at a 3rd or 4th line level and has so-so stats... that man probably LOOKS like he's in incredible shape, with the rock-solid body and the chiseled jaw-line... i bet that guy would trade places in a HEART-beat (a cholesterol-ladened heart-beat) with phil kessel! because what kessel lacks in the looks and off-ice 'effort,' he makes up for on the ice!!!!!! just my two-cents ;-)

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