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12 good signs for the Leafs coming out of Tampa Bay

It wasn’t too difficult to find positives on the Leaf side of the ledger on Tuesday night in Tampa Bay.  They were full measure for their win, doing the little things you have to do to win on the road.

Tampa’s vaunted (maybe “vaunted” is too strong a word…”despised by many” may be more accurate) 1-3-1 or whatever it is was not much use once the Leafs grabbed a two-goal lead.  The Lightning, when you actually look at their roster and get past Stamkos, Lecavalier and St. Louis, aren’t that talented.  Like most teams in the cap era, they are front-loaded with a few elite guys  but the rest of the roster up front is made up of a lot of third/fourth-liners. (You would think a team with Brewer and Hedman on the back line would be better defensively than Tampa looked against the Leafs.)  A year ago, they had the coach of the year and things looked rosy.  Right now, not so much.

But all in all, it was a noteworthy win for the Leafs.  And importantly, it gives them a boost in the Eastern Conference standings.

The positives I mentioned?  Here goes:
  • Speed.  It’s always a bit difficult to tell if the other team having an off night is a big part of it, but the Leafs looked fast—very fast.  They had little trouble driving through the neutral zone and seemed to be able to hit the opposing blueline with tons of speed.  Tampa was flat and had no answer.
  • The Monster gave up the requisite early goal the Leafs seem to allow, but as he and Scrivens (and Reimer so often before them) have done lately, he slammed the door when it mattered as the Leafs built their lead.  This is not to suggest Gustavsson is the answer—long-term I sense that, as I have posted here before, his future is elsewhere—but if he plays well, it’s a huge bonus for the team when Reimer returns.
  • MacArthur scored in his first game back from injury.  Hey, it was not exactly Crosby-esque, but for Leaf fans, almost as good.  He’s a guy that can look ordinary many nights, but in Toronto, he has produced offense on the second line, and if he can deliver that, he can be a very valuable contributor down the stretch.
  • The Leaf blueline looks as mobile as any set of Leaf defensemen in recent memory.  Liles and Gardiner have wheels. Franson can skate, too, and Phaneuf and Gunnarsson are more than mobile enough.  Wilson has been stressing “activating the ‘d’ ” this season and most nights, the defense corps is delivering in spades.  I think four defensemen earned assists for the Leafs against Tampa.
  • Speaking of the blueline, did you like Franson knocking Stamkos on his duff at the corner of the Leaf crease late in the second period?  Franson wasn’t worried about the puck, only about making sure Stamkos could not put home a rebound  from the doorstep.  I loved seeing that, and he is a guy with a reputation of being a bit soft, defensively.  Great to see.  Within seconds of that play, the Leafs made it 4-1.
  • Joe Colborne scored his first.  I think we can agree that he will score many nicer goals in his career with the Leafs, but it was a big one, and should ease any anxiety he may have felt about potting that first one at this level.
  • Frattin’s speed—and a quick-thinking and very slick back pass—set up Colborne’s tally, another good sign for the young ex-collegiate winger whose confidence should only grow from here.  He also showed a burst when he drove past Hedman late in the game to set up Crabb’s goal.  Points aren’t always necessary when you bring other elements to your game, as Frattin does, but it sure helps.
  • I’m stating the obvious (and how long will this last?) but the Leaf power-play, for a variety of reasons, has been on its toes and producing the last while.  And we all know that is a massive boost to a club that, just a week ago, was quietly wondering where the goals were going to come from once you got past Lupul and Kessel.
  • Connolly has been impressive.  3 points in any game is something, but especially so on the road.  As importantly, he is playing a smart game all over the ice.  I posted here after the summer-signing that Buffalo management (and fans and media there, too) were seemingly un-concerned about his departure.  A combination of injuries and indifferent play at times made him a lightning rod for fan unhappiness in Buffalo but he has been a difference-maker so far in Toronto.
  • Those who visit here on a fairly regular basis will know that I have “defended” Bozak on a pretty regular basis over the past year.  He was miscast as a first-line pivot a year ago and often struggled.  But we can all see the speed and his ability in the face-off dot.  And the young man has undeniable talent.  He sees the ice very well, makes some sweet passes and now is beginning to finish.  His career arc may just jump if that sometimes elusive athlete’s confidence continues to grow.  (Is it premature to wonder if he could some day become a first-line centre?)
  • Not insignificantly, they beat a team that finished well ahead of them in the standings last season, and the Leafs won on the road.  We can’t forget to stress that while Roloson has absolutely killed the Leafs in recent years, he had no answer for them before being chased from his cage in the third period in this one.
  • As the TV broadcast mentioned, the Leafs iced the youngest team in the NHL against Tampa, at an average of 26.4 years. This can't be anything but good.
As we keep saying here, in this “new” NHL, and especially in the Eastern Conference, things are wide open.  How many truly elite teams are there?  Not to make too much of one lousy game, but the Capitals, as talented as they are, are scuffling at times and seemingly dealing with chemistry issues, including Semin being a healthy scratch.  Pittsburgh was strong before the return of Sid, and they should be even tougher when they are fully healthy and in top gear.

And yes, the Leafs haven’t had an answer for the Bruins yet, and Boston is indeed hot right now. But really, it’s s short list of top-end teams.  There is no reason to believe that the Leafs aren’t in the mix with the Rangers, Buffalo, Jersey, Montreal, etc.

I’ll even say this:  right now, the Leafs should fear no team.  There is no club, if they played in a playoff series right now, that the Leafs can’t skate with—and play with.  I’m not suggesting they would beat every team in the East in a playoff series.  Heck, we’re not even sure they will make the playoffs.  But every time this team slides, we continue to see signs that tell me that this year is different, that this team is more versatile, more able to rebound from adversity.  They will have their tough times, for sure, but we know they can bounce back.

On to Dallas.


  1. Couldn't agree more with your comment last night about Kovalchuk. I had an argument with someone last season who thought I was crazy for saying Kessel was a better player than Kovalchuk (more points, 5 years younger) when NJ gave up far more to get him than Burke did for I love saying this year 'Still think you'd rather have Kovalchuk than Kessel?'
    Looking forward, if things keep up, to making the same argument with Kessel vs. Ovechkin.

  2. Enjoy reading your insightful thoughts as always Michael, I'd only add that I for the first time in awhile I was impressed with the play of every single Leaf defenceman. Praise has been deservedly heaped on Phaneuf, Gardiner, Gunnarsson and Liles in the first quarter but hopefully we'll start adding Schenn and Franson to that mix if their confidence continues to grow from solid games like this one.

  3. Let's be honest, Kessel is playing out of his head right now. He's been a streaky player in the past, and granted he's been marvelously consistent this year, it is very unlikely he'll maintain this 50+ goal/100+ point pace. If he does, I'll be the first to graciously eat my hat. I'd be happy enough if he scores 40 this year and balances out his game. Make no mistake, his play is garnering attention from other teams, and eventually they'll find out a way to slow his production down.

    What I do really like seeing is the Leafs getting more production from their other players. Connolly looked great last night and hopefully he'll be able to ward off the injury bug for the rest of the year.

  4. seandeville...I've never liked the Kovalchuk deal (and re-signing) from New Jersey's perspective. I thought they gave up a lot, though none of the youngster's they gave up has had a huge impact. But I just don't know how he fits in with the Devils' "system" and approach to the game. Every team needs snipers, for sure and I love watching him from a skill standpoint. But that's a lot of money to spend on one guy.

    Kessel will need to show consistency, but he is young and perhaps just emerging as a guy who can play all over the ice. That would be huge for the Leafs.

    Thanks for your kind words, Ben. And I agree that all the Leaf defensemen were prominent last night. Despite his early-season frustration, we would all like to see Franson settle in and play well. Komisarek will be back, plus they have Holzer and Aulie at the ready. Being that deep on the blue line should prove valuable as the long season moves along. make a very good point. As the season progresses, teams will focus on Kessel. The playoffs are always a challenge for a scorer who is a big part of his team's offence. But Leaf fans can enjoy his excellent play for now.

    As for secondary scoring, they hit a dry spell, but hopefully Connolly will help, and the young guys may just step up, too.

  5. one thing that i like last night against tampa is how the leafs played hard-d during the last 4-5 minutes of the game.... you KNOW tampa was craving one more goal just to ease the parting-blow.... but the leafs fought HARD. i was very satisfied. :-D

  6. Alex C...good point about the Leafs working right through to the end of the game. Would have been easy to take the rest of the night off, but they kept working. Should carry over into Dallas....

  7. Things I liked last night:
    - Bozak's little flip/drop to Lupul to set up the goal. That's the kind of pass that players make when they're comfortable with each other. The whole line looks really good right now, doesn't it?
    - Crashing the net. All of a sudden Leafs are in one of those "team toughness" areas we were discussing the other day. Both Crabb and Bozak put one away from there. and Colborne had Roloson screened on Connolly's goal.
    - Agree about Franson dumping Stamkos. We need more of that Ed Van Impe style play. One whack at a loose puck in the crease is enough, and then players need to know they're gong to get hit.
    - Connolly and Franson just keep getting better.
    - The specialty teams are suddenly very effective.

    I also like the fact that, apart from the first period (or two) of that Carolina game, we've played well over the past few games. Consistency seems to be creeping in!

  8. I was amused that Michael noted Franson’s manhandling of Steve Stamkos at the side of the net. I am not sure if others heard what was said between the two , because I was watching the Tampa Bay Fox broadcast and they had Stamkos wired for sound, so forgive me if you have. Franson apologized to Stamkos for the hit saying: “Sorry Boss”, to which Stamkos replied in a kind of stunned way: “It’s OK”. I have no idea what to make of that exchange, but it sure was amusing.
    There is something different in Monster Land. Watch the little repetitive gesture Gustavsson makes prior to the beginnings of play. This gesture is an anchoring technique, a psychological technique used by goaltenders (and others) to recreate peak performance mental state. I do not remember seeing this consistent gesture prior to the last two wins. Guess what, it is working! Not to go Cherry-esque, but I did point out around a week ago that Gustavsson had corrected multiple problems and the only one remaining was focus and concentration. My comment was followed by a spate of goaltenders and goalie coaches saying about the same thing in the media. Of course, I am not claiming any connection, just that if you know and understand goaltending, the problems are sometimes apparent, or at least more substantial than as Ron Wilson drily noted about many fans' relationship to goalies: “Build a statue and then knock it down and pi** on it”. Lo and behold, remove that one concentration problem and what do we get? Just as predicted, his save percentage has shot up. The other part of the Monster mystery: I hear that Gustavsson ditched the gremlin he was hiding in his pads and replaced it with a leprechaun. I guess we make our own luck!
    On the question of a book, I think it is a great idea. Books are a different format to a blog and a different reading experience. The history and memory modality of this site seems to me well suited to republication in a book format. I am no expert in the Leafs history book field; however, my gut feeling is that a VLM book is something that ought to happen. Really, it would be a shame if it did not happen.

  9. Bobby C...I did not catch the exchange between Franson and Stamkos. (I prefer no apologies after a big hit, but who knows what that all meant!)

    Your comments regarding The Monster ring true. If he can get himself into a strong, focused mindset, I'll look forward to seeing if he can keep producing the kinds of quality play he has shown of late.

    And thank you for your comments regarding a possible book. It's something my now-grown sons have encouraged me to do for some time...