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Can the Leafs play the Bruins like this at playoff time? I think they can…

I guess that’s my central question for today, after watching the Leafs take on one of the elite teams in the East twice in the past 72 hours.  The results were certainly encouraging, a 3-2 win at home Saturday night (albeit on the back of only 13 shots on net) and a return 3-2 shoot-out loss in Boston Monday night.

I’m pulling my thoughts together after this back-to-back set to with an old rival, but a couple of questions for you to think on and perhaps comment on here:

  • How did you see Reimer’s game the last two nights against a good foe? (I liked it a lot—and I will not criticize him for losing in a shootout…I like that he helped get us three points out of four. Did anyone really expect that?)
  • What did you think of Kessel’s game against the Bruins in these two contests?
  • Is there a more dangerous Maple Leaf right now than Kadri?
  • Has anyone seen van Riemsdyk lately?
  • Who, to you, has really stepped up the level of their play for the Leafs over the past few games—which was a really important stretch for the club?

I’ll keep most of my observations for another post this week, but I thought Lupul was pushing the play.  Kostka stepped back into the lineup, played more than 21 minutes and was just fine.  I didn’t like Gardiner on the second goal when Doug Hamilton too easily outworked him for the puck behind the Leaf net and set up Bergeron—while Phaneuf kind of stood there.  However, the captain was feisty and involved all night and Gardiner made a heck of a stick check to tie up Marchand late in overtime, after earlier assisting on a big Leaf goal.

Somehow I think we’re not seeing the Bruins at their best, a lot of their “A” players seem to be struggling, but that said, they’ve had their challenges in recent times.  Maybe this is what they are—and if so, that means they are beat-able. (I know, it's "just" the regular-season...)

My "answer" to the question I posed above?  I'm not suggesting this is a Cup year for the Leafs.  Not at all.  It has been, as I've said many times, a season for Carlyle to try things.  But I have also said here that for me, there simply aren't many, if any, Eastern Conference teams that will be "unbeatable" in the playoffs.  So could Toronto take out...say...the Bruins?

Two years ago I would not have even considered the question.  A year ago I would have simply shook my head quietly.

Right now?  Well, those who know me also know I'm not a predictions guy.  But I will say this:  Boston has flaws.  Yes, I expect them to play tougher (and better) in the playoffs.  But funny things can happen in the spring, especially when you're the team with zero expectations.


  1. I thought Ryan Hamilton he has looked really good and his size has given Boston a new dimension to deal with among the smaller Leaf forwards.

    I thought Kostka and Gardiner worked better than Liles and Gardiner. Kostka clears the net better than Liles. That flub with Gardiner and Phaneuf for the second goal might not have occured with Kostka because Kostka pays good attention to the net, while Dion is less than perfect defensively.

    "Has anyone seen van Riemsdyk lately?"

    That was the other flub on that goal, the whole line changed and somebody or two should have stayed in to support Gardiner and Phaneuf. That's why van Riemsdyk and Kessel sat so much for the rest of the game.

    I was actually pretty happy with this line up. I like the option of Ryan Hamiton. He seems pretty steady. I could go into the playoffs with this line up, including Hamilton, but scratching one of Orr or McLaren and putting in Frattin depending on the opponent.

  2. During these last two games against Boston, I'm seeing a bit more of the Reimer I hope to see going forward. I would like to see him a little 'firmer on the stick' to protect the 5 hole that seems a bit vulnerable lately, however, those apparent weak moments seem related to players coming in on him unmolested (or in the shootout), so am only suggesting something that may be an issue for him to look at resolving.

    He has played 'big' on a lot of the high shoulder blocking shots lately and given less holes to shoot at for the most part recently. I think he's getting used to the brace (and I did see him adjusting it as the station was leaving for a commercial break). Kudos to him for adapting!

    As I mentioned earlier, I think Kessel is having some moments that show he can be more engaged and solid than his oft-criticized alter ego, but there's still a ways to go. The first line seemed to have less drive tonight generally (though Bozak seemed to 'show up' quite well).

    Though JVR was rather invisible tonight, I think the idea that he isn't being effective may be a little overstated by some comments I've read elsewhere. I almost commented on this earlier because I think he's been quite effective setting up in that tough area in front of the crease, gaining no points but being a primary reason that others around him have picked up some points.

    I think I saw him 'hobbled' a bit in the last game and he may not have been up to the net-front abuse tonight (and that would likely affect his skating, too) so I'll give him a pass for now and enjoy when he seems to appear with a tip-in or a close in rebound goal. His assists are physical presence and taking away the goalie's eyes, they don't show up on the scoresheet. I hope he heals up quickly and that my comments might help everyone to be more thankful for the thankless essential task he has taken on (BTW, I'm not addressing your question as though it was harsh, Michael, I've just seen and heard comments that JVR is being inconsistent and thought I'd address my own observation during the recent period of apparent invisibility!).

    Kadri = most dangerous Leaf right now... makes everyone around him better... liking that alot!

    Everyone who Kadri 'sees' and 'feeds' really 'steps it up', though I think Lupul has also come back with a purpose greater than the first games before the broken arm. That drive is independent (yet complementary to) the Kadri effectiveness.

    As much as I'm enjoying the Lupul-Kadri connection, I wonder if Lupul should return to the Bozak line (to create a different look and more options off the rush for that unit), because Kadri seems to help whoever is with him and Lupul can do that for Bozie and Phil, too.

    JVR or Frattin might be effective with either Grabo or Kadri... I would like to see more from line 1 and it may be time to reinsert Lupul.

    As much as we gained 3 of 4 points against the Bruins and 'broke off' the mental chains of the past, there is still room for improvement. I like the direction and commitment, but there's a way to go yet. Glad we've seen success against every team in a playoff spot... bodes well for a more interesting late April... dare I say May, etc?!

    ahhh... parity. There's a chance we could feel good about some progress this year!

  3. I like Ryan Hamilton as well, DP. I do think we're awfully close (assuming we stay healthy and no significant trades...) to our "playoff" roster.

  4. Parity is what we're seeing, InTimeFor62. With the bad comes the reality that more teams are able to challenge for a playoff berth every year, which is what the NHL wants.

    I was a bit harsh on van Riemsdyk. He was a bit of a no-show Monday night, but as you say, worked the front of the net Saturday night effectively and has done that much of the season. We do need him to produce offensively and for the most part, until lately, he has. (Maybe it's time to put him with Kadri, who has made everyone he plays with better.)

    Discussing a playoff chase is a lot more fun than the alternative, eh, InTimeFor62?

  5. 3 out of 4 points is good.

    Riemer was excellent again tonight. He is the only reason they got at least one point tonight and the only reason they got 2 on Saturday.

    Kessel had some a nice back check on Saturday other than that he was invisible for the rest of the games.

    Kadri is the most dangerous Leaf offensively by far. Riemer is the only reason they got points so I guess he could be giving Kadri a run overall.

    No I haven't seen JVR for about 10 games now. Is it just youthful inconsistency or is this why Philly was willing to trade him? Jury is now out on him.

    The last three games have seen Riemer, Lupul, Kulemin and Kadri step up with big games. Phanuef has been all right but not outstanding (the Bergeron goal was awful).

    The Leafs can not beat the Bruins in a seven game series. They were rather lucky to get points in both games let alone a win. You simply can not spend that much time in your own zone, give up that many quality shots while generating very little offense of your own and hope to win on a consistent basis. You can't. This was not parity, this was a goaltender stealing 3 points from a team. For the last 2 years all anyone talked about was how a goalie needed to step up and not just be average (or bad as has been the case), but steal some games. Well that is exactly what happened the last 2 games. Riemer was outstanding. The Leafs tonight never once felt like they were in control of the game or really seemed dangerous for that matter. They generated very little sustained offense but rather seemed to be back on their heels a lot. Yes they had the odd chance but no matter how good a team plays defensively you will always give up the odd chance. Yes they took 3-4 points from the Bruins but to my eyes there is still a huge gulf between these teams. Really they aren't even all that close in my opinion.

  6. Thanks Willbur- we can agree that there is indeed much more still to be done!

  7. I continue to be encouraged by the direction of the Leafs, they are not getting out-physicalled by Boston the way they have in the past. The benchmark I have always set for them to step up to contender status is to be able to go nose-to-nose physically with teams like this. I still think Boston can handle them physically over a full playoff series, but cracks are showing. Chara is simply not as dominating as he was a couple years ago. And we did not have Komarov the last two games. I would like to have seen how much more evenly we would have matched up with him throwing himself into the forecheck.

    As for your other questions...

    I think Reimer has been pretty solid. Seems to slide a little too far off the post on those shots that miss wide, and that will come back to haunt him on a few ricochet bounces if he doesn't shore that up. But overall I think he's been good and should be our number 1.

    Kessel has been okay, I do think the whole thing is in his head too much still, but he's played with heart and I'm fine with that.

    I'd say that Lupul has been just as dangerous, albeit with a smaller sample size. He's been on a personal mission since returning, and I hope he can carry that through the end of the year.

    Van who? Really, what has happened to this guy? Sure he's standing in front of the net, but I don't see the DRIVE to the net that made him successful in the early going. He isn't making plays, he's letting his teammates do it for him and he's just been along for the ride of late.

    As I mentioned, Lupul when he's actually played has stepped up. I also like the play of Franson and Fraser. To take the question a little further, I'd like to see guys like MacArthur and Frattin put the pedal to the floor in the coming weeks. A little extra from guys like that coupled with what we already have, and we could have a dangerous team.

  8. Reimer is certainly playing well, maybee to some even playing beyond what they thought. I have another observation on Reimer though. The purpose of the butterfly style he plays is to make himself bigger and block shots, but looking at him in his set position, he actually makes himself smaller by crouching down so low. His chest is entirely buried in his pads. All the shooters see are pads and a mask, leaves a lot of room upstairs. Just an observation, maybee I'm the only one who sees it.

    Of course 3 of 4 points from the Bruins is great, but I can't see us beating them in a playoff series, they are (I'm very sad to say) on another level. But stranger things have happened.

    JVR hasn't played well in a few games, but maybee as InTimeFor62 wrote his beeing hobbled has somthin to do with it.

    Kadri. Nothing left to say.

    The Leafs seem to miss Komarov. I'm not seeing the "nastiness" like before. I have to say, his name meant little to me a few months ago but now...

    The second Bruins goal is brutal. How is it possible to leave a player loke that all alone in front of the net? Dion looked like he was defending against Reimer instead of the oposing player.

    The standings page on the Leafs website says we're 3-3-4 in our last 10. We should see it like this: The Leafs are on a 5 game point streak. It sounds a lot better.

  9. Very good point on Komarov's absence, Pete. We have largely been able to play head-to-head with our previous tormenter, so that's obviously good to see.

    Can't argue about Lupul. He's just missed so much time but when here, he is indeed like a guy on a mission. Love what Fraser and Franson have brought, as you cite. And McClement. A few guys could, yes, show their determination on a more consistent basis. We'll need everyone playing flat-out come the spring. Thanks Pete.

  10. Reimer has holes in his game, for sure, portuguese leaf. But maybe he will continue to adjust his mechanics a bit over time. I like his 'compete', if you know what I mean. And that is the kind of a guy I like on my team.

    As I mentioned to Pete, yes, we do miss Komarov's nastiness when he's not in the lineup. He's part of the changed make-up of the team.

    I think if people looked back a week ago, they'd admit they did not think the Leafs would get, what is it, 6 out of 8 points in that 4-game stretch. So that is a step forward. Thanks portguuese leaf.

  11. I think Reimer is playing NHL level hockey pretty consistently. Fun fact: he has one regulation loss over his last 12 starts. Impressive. The last 5 minutes on Saturday were concerning because the team just kinda started to fall apart; lucky to hang on. Sadly, I missed last night's game, and watched the highlights. Reimer made some huge saves to keep us in the game, again. You really can't ask for more than that. I feel like he's a frog's hair away from seizing the #1 spot away from Scrivens.

    Watching Kessel on Saturday I had low-expectations because his former team has always owned him. I mean I think he was against Chara for 24/25 shifts. Where as Kadri was against Chara for only 8/24. But his compete level was nice with a major hustle back-check against Seguin, and a blocked shot against Chara that had to hurt.

    Answer to your 3rd question is nobody on the Leafs is close to Kadri right now, except for Lupul.

    JVR has been MIA for quite a while. I take the good with the bad for this. The good is JVR's "absense" hasn't completely disrupted our offense. The bad is he was on a complete tear early in the season, and it's disappointing that he's completely disappeared lately.

    Over the past 3 games I would say that Kadri, and Reimer stand out the most for me. Reimer has been consistent, and good for about 30 saves per game. There's just not many people in the league that are as hot as Kadri right now.

    I tend to agree we haven't seen the best of the Bruins over the last 72 hours if for no other reason than they're pretty banged up. Bruins have always been "road warriors" and that's an area they've struggled this year. If we were to play a healthy Boston team in the playoffs my expectations would be lower than against most other teams in the East like say Habs, NJ, Ottawa etc...

  12. Solid post, Anon. Bruins can be better, for sure. I do think they may be falling back to the pack a bit. We'll see.

    Kessel did some good things Saturday against the Bruins, agreed.

    I think this will be JVR for a while. He's make us love him, then not so much. We'll always likely want a bit more. A modern-day Frank Mahovlich without the wheels.

    Thanks Anon.

  13. Reimer - played a solid game. Lucic said he moves well post to post, so he took adavantage of that on his goal. And I think he was vicitimised by Gardiner being muscled off the puck in our zone (again) on the second goal. The Boston commentators said Reimer looked as if he didn't have a feel for the puck - often checking to see if it was behind him. And it's obvious he's still working on his glove hand. But he's not losing us any games, and that's a big step forward!
    I'd like to see Kessel get a hat trick against his old team. He almost had a goal last night, and it would be good for him, I think, to be a deciding factor in a game rather than have Hamilton and Seguin play that role, as they do almost every time. I thought he manufactured some good chances last night, but nothing spectacular. JvR looks like he's feeling the pain of front-of-net punishment. Or maybe he's injured. Not much of a presence recently. But he's also had a few posts and near misses here and there. I look for him to bounce back.
    Kadri keeps being the man. That was a sweet pass to Kulemin last night, and he also started the play for the first goal, as I recall. When he gets his faceoff skills up to the same level, he'll be an elite guy.
    I've liked Hamilton's game. Kulemin's looking good, Grabbo's strong, and Lupul has really added an element we need. Gunnar seems to be stronger, too. I fear we won't be seeing much more of Frattin, though. His injury seems to have flattened his play. Of course, having Kadri as his center didn't hurt, either! (BTW, isn't it astounding that Bozak is the only Leaf to score on the shootouts?)
    I'm kind of laughing at myself this morning. Last year, if anyone had told me we'd get three points off two Boston games, I'd have been ecstatic. Heck, I'd have been delighted just a few weeks ago. But now, I feel that we could've won both games, so I'm a little despondent. What a change from last year! Carlyle has indeed achieved his goal of having the Leafs "in" every game.
    That said, I don't see how we can sustain our success by playing 45 of every 60 minutes in our own end. Maybe we can - it's happened before - but I think most of us would agree that the top teams are still a level or two away from us. Our positional play is nowhere near as good as the Pens, or Bruins, (or Hawks, etc) - and in a 7 game series, I think our bad habits would bite us. And we'd need to have more than one line going.
    But we're a work in progress, just as those elite teams were a few years back, and if we can keep our core together, we're going to be a formidable team in a year or two.

  14. You covered the bases, Gerund O'. Lots of positives to take away from the past few games. There are always things the team (and individual players) will need to work on, but we're in every game, as you say. That can only be a good thing. It's fun to have something other than lottery picks to talk about. Thanks Gerund.

  15. michael, i'm glad i'm not the only one asking where JVR has been the past couple of weeks! very frustrating!

  16. Thanks for chiming in Alex. Not sure if van Riemsdyk is playing hurt, or just going through a period (like a lot of players) of sometimes indifferent play. He still does some things (net presence at times) but has been a bit un-noticeable of late, I agree.

  17. Aside from the tactical and systems difference between Wilson and Carlyle, it is useful to remember how the previous management coaching regime talked up the concept of meritocracy yet did not implement it. Carlyle and Nonis however, seem to be rewarding effective play with ice time irrespective of reputation or contractual status. Needless to say this practice has been abetted by a much improved development situation, especially with the Marlies. Along these lines, I think it could be time for JvR to watch a game or two and maybe recharge his batteries and "free Matt Frattin".

    I noted last year that Ryan Hamilton should be on the big club -- I am more convinced now than ever. The most important goaltending stat? Wins. The biggest cause of my Maple Leaf Twitch? Three of them really -- Seguin, Dougie Hamilton and Tukka Rask.

  18. Carlyle doesn't seem to much care who he sits- which is a good thing in most instances, Bobby C.. Sometimes his decisions are based on the opponent, sometimes on a player not quite making the effort he wants to see. But it's hard to argue against his approach so far. This is a different team, with a different mindset, whatever the Carlyle detractors want to suggest. No coach is perfect, but he has touched most of the right buttons this season with a still-not-quite-there roster.

    Hamilton is a solid player who does his job. And yes, the three Bruins do remind us of, well...we'll move on...

    Thanks Bobby.

  19. Of course the Leafs can beat the Bruins in a playoff series. Leafs are hotter - they want it more, they are competing harder that's why they got these 3/4 points and it's only getting better.

    This is a team with energy, skill, power, work-ethic, a system, youth etc. and the HYPE is coming - the arena is getting louder and look at us smiling in disbelief night after night :)

    This is a very well coached team - that's the answer to JVR 'slump' - if JVR is not producing Kadri is, if Kessel is not producing Grabovski is. I love how Carlyle is using the regular season to get all the players used to playing with different partners and lines, how he's shuffling lines and getting different options going... All that needs to happen in order for a player to get going again is he needs to be moved off the line and put onto another one. The cool thing is that if JVR were to be moved to Kadri's line and Lupul to Kessel's at this point this would be nothing new for the players - they've done this before - they are used to it. The opposition, on the other hand, would be faced with a nightmare having to shut down 2 hot guys on 2 different lines. Most importantly, not everyone needs to be hot every night - Frattin and JVR can totally take a few nights off and watch Kadri and Lupul show. Then, when they get hot, Kadri may be able to take a break. Leafs are like a mythical many-headed hydra these days - you cut one head off, the other one pops up. I really like what Carlyle is doing. I love how he's creating so many different options for the team and for the players and how 'deep' his system is - you never know what's gonna hit you when you're playing the Leafs. They are truly a 'team' and that's the key to success in the cap era. I love it.

  20. I recognize, leafdreamer, that not all Leaf fans will necessarily share your optimism, but I do agree there are reasons for hopefulness. Carlyle has his critics, I realize, but he has spent the season experimenting and as you say, players should now be well prepared to play with any fellow forward or defenseman come playoff time. Thanks leafdreamer.