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Leafs can exhale after road win in the Big Apple

I’m not sure we can make many (any?) definitive pronouncements about the Leafs, three games into the 2014-’15 NHL season. Opening night against the still unbeaten Habs could have gone either way, though it’s difficult to say the same about the Pittsburgh game.

Against the Rangers, if we were looking for a classic “bounce back”, we saw it.  Carlyle made a couple of roster moves—Reimer in for Bernier, not a surprise; Franson in for Gardiner, a surprise to me—and the team looked as though it was tired of losing. The result was a 6-3 win on the road at Madison Square Garden.

Early season observations:

  • Franson provided an instant jolt of offense in his first game back from injury. He’s always had a knack for getting the puck to the net, and if he can be a steady presence on the blueline, he should keep a spot in the lineup.
  • If Franson reclaims his customary role as a regular on the blueline, who sits? The impressive rookie, Percy?  The veteran Robidas?  Surely not Rielly.  Maybe Polak, though Carlyle likely appreciates his defense-first approach.
  • Rielly and Gardiner are an intriguing defensive pairing:  two individuals with offensive inclinations—and significant skills. They can skate like the wind and move the puck effortlessly. But will they have the approach needed to be as successful in their own zone?  The early returns were mixed before Gardiner sat Sunday night. 
  • Jonathan Bernier just needs to be Jonathan Bernier.  He has made some outstanding saves in the first couple of games, but didn't look quite like the game-stealer we saw much of last season. He should be fine. Getting some late action and playing well in the win in New York may help.
  • Komarov has been pretty much what we remember of him. A pest that you prefer having on your side. Kozun started well but we’ll see if the training camp energy can last.
  • Any concerns about the top line likely dissipated after the win in New York, though Lundvquist was not nearly at his best. Bozak with 3 goals already.
  • I think most of us have been impressed with Percy’s poise early on.  He has played 20 minutes a night. You can never have too many capable defensemen. We now have seven on the roster.
  • Kadri has shown his customary offensive jump—puck smarts, great hands and vision. 
  • I’m not sure what to make of the Lupul trade rumours.  Would we be selling high?  We need ‘top six’ forwards, and he can certainly be one. At 31, you'd think he brings the kind of moxie and veteran experience a team like this needs.
  • We’re at a point in time where Holland needs to demonstrate he is a player who belongs in the lineup every night.

In any event, credit to Reimer.  He did not have to steal a game or play extraordinarily well, but he earned the win and did what we needed him to do, after losing our first two games at home. His third-period injury is a concern, though.

A couple of questions: is there a Leaf who has surprised you, or that you feel has provided even more than you expected in the early going?  Conversely, are there guys who need to do more?

The Leafs are healthy. No suspensions to complain about this season. A lot of these guys have been around for years now. The playoffs should be a minimum objective for this organization—and for us as fans. The win in New York helps get things going in the right direction.


  1. Hi Michael.
    I'd have to say Percy is a big surprise. I don't think many expected him to make the team or to perform the way he has. He never seems to panic with the puck--no wild passes, no spins. He knows when to join the rush. He just plays such a smart, mature game and he does it every shift, every game I've seen. I'm very impressed.

    1. Hi Colleen- I think we all agree on Percy. Nice surprise, for sure.

  2. I'm pleasantly surprised by Clarkson and Komarov. They've both been scoring and that is not what I expected if them.

    I expected Winnik and Bozak to pleural well and I'm happy to see them doing their jobs - Winnik killing penalties and breaking up plays and Bozak shooting and scoring and creating offence.

    Franson had a great game and he's growing into a strong hitter. I hope Hotachek brings out the best in him.

    Our big offencemen (Dion, JVR and Kessel) have not come out with guns blazing but I think they will begin to find holes as they settle into the new season. They are not at their best playing against the opposition's first lines and should be put in more favourable situations while a checking line/s should be stopping the likes of Crosby, Pacioretty and Nash. (We got lucky there with Nash leaving tonight as he has been known to have rallied his team to come back on the Leafs in the past.)

    I'm worried about the goalies not only because I existing injuries but also because they are being run and nobody is stepping up to protect them. We need someone (Panik? Polak? Broll? Orr?) to punish the forwards who run our goalies.

    We need more 'team toughness'. If we're gonna play without enforcers we need whoever is on the ice to hit more and fight more.

    Note that the fourth line played very little in the game we won. That meant that the other three lines played more. All three lines scored.

    1. Team toughness is something we have certainly discussed here over the years, leafdreamer. I've long said that it's not simply about fighting. It's having the right kind of toughness, including fighting for the puck, being tough in front of the opposition net and in the corners, etc.

      It also means taking care of your goalies as you noted, and also protecting your skill players who aren't going to drop the gloves. Even though the game has shifted somewhat, we still need that kind of toughness.

  3. Leafs Fan in MexicoOctober 13, 2014 at 9:43 AM

    Michael, I had to bite my lip after game 2, there was so much of last year evident. But 2 games does not a sample make, nor 3. That said, the questions you raise are all good and need chewing on as we make our way through the first 20.

    I must confess though that in my heart, I wanted the Leafs to loose last night and maybe the next four or five. I really don't believe this core is the core that takes them to the Cup -- the only objective worth managing for. There as some players we could bundle to get that savvy centre we need esp with great depth at D now. Anyways, nothing is going to happen on that front until we learn the lesson yet again, Leafs are a bubble team and holding out greater aspirations is a fools gesture.

    BTW Collen, great comments always from you!!

    1. I'm sure a lot of us were wondering after the Pittsburgh game, Leafs Fan in Mexico. And you raise a good point: is this team, even at its best, a true contender?

      We are indeed a bubble team when it comes to the playoff picture, it seems, and improvement will likely have to come from within this group. I'll be looking to see if we can play consistently well at both ends of the ice.

    2. Very kind of you, Leafs Fan in Mexico, as are all on this site. Sometimes I post on the spur of the moment, then later wonder "Why the heck did I say that?!"
      A much more enjoyable game last night for us all.

    3. Leafs Fan in MexicoOctober 13, 2014 at 10:26 PM

      Me too Colleen... but I have developed a very helpful trick that kills two birds with one stone, so to speak. At night as I lie in bed winding down from a hard day's work raising our three kids (10,12,14), I manage the Leafs the way I want to! Great fun, makes me drift off to sleep (having never solved the problem without winning the cup... sometimes I even have to play just to make up the odds) and in the morning I (believe anyhow) I know what to write on this great site!

      Cheers to all!

  4. Santorelli has been a pleasant addition to the third line... I thought he was a good pickup, but it's nice to see his consistent tenacity on the forecheck. I think he and Komarov have provided the kind of environment in which Clarkson will be able to play his game at his highest level. The 3 seem 'on the same page' and effective on the cycle - it's a good mix.

    On the other hand, 2/3 of the top line seem to have lingering injury effects from the pre-season (or, at least, I hope that's all it is). The game last night was better on the power play, but 5-on-5 has not really been that effective, yet. Inconsistent is the word of the day, but not for JVR, who has been on his game. Sure great we have him locked up for a few reasonable years (that are beginning to look like a bargain).

    The more I watch Stu Percy, the more I see a young (pre-concussion) Tomas Kaberle, but you don't have to yell at him to shoot the puck! His mental game seems well-rounded and even when he gets 'beaten', he doesn't panic and looks for the right response to do the next thing well. I like his game and am glad to see he is being tested in every circumstance (and still holding his own in the process). He's a keeper, even if they begin to 'rotate' him in and out of the lineup, it's best to wait until after a weaker game to do that the first time (if possible).

    Bernier doesn't seem to be back at his pre-injury level, but has made some fine saves (with a few weaker ones that I'm sure he'll 'clean up'). It was good to see James play so well and making a couple exceptional saves after a 2 week hiatus from the net during game play. I can't fault him on the 2nd 'crash the net' goal. His displeasure with the concussion-protocol pull is totally understandable and I hope he gets another start soon (if all his baseline tests are normal). He actually looked more 'compact' in his movements and seemed to be handling the puck better than previously. Bet he's been putting his great work ethic into play... it seemed clear to me that we're seeing some improvements.

    1. Santorelli has done a good job, InTimeFor62. If we can get a strong effort from he, Clarkson and Komarov, that would be a huge addition for us.

      Percy has been hard not to like, for sure. And I think the goaltending will be fine. If Reimer can play like he is capable we would have a solid duo.

  5. Clarkson played surprising well last night. Probably his best game as a Leaf. (Low bar, but still.)

    He's obviously never going to earn his paycheck (or even a third of his paycheck, frankly) but if he's not a liability and driving play about as often as he's on his heels, that's about as much as you can expect from a 3rd/4th liner.

    (I don't know where this marginal optimism cam from. Not sure what to make of it.)

    1. It feels as though part of the issue with Clarkson, Anon, has been finding linemates he can work effectively with. If he can find that on the current third line, and if we, as fans, set aside the salary measuring stick, he can help.

  6. A great start for Clarkson, and maybe wearing the cage is a blessing in disguise, since he's more or less forced to focus on the puck moving side of being between the whistles, not the face washing and chirping element that happens after the whistle. I agree with those that say "ignore his salary", as what's done is done, and let's just enjoy the upside Clarkson can bring, as he's a pretty fine hockey player when firing on all cylinders.

    Overall, I was most happy that Reimer had a solid start and a win. I don't think it opens up a goalie controversy, as it more just opens up options between two reliable starters. Bernier was off to an inconsistent start, but I'd never make the mistake of tossing him under the bus, like many did with James last year. Health for both these goalies is a ticket for success, so let's all be optimistic.

    As a slightly related aside, this has been a worse year than usual (which says something!), for the Toronto media hitting the panic button after the first two games. The Leafs faced a very good Montreal team in a less than perfect game that could have gone either way, then met up with a Penguins squad with buckets of talent, riding the energy that always comes from a new coaching staff. It's the equivalent of New York media proclaiming that "King Henrik is done!" after one lousy start, that's obviously a blip on the map.

    The bigger body of work will unfold, so hopefully the bandwagon jumpers will cool their collective jets for a bit.

    1. I don't see a burgeoning goalie controversy either, Russ. I was very concerned last year, but my sense is Reimer knows Bernier is the guy this season. That said, we know Reimer is a competitive guy and will do his level best to play well when he gets a chance.

      If both are healthy and can co-exist, it will help.

  7. Hi Michael.
    Anthony from MLHS has his posted his first Notebook of the season and it's always good. (I'm even more impressed with Santorelli's determination.) With Santorelli playing so well, with such a great work ethic, I'd like to see what he could do with a shift or two on the top line. Winnick has made a difference on the 2nd line. The 1st line's powerplay is fine but they haven't been very good playing 5x5, injuries aside. They're getting run over defensively. Now is the time to experiment, really the only time, as the Wild have been doing with some success. I'd really like to see what Santorelli can do in certain 5x5 situations.

  8. Hi Michael,

    when will be the first hangout of this season?

    - Franson provided offense, only.

    - Will he? He was bad. He scored two points but had lots of difficulties in other areas.
    Percy was the most solid D-man in the first three games. Robidas needs to keep going after such
    a long break. Polak is the guy we wanted and he brings a diffrent skill set to our D that we really
    need. If you take Percy out you have to send him back and Play for the Marlies. He has to play.

    - It is not only the defense with Gardiner. He makes bad bad decissions with the puck.
    You always say he has to be coachable. Do you think he is now? I don't. And he is not only bad defensively but he makes a lot of mistakes on offence too.

    - You can not expect Bernier to be as good as he was last season.

    - Leo is one of the guys you need. If everybody would give it his all, like Leo, some things would
    look better.

    - Concerns with the top line have surely not dissipated. They only proved what we knew.
    Sadly Bozaks three Goals do not prove anything.

    - Percy was our best D-man in the first three games.

    - Lupul is a top six forward. I do not want him to be traded. The only scenario that makes sense is trading him for a center that can bring another dimension to this team. But I fear this is unlikely.

    - Why do you get started on Holland? I don't understand. There are bigger problems.
    He deserves some time. But why would you complain about him?
    There are others that need to show they belong.

    Reims was better than Bernier and I really liked it. Keep it going James!

    Carlyle suprised me for sure. I hope he will keep it up.
    Percy for sure.
    Kozun making the team suprised me.

    For sure there are a lot of guys that have to do more. All have to do more but some especially:

    the complete first line, Kadri, Bernier, Phaneuf has to be better but I wonder if it has something to do with playing the left side, Robidas can be better but he needs some time, okay Gardiner needs finally to step up and play way better, exept of being a force on the PP Franson has to do way more,

    1. Hi Marcus- lots to think about in your comments. I know you're not a Franson guy, and he does need to be strong in his own zone. But hopefully he can help.

      I'm not anti-Holland. I just think he needs to take the opportunity to really solidify his spot. I agree he's not alone.

      I don't know how coachable Gardiner is.

      If Reimer is healthy, he can certainly help this season.

      It's still early, thankfully. Colorado started poorly but will be a test.

    2. What about the hangouts?

      I can agree that Holland has not impressed until know. But I do not doubt him.

      You know with Franson, I like some things he brings but it is simply not enough.
      Watch the shift wich ended with with the Stempniak goal. Franson was on the ice with Rielly. Watch only him and look what he does. It is catastrophic.
      I have nothing against him but we simply can't afford too many D-man that have one thing that they are good at and nothing more (and we have similar Problems with some forwards).
      I am a winger and I have to rely on my D-man, if I can not rely on my D-man it puts me in trouble and I am not comfortable playing. Franson is such a guy and the Leafs have to much of that sort.

    3. We've tried to schedule a Hangout over the last week, Marcus, but schedules have been an issue. Hopefully soon!