Toronto - October 14, 2014 - It was a rollercoaster weekend for Leaf fans after two blowouts in back to back games, one of the good kind and one of the bad. Let’s start with the bad.
On Hockey Night in Canada, the Leafs lost 5-2 at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins. It was a night where Crosby and Malkin both scored 1 goal and got 2 assists as the Leafs looked lost in every aspect of their game. The first line would have been more useful coming out during commercial breaks with shovels and scraping the ice. Meanwhile the defence was a mess and Bernier continued to struggle in net, which raises questions about the health of his knee. All in all the Leafs looked flat out bad. Lupul, Kadri and Stuart Percy looked the least bad.
Now onto the good. Sunday night the Leafs blew out the New York Rangers 6-3. Considering that a few months ago the Rangers were in the Stanley Cup finals, most would have expected a reversal of the scoreboard, especially after Saturday’s loss to the Penguins. However this was not to be the case.
The top line looked like a top line with Kessel getting a goal and two assists while James van Reimsdyk and Tyler Bozak each had a goal and an assist. In the end the Leafs had 6 goals from 6 different players including David Clarkson, Nazem Kadri and Cody Franson. This is the kind of production that Leaf fans were expecting from a team geared to win games by outscoring their opponent.
The top two lines looked good and played well, while the bottom two lines looked aggressive and did their jobs. The third line has arguably been the best line, at least in terms of fulfilling their assignment each night. Komarov, Santorelli and Clarkson are a line that need to forecheck and cycle the puck to create scoring opportunities. After 3 games they’ve produced 5 points on 14 shots while all having a plus/minus of 1. The only other Leafs player who is positive is winger Daniel Winnik who plays a similar grinding role. Once the third line really starts to click they should become a fan favourite.
Now onto a defence that looked awful on Saturday. In Sunday night’s game, Jake Gardiner was benched in favour of Cody Franson who saw his first game of the season start nicely with a power play goal at 7:45 of the first period. As for the decision to scratch Gardiner, it’s not my favorite choice but given the options it’s not a bad one either.
You cannot scratch the Captain, or the new guy you just gave an ‘A’ to in Robidas. Meanwhile Stuart Percy has arguably been the best defenceman on the team and Riley has been playing better than Gardiner. That leaves you with veteran Roman Polak and Jake Gardiner. Polak offers you size and a more defensively focused game than Gardiner so it is understandable that Gardiner drew the short straw. As for who will be scratched tonight against Colorado it is unclear, but I would expect it to be someone other than Gardiner.
Now onto the goalies, oh how we love a goalie competition in Toronto. After Bernier looked questionable at best against Pittsburgh, James Reimer got the start against the Rangers and looked good.
He looked good enough that I would say he should get the start tonight, if he hadn’t left the game after taking a knock to the head in the third period. Reimer has suffered two concussions previously (the first in 2011/12 after a hit the head from Brian Gionta and in 2013/14 after a hit the head from Jarret Stoll.) Reimer has a career save percentage of .914, however after each head injury his save percentage dropped down into the .875 range, so it would not surprise me if the Leafs aired on the side of caution with their goalie. Either way when Reimer is good to go, he deserves a serious shot at the starting job.
It was an up and down weekend for Leaf fans and I would not be shocked if that turned out to be the theme of the season. There will be more 6 goal games, this team has the talent to score, however they also are prone to allowing 6 goals, especially with both goalies potentially playing at less than 100%. Having what appears to be a lame duck head coach in Randy Carlyle could also nag the team. There are still so many elements of this team that are up in the air, it’s hard to imagine them being consistent in any way.
One thing that Leaf fans can be excited for though is the play of the Leafs young players. Stuart Percy, Brandon Kozun, and Morgan Riley all look poised to take their games to the next level. Perhaps an injection of youthful energy and optimism will be enough to push the Leafs in the playoffs.
The Leafs next game is Tonight in Toronto against the high flying Avalanche, a game that should make this teams direction a little clearer.
@RobMcPhee on Twitter.