Injuries, surging Marlies, goaltending issues, and not enough scoring have plagued the Leafs during the first month of the season. Things are improving though and the signs are there that that improvement will continue. We’ll take a look at the last month for the Maple Leafs in this edition of The Leafs Report.
It’s been a tough start to the season for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Not many things have gone right for the team as they’ve stumbled out of the gate to a 2-8-2 start. I think most of us thought it was going to be another rough season, but I don’t think many expected it to be quite this bad. Toronto currently sits dead last in the entire NHL with only 6 points. As difficult as it has been to watch the losses pile up, there are some great signs that point to brighter days ahead.
Dion Phaneuf has been a much better all-around player this year and leads all Leafs with 8 points (all assists) in 12 games played. Now everyone may still want to ship him out for whatever we can get, but Dion has been a very underrated part of the offense this year and pretty solid in the backend. He’s only a +1, but with a lot of players being -3,4, and 5 on this team, it’s an underlying positive. Dion has been caught out of position far less this year and hasn’t had to be a workhorse as consistently either. His play has improved and we as fans should be grateful for that.
Leo Komarov and Joffrey Lupul are tied for the team lead in goals with 5. Who would have thought Leo would be one of our top scorers? The feisty forward has been a consistent contributor every game and is always in the other team’s face. Though he is a bit overpaid, Leo brings a dynamic that Toronto hasn’t had for a while; an agitator who can hurt you on the scoreboard. Darcy Tucker was the last Leaf who did that well and while Komarov isn’t quite at that level, he very well could be and is definitely a player to watch. Lupul has had a bit of a resurgence this year after so many injuries the past few years. I wrote before that Lupul would have to stay healthy and hopefully return to form for him to be a useful piece to this organization and he has done that. I’ve always liked Lupul and if he can stay healthy, I’d love to have him around for the long run.
Speaking of injuries, the injury bug has once again caught up to the Maple Leafs. A week or so ago it was Tyler Bozak, Nick Spaling, and Jake Gardiner with injuries that saw them miss time, now it’s Scott Harrington and Jonathan Bernier that have gone down. Add Stephane Robidas and Nathan Horton who both may never play again and that’s 7 active roster players that Toronto can’t utilize. Say what you will about teams facing adversity, but it’s hard to take away all that talent and still ice a competitive team and Toronto is going through those pains right now. Every team has these kinds of problems, but the Leafs don’t have the NHL depth to replace the guys that are going down. The good news about that is, the Marlies are stocked with young talent hungry for a chance.
Speaking of the Marlies, this team has been on quite a tear as of late. They’ve gone 8-3-0 this season only allowing 24 goals in 11 games while scoring 40! William Nylander has 10 points in 10 games with 4 other players at 8 and 7 points respectively. Even backup goaltender Garret Sparks has a .933 save percentage through 5 games including a shutout against Hartford the other night. The Marlies are a sign of what’s to come in Toronto and there are at least 3 to 4 players who could be ready next or should be playing right now. The future looks better than ever in Toronto and Mitch Marner hasn’t even made the jump to the AHL yet.
There is a lot of good to be said about how Toronto is playing right now. They may not be winning a lot of games and they may be getting outshot, but the little things are starting to come together. The team is playing with a higher compete level than ever before and don’t give up on themselves like they had in the past. Players are held accountable now and no one’s spot is safe. Babcock isn’t afraid to bench players if they’re under-performing in his eyes and the players have more motivation to put forth a solid effort. Guys like Nazem Kadri and Brad Boyes have been good examples of that. Both players haven’t found the net much this season, but they’re been going hard at the net and have made some good plays. Some goals are definitely going to come to those too if they keep playing hard. James Reimer has shown that same consistency even if he’s had a bad game. Reimer always competes and always gives it his all. He shakes off bad plays focuses on the game. That’s the type of goalie we need and the type of goalie he can be. Reimer just needs to work on his catching ability and his five-hole as there are still too many suspect goals in those spots of the net.
Jonathan Bernier has flipped with Reimer in my eyes since my last article. Bernier has seemed very unfocused and prone to giving up bad goals this year and it has really cost the team some games. Now Bernier is injured and I haven’t seen any word on the injury, but I wonder if it was pre-existing and it was hampering his play. I guess we won’t know the answer to that anytime soon, but it is alarming that our supposed number 1 goalie is down with an injury and that not much has been said about it.
On a bit of a personal note, I went to my first Maple Leafs game in Toronto at the Air Canada Centre on October 26th against the Arizona Coyotes. It was great to see the team I grew up watching live and in person for the very first time. It was so surreal to see all of those players up close and to get to be there with all of the other fans. It’s an expensive ticket, no doubt, but it’s worth every penny to go and see the Leafs live and in person at the ACC. There is nothing like it when the Leafs score a goal, no matter how bad the team is doing, the place still goes crazy. I only hope that one day I can be there for a Playoff game.
The Leafs face the Detroit Red Wings tonight at the Air Canada Centre at 7:00pm. The Wings lead the season series 1-0 after a 4-0 win October 9th at Joe Louis Arena against the Leafs. The Leafs will then travel to Washington to face the Capitals on Hockey Night in Canada tomorrow night at 7:00pm. Thanks for reading The Leafs Report!