December Will Decide Season For Toronto Maple Leafs

November 29th, 2011 1 Comment

With a 14-8-2 record to start the season the Toronto Maple Leafs have surprised many. Front and centre has been Phil Kessel, who leads the NHL in goals (16) and points (31), while rounding out what many perceived to be a one-trick style of game.

Also in the mix as Toronto’s MVP has been Joffrey Lupul. He too has been lights out on more nights than not, registering 11 goals and 18 assists through 24 games played, good enough for 29 points, which gives Lupul a share of second overall in the scoring race.

On defense, Dion Phaneuf has looked like a player worthy of an all-star conversation, while veteran John-Michael Liles has brought an element of leadership and offensive flare to a lineup that was in desperate need of some depth.

Despite plenty of criticism for his horrible defensive play last season, Tyler Bozak has arguably been the Maple Leafs most improved player. Given the responsibility to fill in on the first line alongside Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul when Tim Connolly went down with injuries, Bozak has stepped up to the plate in a big way.

Through 22 games, Bozak has six goals and ten assists for a total of 16 points and is sitting with a plus/minus rating of +3—not bad for a player that registered just 32 points and emerged with a minus-29 rating just one season ago.

To be fair, the Maple Leafs have had plenty of hero’s this season.

In the absence of starting goaltender James Reimer, backup Jonas Gustavsson has stepped up his game, going undefeated in his past four games and putting up a 8-4-0 record on the season.

Joey Crabb has been solid, registering five goals, Mike Brown has contributed some much needed muscle, David Steckel has been excellent in the faceoff circle, while rookie defenseman Jake Gardiner has been a nice surprise.

Not to be forgotten, Tim Connolly has been a tremendous addition to the Leafs lineup, posting three goals and 12 points in 12 games. When healthy, Connolly has been amongst Toronto’s best forwards—a fact not lost on head coach Ron Wilson who continues to praise Connolly for his hard work and determination.

As great as things have been for the Blue and White, the month of December will likely be this season’s toughest test, as the Maple Leafs get set to play a total of 13 games, including a number of key matchups against Eastern Conference foes.

Toronto will start December off with a tilt against the mighty Boston Bruins—a team that has all but embarrassed the Maple Leafs thus far by disposing of the Blue and White by a combined margin of 13-2 in their first two matchups.

As great a challenge as the Bruins will be, there will be plenty more where that came from for the Maple Leafs.

Key games against the New York Rangers, New Jersey Devils, Washington Capitals (who just underwent a coaching change), Carolina Hurricanes (who also changed coaches. The Leafs will meet them twice), Buffalo Sabres (twice), Vancouver Canucks, Los Angeles Kings, New York Islanders, the much-improved Florida Panthers, ending with a match against the Winnipeg Jets on New Years Eve.

Eight of those 13 games will be played on the road and, given the success of their opponents thus far, at least ten of those games could go either way for the Buds.

With parity at an all-time high in the NHL it goes without saying that there are no easy nights. This fact is brought home when you consider that just three of the teams the Leafs will play in December—the Carolina Hurricanes, New York Islanders and Winnipeg Jets currently have records below .500.

Realistically, the Maple Leafs will be lucky to play .500 hockey in December. That said, if the Maple Leafs can escape December with that kind of success, it would appear as if the worst is over for the Blue and White and that a playoff birth, may be a reality for the much improved club.

As it stands right now, a total of six points separates the Maple Leafs (second overall in the Eastern Conference Standings) from the Montreal Canadiens, who currently occupy 12th spot in the East.

What it all means is that, while the Maple Leafs have been very successful thus far, things could go sour very quickly if the Buds do not respond with a great December.

It has been a while since the Hockey Gods brought the Leafs Nation anything good for Christmas, let’s hope this year is different.

Until next time,


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