Five Things The Maple Leafs Must Do To Be Successful In 2012

December 31st, 2011 3 Comments

Just shy of 40 games into the 2011-12 season and the Toronto Maple Leafs are exactly where many pundits thought they would be.

For some, it was in a playoff position—which the Maple Leafs are. For others, it was fighting for a playoff spot—which after tonight’s tilt against the Winnipeg Jets, might just be where the Maple Leafs are.

Either way, as good as the Maple Leafs have been, what it amounts to are results that are just a little north of mediocre. Case and point, the average NHL team has earned about 41 points. Through 37 games, the Maple Leafs have earned 41 points!

So, what will it take for the Maple Leafs to have a successful 2012?

For some, a successful season will only be so should the Maple Leafs make the playoffs. For others, a successful season would have to see the Buds win a playoff round, never mind just making the playoffs.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at five things the Maple Leafs must do to be successful in 2012.

James Reimer Must Step Up His Game:

They say an NHL team is only is good as their goaltender. When you look at the Maple Leafs record this year, this sentiment rings true—when their goalies have been good, the Blue and White have earned their fair share of wins, when their goalies have struggled, the Maple Leafs have fallen short of expectations.

As great as the Maple Leafs have been offensively, defense and goaltending have been  two areas of concern for the Buds.

The return of James Reimer to the lineup has resulted in few wins. At 3-4-3 in their past ten games the Maple Leafs look destined to miss the playoffs. In the minds of many, only a return to last years form from Reimer will get the Maple Leafs in the playoffs. Should he fail, the Blue and White are going to be golfing early, as usual.

Ron Wilson Must Figure Out The Penalty Kill:

On June 10, 2008, Ron Wilson was hired as the Maple leafs head coach. Wilson has done a lot of great things for the Buds, where he has failed is getting his troops to succeed on the penalty kill.

The Maple Leafs finished the 2008-09 season with the 30th ranked penalty kill at 74.7 percent. The 2009-10 season ended with the Maple Leafs ranked 30th on the PK with a success rate of 74.6 percent. the 2010-11 season ended with the Maple Leafs ranked 28th overall on the PK with a success rate of 77.4 percent. This season, the Maple Leafs are currently ranked 30th overall on the PK with a success rate of 72.5 percent.

Personnel changes, coaching changes and tactical changes have failed to produce acceptable results on the PK. Success on the PK has eluded Ron Wilson for four straight seasons, it’s high time he (and his troops) figured it out.

Luke Schenn Must Show Up:

One of the areas the Maple Leafs have been weak in all season long has been in the physical department. A big reason for their failures has been the ordinary play of defenseman Luke Schenn, who went from a defensive standout in 2010-11, to a borderline flop in 2011-12.

Schenn put together his best season as a pro in 2010-11, averaging 22:22 in ice time, scoring five goals and netting 22 points, while leading all defensemen with 251 hits, good enough for eighth overall. Schenn also had an impressive 168 blocked shots, which ranked him 12th overall.

This season Schenn has been a shadow of the player he was in 2010-11, averaging 16:53 of ice time, registering one goal and 11 points through 36 games, 113 hits and a paltry 60 blocked shots.

When you pro-rate Schenn’s hits and points he should come close to last years totals. Where Schenn has fallen short is in the time-on-ice department, a lack of blocked shots, while his defensive play has dropped dramatically.

Poor positioning, getting caught flat-footed and a lack of overall toughness have plagued Schenn’s game all season long, resulting in a huge reduction in ice time.

The Maple Leafs need Schenn to bang, make life difficult for opposing forwards in front of the net and make timely hits. With Mike Komisarek and John-Michael Liles currently out of the Leafs’ lineup the Buds need Schenn to step up.

Toronto Maple Leafs General manager Brian Burke showed Schenn the money this summer, it would be nice if he proved he was worth the investment.

Get Healthy:

Injuries can make or break an NHL teams chances at a playoff spot. Throughout the 2011-12 season the Maple Leafs have had to deal with a number of ailments to key players, including concussion-like symptoms/concussions to James Reimer, Colby Armstrong and John-Michael Liles and a number of other long and short term injuries to Tyler Bozak, Tim Connolly, Mike Brown, Matthew Lombardi, Phillippe Dupuis and Clarke MacArthur, to name a few.

Fortunately, the Maple Leafs top line of Bozak, Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul have been healthy thus far, but with news hitting that Bozak may be out after falling into the boards earlier this week, the Buds may be in for another adjustment period.

Injuries are part of the game and are felt by every NHL team. That said, with much of the Maple Leafs roster already on the shelf, they can ill-afford to have anyone else go on the disabled list—especially any of their top-six forwards.

Burke has done a reasonable job of building a measure of depth both at the NHL and AHL levels. That said, look for Burke to go out and acquire a few players at the trade deadline in an effort to off-set any additional injuries that may come the Blue and White’s way.

Kessel and Lupul Must Stay Focused:

When the 2011-12 season began nobody predicted the Toronto Maple Leafs would have two players in the top ten of the scoring race.

Fortunately, Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul have combined for 74 points (37 points each), making them one of the NHL’s most feared combo’s which, in turn, has put the Maple Leafs where they are in the standings.

While hockey is a team game, much of the Maple Leafs success has been predicated on a the great offensive output from Kessel and Lupul. Should Kessel and Lupul sputter, the Maple Leafs will be hard-pressed to earn enough wins to get them into the playoffs.

In order to avoid a power outage, we’ll assume Burke is looking to bolster the Maple Leafs top-six forwards (maybe Nazem Kadri can be this player?) and/or tweak the bottom six where the Buds could use an offensive spark and a defensive specialist.

Until next time,

Peace!

3 Comments

  1. Dave says:

    You will probably disagree however, I for one say the Leafs need only start with one move in 2012 to immediatley improve the club:

    FIRE RON WILSON!!!!!!!!!!!!

    A pipe dream I know, but man I’m starting to get angry!!!!!!!!

    The article is a nice read is always brother….I’m just too mad to put anything else together for a reply.

    Dave

  2. MarkRitter says:

    Hey Dave— Happy New Year!

    I never really rang in on the subject, but I really feel the timing of the Wilson extension was curious. I have been on the fence about Wilson for quite some time now. The clubs improvement on offense is unreal, but as everyone knows, the team D and PK has been horrible. Part of the problem on the PK is execution, the other being Wilson’s ability to game plan it. Another thought is that Wilson never really had the right players to get the job done. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. The question is— would a coaching change change the performance of the PK? Is it all Wilson’s fault? And what of the new assistants— were they not supposed to fix what ails the PK? With that in mind I think it’s more of a personnel issue, the players simply are not getting it done. I find it hard to believe Wilson will be around much longer should the team continue to fail. If this losing streak lasts much longer the story will be that the players have stopped playing for Wilson, which should spell his demise.

    Be well Bro!

  3. scott says:

    Wilson should have been fired, not given a contract extension! We need somebody in Toronto with more fire and excitement as a coach! Is it Doug Gilmour’s time??? Maybe not but somebody with a little more life than Wilson. Let’s give Schenn a chance to finish the season strong! There has been alot of issues with defense this year but i still think he is one of our best defensemen! I say if the opportunity presents itself, trade Grabowski! I am not saying give him away but if it makes sense, trade him! The goalie issue seems to be getting better with the monster stepping up and playing well lately. I do not thinking either one of these goalies are the future of the maple leafs. I do not have the answer as to who is. Lets see if Reimer can step up his game and finish strong this season. Lets hope we finish strong and work hard towards the cup!!

    Scott

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