Toronto Maple Leafs Have Room To Improve
An opening night win in Montreal against the Canadiens, followed by a win in Philadelphia against the Flyers, have the Blue and White at the top of the NHL standings as the first team to earn a 2-0 record.
Solid performances from both James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier will complicate head coach Randy Carlyle’s decision as to which goaltender will start Saturday night at the Air Canada Centre against the Ottawa Senators. Needless to say, having to choose between two good goaltenders can hardly be called a “problem”, rather, it is a nice decision for coach Carlyle to have to make.
Up front the usual suspects have been contributing for the Leafs.
Fresh off the announcement of his 8-year/$64 million deal, Phil Kessel scored his first goal Wednesday night (Happy Birthday Phil!), while James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak have also lit the lamp.
Newcomers Mason Raymond (1) and Dave Bolland (2), have also contributed key goals, as has defenseman Dion Phaneuf. In Bolland, Carlyle has a solid two-way forward who knows how to find the net, as witnessed by his 2-goal performance against the Flyers.
Early season letdowns would have to include forward Nazem Kadri, who has been inconsistent and the play of defenseman Paul Ranger, who has been suspect on more than his fair share of plays.
Nikolai Kulemin has contributed two assists. While it is still too early to suggest the Kulemin of old is back, Carlyle has to be encouraged by what he has seen out of the 27-year old native of Magnitogrsk, Russia.
As good as the Maple Leafs have been through two games, there is room for improvement.
Toronto has given up a total of 11 power play opportunities thus far. Thankfully, the Leafs have only surrendered one short handed goal, but that number will change should the Buds continue to play undisciplined hockey.
Kadri has shown splashes of brilliance, but he has been inconsistent on the forecheck and has just three shots on goal. Kadri has also struggled in the faceoff circle, winning just 48 percent of his draws. To be fair, Dave Bolland has also struggled in the faceoff circle (46.2%), but he has two goals, including the game winner against the Flyers last night, so he gets a mulligan.
Defenseman Carl Gunnarsson leads the team with four giveaways, but he also leads the team with seven blocked shots. Like Ranger, Gunnarsson has struggled to find his game, leading to some questionable plays in his own end. The lackadaisical play of both Ranger and Gunnarsson should open up the door for talented rookie Morgan Rielly to get a start in the not so distant future.
The good news is, while not perfect, Toronto has played well enough to win both games. Timely goals, taking advantage of their power play opportunities and excellent goaltending has made the difference for the Leafs.
Thus far, Toronto has exhibited a nice mix of skill, speed, toughness and grit. And, it appears as if things are going to get better.