The Toronto Maple Leafs are coming together as a team under the new philosophy of Randy Carlyle and are finding out success comes with its own series of problems. Key players who have been injured are gradually getting healthier and forcing the Leafs to make tough decisions with the current depth of the team. These are the kind of problems good teams have and are a welcome change from the problems the Leafs have had in previous years.
A concussion in December set defensemen Jake Gardiner back this season and after struggling coming back he was sent down to the Toronto Marlies. Gardiner is getting healthy again and Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins said Gardiner played his best game of the season on Monday.
“I think I can always get better,” said Gardiner. “It’s obviously not good enough yet. I’m trying to improve every day and I’m trying to get back to the NHL.”
After contracts broke down between restricted free agent Ryan O’Reilly and the Colorado Avalanche the rumour mill is swirling about the young talented center. With Tyler Bozak, Mikhail Grabovski, and Nazem Kadri crowing the position at center should the Leafs go after this potential star?
O’Reilly is a 2nd round (33rd overall) pick of the Colorado Avalanche. He played his junior career with the Ontario Hockey League’s Eerie Otters after being drafted first overall in the 2007 OHL draft. O’Reilly spent two years playing for the Otters putting up 52 points in his first year and 66 points in his second. In his final year with the Otters O’Reilly was named the Western conference’s best penalty killer.
After being drafted O’Reilly made the Avalanche in his first season eligible. He found a spot as a defensive expert on the third line and finished sixth among forwards in ice time on the penalty kill as an 18 year old rookie. He continued his solid defensive play in his second year in the NHL.
The Toronto Maple Leafs returned home to the Air Canada Centre tonight and proved they can win at home. Hot on a four game winning streak they proved confidence was all they needed at the Air Canada Centre after convincingly beating the Philadelphia Flyers 5-2.
The Leafs victories are snowballing and they are becoming a more convincing team as they bond together and buy into Randy Carlyle’s system. The offense was there last season but the defense has improved dramatically from 3.16 goals against per game last season to 2.54 this year. This difference is sparked by their goaltending which has been better than anyone expected. While there was some panic when Reimer got injured backup goaltender Ben Scrivens came in and shut the door stopping 32 of 33 shots in just 36 minutes of play. While Reimer has been solid, Scrivens led the American Hockey League with the lowest goals against average of any goaltender last season and will be able to start for the amount of time needed until Reimer gets back. Reimer has a MCL sprain so Scrivens will have to be solid for at least the next week.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are looking to prove critics wrong and finally make the playoffs. Several pundits have been predicting the Leafs will fall outside the playoff picture for the 8th season in a row but predictions are made on past history and people are afraid to predict things that break the trend and often fail to take into account the value of coaching and defence.
“When you’re the butt of jokes in the hockey world it’s not fun and we take that very seriously,” Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle said. “What we’ve tried to do is create an atmosphere we can be proud of, and try to earn respect back for the organization.”
Look at the predictions made for the 2011-2012 season; no one saw the Florida Panthers and St. Louis Blues breaking out to finish as high as they did. Florida and St Louis were counted out because of a lack of star power and a history of failure but both teams proved critics wrong with strong defensive play and coaching. Thomas Fleischmann, the Panthers leading scorer only had 61 points and The Blues scoring leader David Backes only had 54 points.
Forwards: Lupul – Bozak – Kessel, MacArthur – Grabovski – Kulemin,Van Riemsdyk – Kadri – Komarov, Steckel – McClement – Orr
Defence: Phaneuf – Kostka, Liles – Franson, Gunnarsson – Komisarek
Goaltenders: Scrivens (Win, 60 mins played, 21 Saves, 1GA)
Mike Kostka had an amazing NHL debut playing top defensive minutes with Toronto Maple Leafs Captain Dion Phaneuf. The pair played shutdown defence and were key to holding off the Montreal Canadiens late game surge for a 2-1 Leafs win.
“He was a dominant player,” Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said of Kostka.”It really is astounding that he hasn’t played a game in the league.” The 27 year old played his career in the minors looking for a chance to make the NHL played 22:59.
The powerplay is what made the difference for the Leafs as Nazem Kadri and Tyler Bozak pitched in with two quick powerplay goals to put the Leafs up 2-0. Kadri was a solid presence on the ice, scoring, creating offensive opportunities and drawing penalties.
Ben Scrivens was solid, stopping 21 of 22 shots to out duel Carey Price in the low scoring game.