Tuesday, November 25, 2014

21 Games in; The Leafs are, who we thought they were

Typically, the 20 game mark the NHL season is a benchmark, when a fan bases can start to evaluate the team they watch on a nightly basis, however, in a season full of ups, downs and sometimes lefts and rights, I'm not 100% sure what the Leafs are.

The Leafs have 21 games played, hold a record of 11-8-2, 24 Pts and sit 6th in the conference. Compared to last year at the same mark (13-3-1, 27 Pts) , the Leafs are slightly regressed, in terms of overall record that is. This time last year the Leafs were playing way above their heads, at an unsustainable level for the roster they had.All through the season the analytics crowd was predicting the eventual collapse, which as we all know, occurred in the last stretch of the season where the Leafs went 2-12-0 I'm 14 games. Although they may have a worse W-L record, it is refreshing in the sense that it better indicates where the team is at skill wise. 20 games in to this season and we have already experienced a roller coaster of emotions surrounding this team.

It seems as though every week the Leafs will lose a couple of games, sometimes in miraculous fashion, and the fan base is calling for everyone to be fired, and all the players to be traded, then, almost as if nothing has happened the team will win a few games and just like that the Leafs are headed to the playoffs and everything is right in Leafs nation. Here's the thing with this team, they had been involved in 3 blowout losses, of course headlined by the 9-2 shellacking at the hands of the red hot Nashville Predators, and the 6-2 loss to the bottom dwelling Buffalo Sabres. On the other hand, the Leafs have experienced a few dominating wins, most recently of course when the Leafs Boston Bruined the Boston Bruins 6-1, in a game where Phil Kessel scored 2G and looked phenomenal. The point is, the Leafs aren't as bad as they play when they get blown out, nor are they as good as they play when they are the team doing the blowing out. With all of the ups and downs so far this season, a few players have managed to rise above and maintain a high level of play.

I've eluded to this before, but I'll say it again, as a fan base, we don't realize how lucky we are to have Phil Kessel on our team, and this season he is providing even more evidence that he is an elite player in the NHL. Kessel has 11G, 12A, 23 Pts and has remained in the top 10 in league scoring for most, if not all of the season so far. Kessel, not only looks elite on his own,but he makes another player on the roster look like the number one centre we al know he is not. Whether you like him or dislike him, and despite his lack of defensive ability, Tyler Bozak (8G, 11A, 19Pts) is playing at an even higher level than he was last year, a feat no one thought was possible coming in to this year. Now, this could be in direct relation to the fact Kessel has also upped his level of play this year, regardless Bozak is producing at a pace that will see him have another career year. The final stand out from the first quarter of the season is none other than everyone's favourite family member, uncle Leo. Komarov (2G, 12A, 14pts) has made glorious return to the Leafs this season and has done nothing but impress all year long. Not only with his production (which is higher Nazem Kadri) but his ability to elevate the players he is alongside (David Clarkson) as well as developing some great chemistry with Mike Santorelli, all while continuing to be the hitting machine we have come to know and love (90 in 21GP). As awful as the Leafs defence has looked at times, an honourable mention has to go to Roman Polak, as well as the captain.

  Originally the Leafs were believed to have brought in Stephane Robidas to assist in alleviating some of the pressure from Dion Phaneuf, however, it seems Polak has stepped in to that role, and, in my opinion done an admirable job. Polak (3G, 2A, 5pts) isn't wowing anyone with his point production, or athleticism, but he has been among league leaders in shot blocks (51) and hits (83) and often times has lead the Leafs in ice time. When Polak isn't leading the Leafs defence in ice time, often times that will mean captain Dion Phaneuf is. Phaneuf has made his mistakes this season, as any defenceman will, however he is still playing in a role which does not suit him, therefore making his mistakes look that much worse. Whether he is a top pairing defenceman or not, he is the best the Leafs have, and is playing well through the first 21 games. Hopefully all of these players continue to produce as the season goes on and we can witness Phil Kessel break the 100 point mark, as good as these players have been, there are some things to keep an eye on as the season progresses.

As the Leafs move in to the next portion of their season, here are few things I'll be watching for;

- Will JVR be able to step away from his streaky play and have some consistency in his game
- Will David Clarkson continue to produce and settle in to a third line role which he is better suited
-Can Jonathan Bernier take the reigns and finally claim the #1 job, and return his play to a level closer to what we saw last year
-Does Randy Carlyle last the rest of the season behind the bench
-How will David Booth fit in to the lineup, and if he is successful, will that set the table for a possible Joffrey Lupul trade

   In a season riddled with controversies such as salute gate and jersey throwers, the media, fan base and players are intertwined in what appears to be a never ending game of finger pointing and he said, she said, they said, or in Phil Kessel's case, he didn't say. Regardless of what goes on in the media, the Leafs appear to be what many of us thought they were; a bubble team that will compete for a playoff spot and finish anywhere from 6-10 in the east. Personally, I look forward to seeing how this season unfolds, as always there is never a dull moment when it comes to the Leafs, and with all the questions still left to be answered surrounding the team, from front office, to players, there is no doubt it will be fun to watch it all unfold.

What has impressed you most so far about the Leafs? What are some things you're looking for as the season progresses, comment below !

No comments: