Essential Hockey: The Toronto Maple Leafs After Burke
Hey, should the fans in Toronto be excited right now? Yeah, hell yeah!
It’s time to get excited because the team is not only on an impressive run, boasting a record of 7-3 in the last ten, but is winners of two games in a row, and a Maple Leafs goalie has posted back to back shutouts – strange, but true. But for me what is really uplifting for the organization is that its the young guys who are leading the way too. Nazem Kadri has a team leading 14 points, James van Riemsdyk has eight goals, and Matt Frattin has 7 goals. Add to the fact that Tyler Bozak (faceoff monster) and Phil Kessel continue to produce along the way and you have a fairly potent offense. That kind of productions up and down the line up has provided the Leafs with an ability to grab points.
After 16 games, they have managed to amass enough points to be sitting tied with Boston (Boston has 3 games less played) and are only one point behind Montreal for the Northeast Division lead. Has the road been perfect so far? No, of course not. But Toronto has managed two big wins against Montreal this season, one of which was a fairly impressive one – a six-nothing beatdown. They have also downed fairly good teams like Ottawa, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Philadelphia, and were very competitive in the single Boston battle so far.
The Toronto Maple leafs also are 20-21 on penalty kills over the last six games. Not shabby to say the least.
“I said it two days ago, a shutout is a team stat, it’s not strictly a goaltender stat. The guys did a great job killing penalties, blocking shots, making smart plays at both the offensive and defensive blue lines and letting me see the puck. So, much of the credit goes to them.” ~ Scrivens
That is Ben Scrivens being modest, but what he says may have some truth to it; after all, hockey is a true team sport.
Last year, after 16 games the Leafs were rocking a 10-5-1 record, and as you can tell it is very similar to the one they have right now. Last year they also beat Montreal twice and had big victories against good clubs like NY Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Ottawa, New Jersey, and St.Louis Blues. They continued to be fairly successful until a mid-season collapse in February where during a 21 game span they only were able to win only four times. Mid-February is behind them now.
So what is different this season?
For one, this season is a shortened one. With 48 games smashed together we have much more chance for chance to happen. A puck bounce here and a hot rookie there will yield your team a playoff spot. This could be the case with Toronto right now.
The hard work of now Ex-GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs Brian Burke is paying off. He got most of these pieces that, right now at this moment, producing a team that is sitting in a playoff spot, and playing hard for the Air Canada Centre faithful. Burke brought in JVR, Bozak (undrafted), Kessel, Kadri, Lupul, Franson, Phaneuf, and Ben Scrivens (undrafted), all of whom are pivotal pieces in current success and will need to continue to perform for the Leafs to finally make the playoffs for the first time in over seven years.
These are just some of the pieces that Burke was putting together to try and form a team from homegrown talent with few key pieces added through trades. He may have been let go before this short season started, but the product on the ice that you see right now is completely his doing. The scoring depth is much better this season, which is helping the Leafs look better than average so far. Their top three lines can all produce, and while some may predict the rookies to slow down, I do not see them fading away completely.
With Lupul and Frattin out, we have some depth weaknesses that have started to show, yet the team is still able to win due to the amount of hard working players the team has. They are bending, not breaking. In almost every game you will find that Toronto Maple Leafs have out-hit their opponents (playing that good old Donald Stewart “Grapes” Cherry hockey). Led by Leo Komarov, a hitting machine, and when you are out hitting other teams it usually means you are out skating them as well. For better or worse the Toronto Maple Leaf hockey is helluva fun to watch.
My outlook on this team is one of a fairly bright future. While the schedule will only get harder with more games against Boston, NY Rangers, Devils, and other top Eastern Conference teams, this team can hang with the best. Goaltending aside, Scrivens and Reimer have put up very good numbers so far anyway, the team has a capable blue line, with Lupuls return a fairly deep top six, and a young group graduating to be big time.
This team is not a Stanley Cup contender just yet, but finding themselves in the post season could mean everything to this very proud franchise.