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Keys to the Leafs Continuing Their Early Success

If one were to ask any Toronto Maple Leafs fan their opinion on the Leafs 10-5-0 month of October, I can guarantee a majority of them will be very pleased with the result. The Leafs ended the first month of play, a month filled with injuries to Joffrey Lupul, Mark Fraser, Nikolai Kulemin, and a 10-game suspension to David Clarkson, in a prime playoff position, so it should come as no surprise many are ecstatic about Toronto’s start.

If the Leafs are going to continue down the path of success this season, they are going to need some parts of their game to continue their excellent play, as well as a need to address a few key issues that plague this team. Many nights the Leafs have won ugly, and by that I mean they have won a couple games in which they truly deserved to lose. If the Leafs want to continue to produce points like an elite-level playoff team, here is what is going to have to happen.

Continuation of Consistent Goaltending: Anyone who has played hockey knows that even on nights where the teams is not playing at its finest, a reliable goaltender can not only steal you games, but provide a confidence boost as well. Even though the Leafs seem to be getting outshot every night, both James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier have been solid between the pipes, sporting stats of 4-1-0 with a 2.36 GAA/.942 SV% and 6-4-0 with a 2.31 GAA/.933 SV%. When your goaltenders are putting up quality numbers like this, it give a team not playing up to par a chance to win every night. These two may also face a lot of shots per game, but strictly speaking from an observational standpoint, many nights the majority of those shots are low quality shots.

Stop the Turnovers: Throughout the first month of the season, the Leafs appear to be the league poster boy for turnovers. As of Nov. 5, Toronto has eight players, Phil Kessel, Morgan Rielly, Carl Gunnarsson, Cody Franson, Dion Phaneuf, Paul Ranger, Joffrey Lupul, and Nazem Kadri, all in the top 30 in the NHL in terms of giveaways. There appear to be two reasons for the amount of turnovers. First is questionable passing. There have been many instances, with Kadri jumping to mind as the leader of this, where the boys in blue and white are making bad passes you would not see at the house league level. The other reason for the turnovers is due to a poor breakout. It is no wonder so many Leafs defensemen are in this list, as the forwards rarely give them options on the breakout. You cannot have two wingers at a standstill by the oppositions blue line, it’s too easy to defend against.

Improved Forecheck: It is hard to win games when you do not have possession due to coughing up the puck, but it is also hard to win when you dump the puck and then put no pressure on the defense. This has been a trend for the Leafs all year: run into trouble, get possession, dump and change with no pressure, other team bring it out of their end easily, and repeat the cycle. Also, if you are going to work a dump and chase without needed to change lines, make sure the wingers are moving into the opposing zone when you dump. Like the giveaway situation, dump and chase cannot work if your players are stationary during the dump in; you need to dump it in while they’re on their stride in so that they put immediate pressure on the opposition. It may seem basic, but it is something Toronto has not been doing.

Better Faceoff Numbers: Remember how I said it is tough to win without possession? Well losing faceoffs, especially in the your own end, does not help that cause. As of this writing, the only Leaf with a faceoff win percentage above 50% is Jay McClement. It is great that McClement, one of the leagues best penalty killers, is winning draws in clutch situations but the other centremen need to start winning some puck drops. Number one centre Bozak is currently at 46.2%, Kadri at 43.7%, and Dave Bolland is struggling at 41.3%. Those numbers have to get better.

Many Need to Step-Up Their Game: This may sound like a broad statement, but it is going to have to happen. Even with Kulemin back and Fraser set to return shortly, the Leafs have been bitten by the injury bug again with Bolland, who has arguably been their best all-around skater, as well as Bozak missing extending periods. Missing two of your top three centres would be a detriment to any team, and it leaves the Leafs with James van Riemsdyk, Kadri, McClement, and Trevor Smith as the four centremen. This will require van Riemsdyk, who has never played centre in the NHL, to adapt quickly, and also force Smith to possibly step in for the role that Bolland played on the penalty kill. Also, the Leafs need more out of both David Clarkson and Mason Raymond. Clarkson may be doing what he does best, hitting and smashing into opposing players, but his offensive numbers are going to have to improve. He only has one assist in five games, and is a -2. Raymond may have 11 points, but at times, he may as well be a ghost on the ice, especially when it comes to his forechecking ability.

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