The Toronto Maple Leafs are currently enjoying a team bonding trip to CFB Trenton, where they are taking part in various activities, as well as on-ice practice sessions at the RCAF Flyers Arena.
Activities include having lunch at and exploring the National Air Force Museum of Canada and going out for a ride in a Boeing C-17 Globemaster. According to James Mirtle of The Globe and Mail, CFB Trenton has asked the Maple Leafs to “keep most of what they’re doing fairly hush hush.”
The three-day trip comes as a nice getaway for Leafs players and coaches as they have a week off between games two and three of the 2011-2012 regular season. The team will host the Calgary Flames on Saturday night before playing the Colorado Avalanche and Winnipeg Jets, all at the Air Canada Centre. Prior to their week off, the Leafs defeated the Montreal Canadiens 2-0 and the Ottawa Senators 6-5.
Highlighting the Leafs’ first two games has been sophomore backstop James Reimer, who didn’t allow a goal through his first five periods of play and owns a .922 save percentage.
Also shining bright have been Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul, who have five and four points respectively. Dion Phaneuf has been the team’s top defenceman; he has three points, a plus-4 rating and laid out Ottawa’s Stephane Da Costa on Saturday night.
To go along with that, the Leafs have been receiving good news lately in terms of players coming back.
Clarke MacArthur will enter the Leafs’ top-six forward group while returning from a suspension that was handed to him during the preseason for an illegal hit to the head of Detroit’s Justin Abdelkader.
Nazem Kadri is expected to return sooner than expected (it was initially thought that he would miss up to four weeks with a sprained knee), and it is possible that centre Tim Connolly will also play for the Leafs on Saturday, which would mark his debut with the Buds. However, multiple reports do suggest that Connolly will miss one more game at least. Still, all of this is good news for the Leafs and their fans.
With all of that, do fans have reason to be optimistic and excited about the Leafs’ next few games? Certainly.
Should fans believe that this is what they will see from the Leafs in all 82 games: A get-it-done, hard-working, fast paced, goal scoring team? Certainly not.
You may recall a certain group of games from the 2010-2011 regular season. Maybe at the start of the season, when the Leafs went 4-0, collecting eight points and remaining at the top of the league standings. As everyone knows, though, the Leafs lost 11 of their next 12 games after that and finished the season eight points out of a playoff berth.
Something that is likely to end up working against the Maple Leafs at points during the season is their young goaltending.
Despite having such great statistics during the 2010-2011 campaign, there is no guarantee that Reimer will be able to shoulder the load of an entire season in one of, of not the most scrutinized hockey market. He looked very impressive during the first five periods of this season as he managed to stop all 48 shots that were thrown his way. However, he is the Leafs’ No. 1 goalie at the moment, with no proven veteran to fall back on. Instead, he has third-year goalie Jonas Gustavsson.
After appearing in 42 games and posting a 2.87 goals against average in his rookie season, Gustavsson played in just 23 games and had a 3.29 goals against average last season. He also spent time in the minors, which appeared to help him. Gustavsson never really got much of a shot in the NHL after that, though.
Now he is the man who must step in for Reimer if and when the sophomore does falter, which would most certainly be a pressure-packed position for Gustavsson to be in.
One more thing that presents a problem to the Leafs is their schedule. While they are currently enjoying a week off, things are about to get tough. The Maple Leafs will be happy to have three games at home starting Saturday, but they won’t come without plenty of action.
Starting Saturday, the Leafs will play a total of nine games until the month of November. That is a total of nine games in just 16 days, including a stretch of six games in 10 days. Included in those nine games will be two back-to-backs, as well as a meeting with the Boston Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins.
While it is possible for the Leafs to continue their current success and make the playoffs, it is unlikely, especially once teams above them are in mid-season form.
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