Maple Leafs Veterans Must Continue to Step up After One Week Hiatus

Phil Kessel has played well for the Leafs through games one and two (Tim Alamenciak, Flickr)

The Toronto Maple Leafs are hot out of the gate for a second straight season, which could mean good or bad things depending on how you look at it.

Just as everyone expected, James Reimer is stealing the show once again. He made 32 saves in a 2-0 shutout victory over the Montreal Canadiens in the season opener before making 27 stops (albeit he did allow five goals) on Saturday night against the Ottawa Senators.

One thing that’s obvious is that the Maple Leafs have been giving up too many shots during their first two games; 32 in each contest.

There have been some good things about the Leafs’ defence, though, such as the performances of John-Michael Liles, Carl Gunnarsson and most notably Dion Phaneuf. Those three defencemen have plus-2, plus-2 and plus-4 ratings respectively, as well as a combined five points.

In particular, Phaneuf has looked very impressive. His one goal, three points and above-mentioned plus-4 rating make him one of the league’s top defencemen through the first two games of the season. He hasn’t been shy about using his body to make a play either.

Also stepping up for the Leafs offensively has been Phil Kessel, as well as Joffrey Lupul and Matthew Lombardi.

Kessel is currently riding a 12-game point streak that dates back to the 2010-2011 regular season. He scored a hat-trick on Saturday night and has two assists to boot, making him the Leafs’ leading scorer with five points.

Lupul, meanwhile, has picked up where he left off last season as well. In two games, the 28-year-old has racked up four points (one goal, three assists) and a plus-3 rating.

Lombardi, who wasn’t even supposed to be ready for the start of the season if you asked the Nashville Predators three months ago, is the feel-good story of the three. He scored the Leafs’ first goal of the season on Thursday night and now finds himself with two points in the first two games.

None of the players mentioned above can afford to stop now, though. In fact, if this team really believes that they can make the playoffs, they are going to need to push harder.

With a full week off between games (October 15 against Calgary being their next), the Maple Leafs have a perfect opportunity. The team will be able to rest and relax for seven days, while taking part of their week to spend time at CFB Trenton as part of a team bonding retreat.

While away in Trenton, Ontario, the Leafs will participate in activities that are meant to help build team chemistry among one of the youngest teams in the National Hockey League. This will be especially important for kids such as Jake Gardiner and Matt Frattin, both of whom have had very little time, if any, to get to know what their teammates are really like.

After their week off the Leafs will return home to Toronto where they will face off against the Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche and Winnipeg Jets in games three, four and five of a five-game home stand to begin the season. These five home games could prove to be crucial in March and April if the Leafs are battling for a playoff spot.

This ties their longest streak of home games and the Leafs will only get one more shot at this later in the season.

Making things better for the Maple Leafs is the fact that four of the five teams they are facing during this home stand failed to make the playoffs in 2011, with the one team that did, the Canadiens, having already been defeated.

Now is the time for the veterans to lead the way and the youngsters to show up and go hard. So far, that is what we have seen from them, and it must stay that way in order to succeed.