After a long up and down ride, the 2011-2012 regular season is over. That gives us all a great chance to look back on the season that was and reflect on all that went down.
It was a rather eventful campaign for the Toronto Maple Leafs; one that went from triumph to devastation. Now we must take a close look back and examine not only what went wrong, but also what went right.
We now start a three-part series on the Leafs’ 2011-2012 campaign, kicking things off by looking in the mirror at what was expected of the team heading into the season, to what everyone experienced as it progressed.
After another playoff-less season in 2010-2011, Leaf fans were beginning to grow disgusted and restless with their team’s lack of success over recent years. Now with James Reimer in net and a play maker to centre Phil Kessel, things looked promising.
Reimer gave Leaf fans hope as the new season approached after posting a .921 save percentage and a 2.60 goals against average in his rookie season. The only question mark seemed to be at the backup role, where Jonas Gustavsson had struggled in his NHL career up to that point.
An exciting season
A young squad with some high-flying players and a team that appeared to be on the upswing after a season that brought many improvements just one year prior, there was enough reason to expect an exciting and eventful season in 2011-2012.
A consistently successful team
This one may come as somewhat of a head scratcher, although a strong start had fans thinking this year’s team would be consistently successful. That made sense given how the Leafs had been playing at the time.
40 goals from Phil Kessel
Now playing with Tim Connolly and Joffrey Lupul full time, why wouldn’t to expect to see Kessel score 40 after three straight seasons of at least 30 goals?
As it turned out, this season ended up just being another playoff-less campaign that contributed to many Maple Leaf jokes. This time around there were many factors that contributed to the Leafs’ inability to qualify for the post-season, stemming from a rather weak penalty kill for portions of the season to a lack of stability between the pipes.
Not counting the lockout of 2004-2005, the Leafs have now spent seven consecutive seasons outside of the playoffs.
Things looked great between the pipes early on for the Maple Leafs; James Reimer posted a season-opening shutout and won his first three games in net. He went down with a head injury on October 22, though, and that’s where it all went downhill in terms of goaltending.
Jonas Gustavsson and Ben Scrivens took over from there, although neither one was able to post statistics similar to those of Reimer’s. They managed to hold down the fort while Reimer was out however, but Reimer just wasn’t the same when he returned.
Many would tell you that the Leafs’ struggle to find consistency in net was the main contributing factor to their poor result in the standings this season.
A huge collapse
Each team has good and bad moments throughout the course of the regular season, but this season both sides of the spectrum really shone through for the Maple Leafs. It all started out great for the Leafs; they found themselves first in the NHL at one point and sat inside the top eight for much of the season. Once the All-Star Break rolled around, though, everything began to slip.
At one point in the season, there wasn’t one player on the Leafs’ roster who could find their way. Even rookie Jake Gardiner, who had been very impressive, began to struggle. Even once the team gained traction again, though, they just weren’t the same. No wonder; the playoffs were well out of reach.
37 goals from Phil Kessel
For what seems to be the first time in the history of Leaf fans, people are happy with how a player produced despite the fact that player didn’t reach the expectations they had set for him. That’s the case of Phil Kessel, who fell three goals short of reaching the 40-goal plateau, but did manage to set new career highs in goals, assists and points.
Even though people were happy, there was still a bit of disappointment. Why? Kessel finally had the chance to play with an established NHL play maker in Tim Connolly. However, we must keep in mind that Connolly did not produce to the level we know he is capable of, which may have limited Kessel’s production.
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1 thought on “Toronto Maple Leafs’ 2011-2012 Season in Review: What we Expected & Experienced”
Not sure how playoffs were ‘expected’ this season. With Buffalo and Tampa seriously under performing the Leafs actually got closer than expected but they had basically the same roster as the season before and other teams in the conference made improvements in the off-season. Relying on a rookie goalie and hoping somehow the rest of the team will just play better isn’t a recipe for success. A team doesn’t get better just because people say they’re going to be better next season. Even when Reimer was playing really well last season (with zero pressure as the team was already out of the playoffs, and no one had scouted him at all), he was basically stealing every game the team won. Defence was absolutely horrible. You can’t depend that much on a goalie and expect to win. If you have a .921 and still 2.6 GAA, that’s not a playoff calibre team playing in front of you. That’s sort of close to the Wild’s goalies this season. They basically relied on their goalies to hold them in games all year. For a while they got some good results because they were getting amazing goaltending, but that style of play isn’t sustainable. When their goalies even had really good nights instead of incredible nights, they lost.
Going into next season are Leafs writers going to say the same thing again? “We’ll make the playoffs this year because all our players will somehow just be better”. The only thing different going into this past season was the addition of Connolly and that was apparently enough for people to think the team was now amazing. Going into next year they need a veteran goalie and still need a first line centre. A second line wing would help a lot as well. There are going to be some goalie options but no one good enough that the team can rely on them ever night to steal games. First line centre is a really tough one to fill, close to half the teams in the league would like to fill that position. Second line wing they could maybe find but aren’t a ton of options out there this UFA season. They will have Carlyle coaching, which should improve the team defensively. But there’s a trade-off to that. With playing a stronger defensive game, the team isn’t going to get the same type of offensive chances. They aren’t going to get as many goals off the rush if they don’t play as wide-open a system so they’ll need to get more from sustained pressure in the offensive zone. The Leafs haven’t been able to keep sustained pressure in the offensive zone for years. Without a top line centre with some size, Kessel’s going to have a very difficult time getting anything going. That’s when depth becomes a big issue, which is an area where the team is lacking. The problem Carlyle had in Anaheim is that the team’s bottom 6 was terrible, absolutely zero secondary scoring. They had a few guys who are really dangerous but no one else could do anything. And their defence and goaltending made too many mistakes. That sounds a lot like the Leafs roster. I think Carlyle is a good choice overall but it might take a few years to get the type of roster put together they need to be successful.
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