The Maple Leafs saw yet another jersey thrown to the Air Canada Centre ice in only the second week of the season. For many players it was a sign of disrespect – not just to the current members of the team, but to the former players of the storied franchise.
Honestly don't get this jersey on the ice thing. Did fans really expect the #leafs to start 5-0 instead of 2-3?
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) October 18, 2014
While the anger – or rather impulsivity – of the fans may suggest a bad start for the Leafs, game outcomes and overall effort suggests another story. Toronto has shown some glimpses of dominant hockey early this season, in games with the Rangers and Avalanche, but they’ve also shown signs of inconsistency in a league that requires consistent play to crack the top eight in your respective conference.
This week, was exactly the same story. The Leafs started off with two convincing wins over the Rangers and Avalanche before losing two games to the Red Wings in a home-and-home series. While it’s still early, frustrations are surely mounting – with players, coaches, and fans.
October 12: N.Y. Rangers vs. Toronto (W 6-3)
It’s not often that you see ‘King’ Henrik Lundqvist give up six goals, but last Sunday the Rangers goalie was anything but a king on the ice. The Maple Leafs took full advantage of Lundqvist’s off-night by scoring six goals on only 24 shots.
Lundqvist has always had some difficulty with the Leafs – a record of 12-8-5 and a .900 save percentage in 25 games against Toronto. While the Leafs gave up three goals to the Rangers, it was a late play that had the fans holding their breath. James Reimer was forced to leave the game after Dominic Moore squeezed past the Leafs’ netminder knock his head backwards. While Reimer was forced out of the net, the injury didn’t keep him out of game action for the rest of the week.
Top of the Line Proof
The Leafs top line stepped up their play in the 6-3 victory, combining for seven points (3g-4a). Tyler Bozak won 67% of his draws and the trio dominated the puck while their line was on the ice.
The Kessel-Bozak-JVR line was the target of a lot of criticism following the first week of the season. But against the Rangers, they proved why they are still considered one of the most talent trios in the game.
Once again, the Leafs were perfect on the penalty kill, shutting down the dangerous Rangers powerplay on two occasions. The Leafs’ special teams didn’t just stump the New York offence however, but added to the scoreboard with two goals with the man advantage and one why down a man.
What added to the sweetness of the victory for Toronto fans was that David Clarkson was able to add a goal – putting him only five back of his total from a year ago. While it sounds ridiculous, the Leafs and their fans are happy to have Clarkson playing with some vengeance after a disappoint first year with the club.
October 14: Colorado at Toronto (W OT 3-2)
While the scoreboard read 3-2 in what may have seemed like a close game, Toronto’s dominance of the Avalanche last Tuesday was quite impressive. The Leafs were able to squeak out a one-goal victory against last year’s Jack Adams award winner – Patrick Roy – and his 40-game winner Semyon Varlamov.
An Avalanche of Leafs’ Dominance
Forget for a second that Toronto was perfect, once again, on the penalty kill. The Leafs held the Avalanche to only 24 shots, firing 40 of their own on Colorado’s net.
Toronto was more physical than Colorado – out-hitting them 37-35. But what was most impressive about the Leafs was their ability to out-skate and dictate the pace of play against a speedy Avalanche club. Keeping up with the young Avs proved to be a good game plan as it would eventually lead to the Leafs winning goal in overtime.
The Leafs top line kept up their hot play scoring another two goals – including the game winner. Bozak, who leads the Maple Leafs in scoring thus far, added two assists while Kessel and JVR both netted their second goals of the season.
While it’s a good note that Toronto was able to kill off all five of their penalties, one thing is for sure. The Leafs will have to find a way to play more discipline hockey if they want to continue to put up the wins.
As for their dominance with the puck, the Leafs will have to play that kind of hockey if they want to crack the playoffs. Anytime a team can put up 40 shots and only give up 24, they have a good chance to win the game. That’s one of the issues the Leafs have had the past few seasons – something that will have to change if they want to have more success.
October 17: Detroit at Toronto (L 4-1)
The Leafs opened the front-half of their home-and-home series against the Red Wings with a disappointing 4-1 loss. While the Leafs third line played yet another good game with Mike Santorelli scoring the only Leaf goal, no line could shut down the Red Wings top line and Henrik Zetterberg.
Zetterberg lit up the Leafs for four points – assisting on each of his team’s goals. Toronto fell behind 3-0 before they were able to get on the board, but it wouldn’t be enough to keep up with their Atlantic Division rivals.
The game also marked the return of Jake Gardiner to the lineup after he watched the last couple from the Leafs press box. On the other side of the coin, Toronto lost rookie forward Brandon Kozun to a high ankle sprain after going into the boards hard.
October 18: Detroit vs. Toronto (L OT 1-0)
Jonathan Bernier found his way back into the Leafs net for the backend of the this home-and-home series – impressing the Leafs in doing so. He faced 32 shots, stopping 31 of them before allowing the overtime winner to none other than Henrik Zetterberg.
The Leafs had to fight off the Detroit powerplay five times again, remaining perfect on the penalty kill for the week and were dominant on the puck once again only giving the puck away four times and leading in the department of takeaways as well.
While the Leafs were out-shot, it wasn’t a large margin – with only two shots separating the teams. Toronto played a good defensive game and out-hit the Red Wings, but couldn’t slide one past their former mate Jonas Gustavsson who recorded his sixth career shutout.
The Leafs seem to be finding their groove when it comes to their defensive play. While they did give up five goals to the Red Wings in the home-and-home series, they were able to shut down three of the Wings four lines – Zetterberg being the only constant in both games.
Bernier stood on his head for the Leafs in the second game giving the team confidence in their one-two punch with Reimer and Bernier – in whatever order they may land. The Leafs will have to find a way to take these divisional games if they want any chance of making this year’s playoffs – as every two points will be important.
Week 2 Team Summary:
The team had yet another mediocre week, but that doesn’t begin to explain how good they actually played. While they did lose two of their four games this past week, the Leafs actually dominated three of them – only letting up really in their first outing with the Red Wings.
Either way, Toronto finished the week with a 2-1-1-0 record scoring 10 goals and giving up 10 in their four games. They outshot their opponents 130-129 and killed all 15 penalties that they took. After spending multiple years at the bottom of the league’s penalty killing, their recent success has them sitting fourteenth in the league with a success rate of 86.4 percent.
The Leafs also added two powerplay goals on 16 opportunities leaving them once again in the middle of league’s overall standings for powerplay success. They out-hit their opponents 111-97 and got in the way of the puck in their own end blocking 55 shots in four games.
The Leafs lost two divisional games this week which can’t be a trend for them if they hope to find their way back to the postseason. While it’s still early, it’s clear that frustrations are already boiling over with fans (although I’m not sure why). One thing is for sure, the Leafs do have the ability to put up the goals and the talent throughout their lineup to win the necessary games. Their goal now is to find the consistency they need in their game.
For more, follow Andrew on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes or his column at @Tape2TapeTHW.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.