Your Toronto Maple Leafs are just 3 games into this 56 game, shortened 2021 season. They’ve played just 8 games since March of last year and have a few new faces in the lineup that need to gel with the team and system, so we should all take a step back and relax, right?
But also, wrong!!
So very, very wrong!!
Sometimes it’s fun to make snap judgements about players or things with little, to no, actual evidence. Then, because this is what being a fan is all about, you must deny all evidence to the contrary for as long as you shall live.
So, let’s get started.
Matthews is about to have one of the best seasons we’ve ever seen in Toronto. Not just from him, but from any player in a Leafs uniform. He’s using his big frame effectively, skating with a purpose, shooting with authority and going to the tough areas of the ice.
In fact, it sparked controversy in Game #1, against the Montreal Canadiens, after Shea Weber and Ben Chiarot repeatedly cross checked him in the back while he was parked in front of the net.
The question is posed: Should the league try to protect their star players from that type of abuse?
My take: It’s part of the game and always has been. The rules say no cross checking, so we should leave it to the refs to penalize the players however they see fit. The guys that are willing to stand there and take the abuse do get rewarded and help their team win, so why try to change that for them?
How can a player that logs nearly 25 minutes a night, plays in all situations, racks up elite point totals and appears to have a great attitude be hated by so many fans?
Well, I’ll tell you how.
We just pointed out that Auston Matthews sparked controversy by taking abuse in front of the net. He has also taken a couple of big hits in the corners, like this one:
Yes, Brandon, we all know how shocked everybody else is that nobody comes to the defense of each other on the Leafs. I wish we could share that shock, but this is just our team and it has been like this for years.
Anyway, back to the point. You rarely see a big hit like this on Marner because he doesn’t go to the corners. You won’t hear about a cross checking controversy around Mitch because, again, he doesn’t go to those areas of the rink. In a 50/50 race to the puck he relents. Don’t believe me? Watch closer. You’ll see how he is willing to give up body position and consistently tries to strip players of the puck, instead of being the first man to the disc. He isn’t willing to sacrifice his body for a play, goal, or win.
This isn’t to say that I don’t like Mitch. I’d much rather have him on my team than not. But he isn’t “tough to play against” in the least.
So I’m jumping to this conclusion. The Leafs won’t go far in the playoffs this year because Mitch Marner still hasn’t learned to play a gritty game and if the Leafs are going to play him 25 minutes a night, everything hinges on his ability to grind.
It’s a shame really, because he is one of the most skilled players we’ve ever had.
TJ Brodie hasn’t done anything to make me go “WOW!! WOULD YA LOOK AT THAT!!”
I like that.
Yes, he sprawled out to break up a 2-on-1, twice, in Game #3 against the Senators, but we see that type of play often and he handled it like so many other decent defenders in the league do. He has a good stick, good positioning and skates well. He hasn’t seemed lost in any of the three zones, so while he and Morgan Rielly still have a little gelling to do (they weren’t good in Game #2), the future of that pair looks bright.
Let’s stay on the hype train!!
Muzzin is the Leafs best penalty killer. When he touches the puck good things tend to happen. He’s strong and skilled and Justin Holl complements him perfectly. Holl is rangy and can advance the puck well, combine that with good positioning and a good defensive stick and you end up with a solid pairing.
The conclusion I’m jumping to is that this will be the Leafs best pairing this year, not the Rielly/Brodie pairing that we all thought would be.
With a lot of talk about talking, learning lessons, working on consistency and doing the small things right, Coach Keefe doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere with this group.
I know, I know, it’s just 55 games into his NHL coaching career, but read the title people!! This is about jumping to conclusions!!
The unfair and untimely conclusion I’ve come to is that Coach Keefe doesn’t have the chops to rein in the antics of these young kids.
The team is doing the same things wrong right now that they were doing under former coach, Mike Babcock. They come out flatter than a waffle, only to follow it up with a solid, structured game. Instead of continuing on a stretch of games that make you forget they were ever so terrible to begin with, they usually revert right back to being terrible.
It’s a roller coaster from shift to shift, period to period and game to game and I’d love it to stop. This team needs to find proper structure and consistency or they need changes.
This is his final year in Toronto. That’s the conclusion and it’s the complete opposite of everything I’ve ever said before.
I’ve been a big fan of Andersen throughout his tenure in Toronto, but eventually you need to have your goalie start on time. The story used to be that he didn’t have the defense in front of him to justify being critical of his play. That was fair. However, now he has a little more talent to help him, but we’re seeing pucks go through him.
Yes, it’s only two games, but starting slow has been a problem every year and this is a short season where every point will matter. The Leafs aren’t about to run away with the North Division as everybody predicted. As Andersen gets tested consistently every night the cracks will begin to show more and more. Given the structure of the season and how every game with feel like it’s against a heated rival, I’m predicting that he gets exposed like we’ve never seen before.
That’s two games. This conclusion is based on three games (I know, big difference!!).
Jack Campbell played very well on Saturday night. He looked steady, made some saves that he had no business making and appeared to settle the team down.
The Leafs don’t have another back-to-back set for another month, but we should expect to see Campbell in between the pipes again soon if Andersen doesn’t come out next game with a stellar performance. Being in the last year of his deal, if he keeps stumbling, management will want to get a lot of looks at Campbell and Dell to get a proper assessment of what they have before they head to the offseason.
Not an NHLer. Sorry guy.
I don’t mean to be so blunt, but I’m not even sure how he won a spot on the team out of camp. He has only played 10 minutes, total, and it only took the first two of those to see that he won’t be in the NHL very long.
Now that Nicholas Robertson will be out a couple of weeks due to injury, I expect to see Travis Boyd or Adam Brooks draw into the lineup. However, they aren’t restricted to the players on the taxi squad:
Pierre Engvall would be the best option to replace Robertson in my opinion, but I don’t expect to see that right now.
The final conclusion of the day.
Kyle Dubas did not make this team tougher to play against, or even much better overall.
The addition of Aaron Dell could prove to be very valuable. Players get injured, and with a compressed schedule those injuries are all but a guarantee. This type of depth in net will be great when/if that happens.
T.J. Brodie, as I said above, looks to be a solid addition in the very early going as well.
With that said, the forward depth doesn’t look great. The teams left wing position is suspect, with Jimmy Vesey and Alex Barabanov dragging the group down. Zach Bogosian needs to avoid having the type of game he had in Game #1 against Montreal. The penalty killing units will have the teams kill percentage in the bottom third of the league again this year and few players look as if they know how to grind out a win.
I do love Wayne Simmonds and Joe Thornton though!! They have been as advertised. The fact that they could have cap space to spend at the deadline is also a big positive, so here’s hoping!!