Toronto Maple Leafs Limp into the New Season
The Toronto Maple Leafs cruised through the pre-season, finishing 5-2-1 and resting atop the Atlantic Division, but that shouldn’t be taken to mean they’ll have an easy go at things once the regular season starts.
Sep 24, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel (81) shoots the puck on a breakaway against the Ottawa Senators at the Air Canada Centre. Ottawa defeated Toronto 4-3 in an overtime shoot-out. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Few of the teams they beat in the pre-season were playing at full strength or with all their regular players in the lineup. The Leafs’ 4-3 shootout loss to the Ottawa Senators on Sept. 24 is the perfect example of this: the Leafs dressed several of their top players, but they were unable to beat an Ottawa squad that looked surprisingly like the Binghamton Senators.
In other words, they were embarrassed on home ice by a bunch of AHL hockey players.
This is one reason for caution as the Leafs enter the new season. We never really got a proper sense of the opposition (or the Leafs themselves) given the fluidity in rosters at this time of the year.
Another reason for caution concerns the sudden influx of injuries on the Leafs. Star sniper Phil Kessel left practice early yesterday while defenceman Cody Franson and top-line centreman Tyler Bozak were limited in their respective workouts.
Sep 28, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward David Booth gets caught on the boards by Buffalo Sabres defenceman Tyson Strachan (24) in the second period at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports
Clarkson is dealing with facial injuries sustained in a fight with the Buffalo Sabres’ Cody McCormick late last month. Originally, it’s wasn’t entirely clear when he’d rejoin the lineup, but it’s now believed Clarkson should be ready for the start of the new season on Oct. 8 against the Montreal Canadiens.
Booth, as we all know by now, will miss at least four weeks of action as he recovers from a broken foot. This must be especially upsetting for Booth, who was hoping for a fresh start to his hockey career in Toronto.
Meanwhile, Leivo made an early exit from last Friday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings. The exact status of his injury and when he’ll be able to return aren’t clear right now.
These various injuries put the Leafs at risk of starting the new season without two-thirds of their first line, their top offensive defenceman and several key role players on the team.
On other hand, the injuries have created room for players like Brandon Kozun to make their way onto the roster. It’ll be hard for Kozun to replace Kessel or Bozak, but he has a legitimate opportunity to displace players like Clarkson, Booth and Leivo on the team’s depth chart.
Bearing all these points in mind, the Leafs aren’t exactly entering the new season on the best of terms. It’ll require all the faith of Leafs Nation to carry them through the first few weeks of the season, but I think we’re up to the task.
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