Game Day Questions: Toronto Maple Leafs vs New York Rangers


Game Day Questions: Toronto Maple Leafs vs New York Rangers

What was that last night? The Toronto Maple Leafs’ rough start to the 2014-2015 season continues. After putting up a lame effort against the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday, the Leafs went for broke last night, allowing the Pittsburgh Penguins to completely embarrass them on home ice.

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Things hit rock bottom when one fan sacrificed his Leafs jersey in protest. You can’t exactly blame him. As I said, things have gotten off to a horrible start for the Leafs.

Today, they bring the circus to New York City where Henrik Lundqvist and company will host the Leafs in some late-Sunday night action. The Rangers are coming off a loss themselves last night – a 5-2 beating at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets – so fatigue could be a factor for both teams.

Here are some of the top questions facing the Leafs tonight:

1) Will James Reimer make his season debut?

Sep 26, 2014; Buffalo, NY, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer (34) during the game against the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center. Leafs beat the Sabres 6-4. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Jonathan Bernier has started in Toronto’s first two games of the season and he’s looked mediocre at best. His and the team’s 0-2 record can’t be blamed entirely on him – Stuart Percy played a critical factor in the first game while captain Dion Phaneuf did his part to frustrate Bernier last night – but Bernier hasn’t been sharp when the Leafs needed a big save.

Max Pacioretty‘s opening goal for the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday is a perfect example of this: Bernier failed to hug the post, giving Pacioretty just enough room to slip one past him.

All this sets the stage for James Reimer, who’d normally start in the back half of back-to-back games anyway, but he now has a golden opportunity to steal some extra playing time for himself. The Leafs are desperate for quick and easy answers right now. If Reimer can provide them one, there’s a good chance he sees one or two additional starts next week.

Reimer didn’t have the best pre-season, but this is the regular season and it’s a whole new opportunity for him to shine.

2) Does Cody Franson find his way into the lineup?

Sep 28, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Cody Franson (4) is assisted from the ice by team mates Morgan Rielly (44) and Peter Holland (24) after he goes down heavily following a hit in the third period at Air Canada Centre. Maple Leafs won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports

Defenceman Cody Franson was supposed to appear in last night’s game, but he was a late scratch. Franson himself was looking forward to some action against the Penguins, who he described as one of the top team’s in the NHL.

Now, if he’s healthy, he’ll have to settle for making his season debut against the Rangers – the reigning Eastern Conference champions – which I’m sure he’ll consider an acceptable alternative challenge.

Franson’s been a key piece of the Leafs’ power play over the last three seasons and he led the team in hits last season. There’s no doubt the Leafs will welcome his return to the lineup whenever it actually occurs.

3) Can Phil Kessel keep his cool tonight?

Sep 24, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel (81) looks at his stick after missing a chance to score on a breakaway against the Ottawa Senators in the during the third period at the Air Canada Centre. Ottawa defeated Toronto 4-3 in an overtime shoot-out. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

We’re only two games into the new season but star sniper Phil Kessel is already showing signs of frustration. After Wednesday’s game, he told the press to “relax” when it comes to questions about his fitness. Last night, he threw a fit in the penalty box.

Kessel isn’t exactly known as an emotional players – he’s no Joffrey Lupul, Nazem Kadri or even Phaneuf in this respect – but he’s earned a minor reputation as someone who whines a lot. The Leafs don’t need to see this from Kessel right now and it’s not ideal for his own game. When frustrated in the past, Kessel has disappeared for long stretches of time. If the Leafs want to quickly right the ship, they’ll need Kessel scoring goals, not sitting in the penalty box.

One solution might be giving Kessel every opportunity to score – in other words, let’s get that monkey off his back right away – or the Leafs could take some of the pressure off of Kessel by giving their second line unit of Lupul, Kadri and Brandon Kozun some extra playing time.

These are tough times in Leafs Nation and we’re only two games into the new season.

Things will either get a lot better or a lot worse after tonight’s game.

Follow me on Twitter for regular posts about sports (especially the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Toronto Blue Jays), politics and other news topics: @williamefwilson