Game Day Questions: Toronto Maple Leafs vs Colorado Avalanche


Game Day Questions: Toronto Maple Leafs vs Colorado Avalanche

After losing their first two games of the season by a combined score of 9-5, the Toronto Maple Leafs found some life on Sunday.

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They somehow managed to pull a rabid rabbit of their collective hat, hammering the New York Rangers 6-3 and walking away with their first win of the young season. The win wasn’t perfect, however: concerns over the health of back-up goaltender James Reimer re-ignited after he was knocked out of the game when Rangers forward Dominic Moore made incidental contact with his head.

Fortunately, it appears Reimer is fine and should see a second straight start tonight. He’s earned it.

What concerns await the Leafs tonight?

1) Who gets the start?

As mentioned, the start should go to Reimer assuming he’s healthy enough to play. Reimer saved the Leafs’ bacon during the early part of Sunday’s contest before the offence took over and chased perennial all-star Henrik Lundqvist from the game.

Oct 12, 2014; New York, NY, USA; New York Rangers right wing Lee Stempniak (12) scores on Toronto Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer (34) during the second period at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Having said this, head coach Randy Carlyle has a clear preference for Jonathan Bernier, who started in the team’s first two games of the season. Reimer’s lone start on Sunday probably stemmed from the fact the Leafs were playing in the second half of back-to-back games. Otherwise, I’m sure Carlyle would’ve returned to Bernier despite the Laval, Quebec native’s early season struggles.

In fact, the coaching staff was noncommittal yesterday on who would start today. That’s not what we need to see.

What the Leafs need right now is stability in the net, not another daily circus focused on the relationship between Reimer and Carlyle or Reimer and Bernier.

If the Leafs are serious about winning tonight’s game, the best goalie at the moment should make the start: Reimer. There are legitimate concerns over the long-term health of Reimer’s head, but it would be nice to see Carlyle and the rest of the coaching staff stop playing head games with him.

2) Can the offence stay hot?

A fluke? An unexpected surprise? An inevitability?

Oct 11, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs center Tyler Bozak (42) is congratulated on his goal by right wing Phil Kessel (81) in the third period against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Air Canada Centre. The Penguins beat the Maple Leafs 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

There are many ways that Sunday’s offensive outburst can be described. We know this team has plenty of firepower, but they’re not always consistent in pulling the trigger.

You can compare the Leafs’ first three games of the season to see how this affects their overall game: a back-and-forth gun fight to open the season against the Montreal Canadiens; a quick death at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins last Saturday; and a complete drubbing of the Rangers on Sunday.

Sunday’s game was especially impressive when you stop to consider the fact Toronto saw goals from six different players: Cody Franson, Phil Kessel, Nazem Kadri, James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak and David Clarkson.

It would be nice to see this offence output continue tonight.

3) Who sits: Jake Gardiner or Stuart Percy?

For some reason, Carlyle likes to create drama when it comes to handling the Leafs’ young players.

Sep 24, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Jake Gardiner (51) carries the puck against the Ottawa Senators during the second period at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

It was generally assumed that rookie Stuart Percy would be relocated to the press box upon Franson’s return. However, the Leafs caught nearly everyone by surprise when they sent Jake Gardiner to the press box instead.

Gardiner has 169 career NHL games under his belt and is part of the team’s long-term plans after signing a five-year contract extension during the off-season. Percy, on the other hand, has played in a total of three career NHL games.

If there’s a reason for this, it might concern the fact the Leafs are trying to develop a better breakout game, but Gardiner and Morgan Rielly prefer to skate up the ice with the puck. By taking Gardiner out of the lineup, this solves part of the problem.

Percy – I should quickly add – has already proven himself as a calm and steady presence on the blue line and a good passer, too.

(The implication here is that the choice was actually between Gardiner and Rielly, not Gardiner and Stuart. Thoughts?)

The Leafs have a pretty good chance of improving their record to 2-2 tonight. Colorado has struggled to open the new season and played last night against the Boston Bruins.

I can’t wait for tonight’s action. You?

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