Nov 12, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri (43) and Toronto Maple Leafs forward Leo Komarov (47) during the player introductions against the Boston Bruins at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
The Leafs stepped up their play and may have realized that the way they were playing before was totaly unacceptable. Carlyle actually changed up the lines a bit, putting Nazem Kadri, Mike Santorelli and Komarov together. What this does is allow Kadri to play with players that will work hard to get the puck and create chances on net. It also allows him to try and get his offence back without having to worry too much about defence. Having Holland playing on a line with Daniel Winnik and David Clarkson is an interesting combination, because Winnik and Holland are bigger bodies that have been key members of the Leafs penalty kill. Clarkson has not found chemistry with a specific line and maybe being with players that are defensive minded with offensive upside will work out for him. All he needs to do is crash the net and try to cash in on rebounds or deflections from the point. Clarkson has already surpassed his goals total from last season, which is a positive sign. However, he still has work to do in order to try and justify his contract.
Nov 20, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Tampa Bay Lightning center Valtteri Filppula (51) tries to control the puck in front of Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier (45) at Air Canada Centre. The Maple Leafs beat the Lightning 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Jonathan Bernier had solid games against two divisional opponents. The Leafs did not play well last season against divisional rivals. If they want to be successful this season, they have to play better within their division. The Leafs need their goaltending to be the backbone of their team. That means James Reimer will have to find a way to get his confidence back after he played two poor games against Buffalo and in relief against Nashville. (Although you, really can’t fault Reimer on the Nashville game.)
Oct 8, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri (43) celebrates his goal against the Montreal Canadiens with Toronto Maple Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul (19) during the first period at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Joffrey Lupul and David Booth look like they will be ready to return on Wednesday against the Pittsburgh Penguins. This will allow the Leafs to send Joshua Leivo back down to the Marlies, who have been struggling to score recently. Booth will probably play on the third or fourth line, depending on where Carlyle sees a fit with him. Maybe having him play with Kadri and Santorelli would work since, Booth and Santorelli played with each other in Vancouver. Or maybe you could have Booth and Santorelli form a fourth line including Panik or Trevor Smith. That could leave Lupul to return with Kadri, or Carlyle might want to consider having him play with Holland to see if the two can build some chemistry. There are a lot of options which is something that Carlyle probably wished he had last season.
Oct 14, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Roman Polak (46) skates with the puck against the Colorado Avalanche at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Roman Polak’s injury could be a long term issue for the Leafs. Polak plays a lot of significant minutes for the Leafs, especially on the penalty kill. Korbinian Holzer has been recalled to replace Polak, which is no surprise because Holzer has NHL experience and is more defensive minded than a player like Stuart Percy. This will be a tough injury for the Leafs, but not one that is impossible to overcome.
The Nashville game was an embarrassment and the Leafs should not have to go through a performance like that to make them realize their effort wasn’t good enough. It did spark a change, but hopefully it means that those types of games are behind this team.
After the loss to the Predator,s it was expected that the media would have questions about Carlyle’s job. Steve Simmons from the Toronto Sun asked some of the players if they are trying to get their coach fired. That did not sit well with the players or the fans.
I understand where Simmons was going with the question, but he should not have asked it that way and right after the game. He should not be surprised that fans will react the way they did. Leafs fans always hated how the media seems to ignore some of the main issues when asking players questions.
The Toronto media found a way to take a positive effort from the Lightning and put a negative spin on it by pointing out that the Leafs did not salute their fans after the game. It has been a tradition for the players to skate to center ice and raise their sticks to the fans, but the Leafs did not do it on Thursday sparking this reaction about SaluteGate.
Nov 22, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs salute the crowd with their sticks after a win over the Detroit Red Wings at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated Detroit 4-1. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
I do not understand why the media has to make this a hot button issue. It is a complete waste of time, because there are actual issues on this team that reporters can talk about. The fact that reporters think that talking about off ice issues is more important what happens on the ice is puzzling, because fans would rather hear about what the team thinks about their on ice performance. Fans do not have the same access to the players that reporters do, so it is the medias duty to try asking players about things that happened in the game. Asking about their relationship to fans is not what needs to be talked about. Fans do not pay to go watch the players salute them after the game – they pay to watch them play hockey and that is what the players believe. Why is something that has no real impact on the game have to be blown up as a big problem?
The best response to this situation comes from Steve Dangle, who did a video for Sportsnet. Steve criticizes the media for their involvement in the SaluteGate situation.
The Leafs will now be looked at under a microscope the next few weeks. If they find a way to get consistent play the way they did against the Red Wings and Lightning, then there is hope for the Leafs to improve. I think it will be difficult for them to do that, but if they play with more discipline and intensity then it is possible. Having Lupul and Booth return is a major boost, but losing Polak is going to be an issue.
Nov 22, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward Tyler Bozak (42) battles with Detroit Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg (40) for the puck at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated Detroit 4-1. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
The Leafs still need to look into an upgrade at center in order to try and find someone with the same upside on offence and defence. People make the argument that Bozak is improving offensively, but he has actually lost some of that fine defensive play that allowed made him their top line centre. They probably won’t find a Jonathan Toews, Anze Kopitar or Patrice Bergeron through a trade, but some teams have found ways to get those players, mostly through the draft.
Upcoming games this week: Wednesday @ Pittsburgh Penguins, Saturday vs Washington Capitals.