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October 10, 2010

Toronto Maple Leafs Looking Good So Far! Everything is Going According to Burke’s Plan

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It’s a little bit early to start planning the parade for the Toronto Maple Leafs. However, this season’s edition of the Leafs is obviously far superior to the group that suited up in the Blue & White last year. Many people wanted Brian Burke’s head on a platter after he traded two first round picks and a second rounder for sniper Phil Kessel. There was no denying that Kessel had a good year last year, scoring 30 goals in only 70 games, playing without a legitimate center. However, the Leafs stumbled at the beginning of the season and were never really in playoff contention.

They finished 2nd last in the league, and the Bruins ended up getting Seguin and another legitimate prospect for Kessel. Everyone who follows the Leafs knows that this team will live or die based on Kessel’s production. That may not be so. The things that plagued this team last year, do not appear to be present this time around. Our goaltending was suspect last year. Vesa Toskala could NEVER make that big save at the end of the game when the Leafs needed it most. J.S. Giguere appears rejuvenated and fighting to maintain the #1 goalie spot, and earn a new contract for next year. He made clutch saves against Montreal when we needed it most, and it resulted in the Leafs winning their first game in game #1, as opposed to game #8. With the players confident in their goalie, they have all played better.

The Kessel – Bozak – Versteeg line looks great. They maintain possession on the power play, they make crisp passing plays, and Kessel and Versteeg have both already scored (with Kessel getting two). I won’t say the first liners goals have been pretty, most haven’t, but that is a good sign. The Leafs couldn’t get a lucky bounce last season and they’ve already gotten a few so far.

Last season we relied on Kessel for any offensive production. This time around, we actually have a talented second line. Clarke MacArthur appears to be a steal for 1 million. He already has 2 goals in 2 games, both of which were beauties. Against Montreal he deked Jaroslav Spacek out and threw a gorgeous backhander into the corner of the net for his first goal as a Leaf. Last night against the Sens, he took a nice pass from Grabovski and ripped a one timer into the corner. The kid has skills! Add in Nikolai Kulemin, a big feisty power forward who also scored, and the quick, crafty Mikhail Grabovskil, and the Leafs have a legitimate second line that can score. The Leafs having depth at forward? Who would have thought..

The sore spot for our team last year, the overpaid defence core, seems to be pretty solid this time around. Francois Beauchemin and Mike Komisarek, the two big free agents from last year, are finally playing like they are being paid. They provide a solid presence around the net. Luke Schenn looks as though he’s over his sophomore slump, and Carl Gunnarson has had a few blips in his play, but should come around. If he can’t, Brett Lebda, Jeff Finger and Matt Lashoff are waiting for their chances. Dion Phaneuf and Tomas Kaberle are a fantastic back end for the rejuvenated power play. With Bozak Kessel and Versteeg out there, our powerplay looks scary. We only scored once so far, on a 5 on 3, but we maintained possession and looked dangerous most of the time. The powerplay is bound to click if it can keep the puck on their sticks for so long.

The Leaf’s penalty kill, the worst one in the league last season, seems to be set. Fredrik Sjostrom is one of the best penalty killers in the league. Add Versteeg, new addition Colby Armstrong, and Tim Brent, and the PK seems set. Brent earned a spot on the team by outplaying John Mitchell in the pre season. He’s not flashy, but he’s been solid, and has two goals in 2 games! Ovechkin who?

Two games is not an indication of the teams success over an 82 game season. However, we have gotten more points in the first two games than we did in the first month last season. That is a good sign in my opinion. Burke has always stuck with his system. Top 6 forwards with skill, bottom 6 with grit. That seems to be working so far. The top two lines are solid, the bottom two have provided defensive presence and surprising scoring. The defence appears to be reliable, and Giggy looks like the man who won the Conn Smythe. If all of those parts can do their jobs over the course of 82 games, the Leafs may see playoff action for the first time since the lockout. Keep your fingers crossed Leaf fans.

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