Wednesday, February 15, 2012
What do the Leafs need to get better?
Brian Burke has done a fine job in rebuilding the Maple Leafs from my perspective but the current losing streak does expose some key areas that need to be improved. Probably none of these things will be corrected before the trading deadline so making the playoffs will be tough but not impossible. In addition, Burke's stubbornness is also an issue because he doesn't like to admit errors.
Burke was hoping the James Reimer would be a solid starting goalie this season with Jonas Gustavsson filling the role of a competent backup. If Reimer was posting last season's numbers then Burke would be correct and the Leafs would be much higher in the standings. Unfortunately things have worked out so well. Gustavsson is playing better than Reimer but neither would be described as a solid starting goalie. Reimer may still develop into the kind of goalie that can carry this team. Until he does, Burke may need an insurance policy. Picking up a top goalie isn't that easy. The Leafs haven't had one since Eddie Belfour. Spending big bucks on a free agent doesn't always work - as the Flyers. In the meantime, inconsistent goaltending is killing the Leafs.
The Leafs need a shut down defenseman - but then who doesn't. No one really fits that bill on the Leafs although Dion Phaneuf gets the type of minutes that stud defensemen tend to get. Last night was not one of Phaneuf's better games. He was on the ice for the first two Flames goals and then hooks Paul Byron on a breakaway who scores on the subsequent penalty shot. Some people expect Luke Schenn to become a shut down defenseman but he's not there yet. But these guys are young and still improving. We are going to have to wait this through because those kind of defensemen are neither on the trade market or free agents.
Other than the fourth line, the Leafs forwards are small and soft. Phil Kessel is easily intimidated and Mikhail Grabovski may not back down to anyone but is still easily pushed around. Only Nik Kulemin and Joffrey Lupul are top six forwards with size. As a result the Leafs do not create enough traffic in front of opposition goalies which impacts on their powerplay. In the final third of the season as each game takes on more and more importance, the games are going to get more physical. The Leafs forwards rarely out hit their opponents. Picking up Rick Nash or Ryan Getzlaf would certainly make the difference but they likely won't get traded and would Burke give up so many assets to land one of them.
There are too many signs that the Leafs are being hurt by inadequate coaching. Problems with special team, a weak defensive game and the inability to adapt to what their opponents are doing. Last week the Canadiens clogged the neutral zone which prevented the speedy Leafs from rushing the puck. The Leafs did not change their game plan in response to the tight checking. Instead they just gave up in the second period and gave the game to Montreal. It doesn't seem like this coaching is going any where before the end of the season. Even then there is no certainty that he will be let go if the Leafs fail to make the playoffs