Posts Tagged ‘Clarke MacArthur’

In a game eerily similar to the 2009/10 season opener last season versus the Montreal Canadiens which saw the Toronto Maple Leafs outplay the Habs only to squander a late game lead setting the tone for a terrible 0-7-1 start to the year, this time around the Maple Leafs hung on for a hard fought 3-2 victory.  I’d say it was a fair result though I think the Canadiens were the slightly better team overall and probably could have just as easily won this contest.  However, a win is a win and this is a superb start for the Toronto Maple Leafs who hung tough and managed to protect a lead, something the team just couldn’t do in the past 2-3 years. 

Here are a few musings from the season opener:

-I know it was the season (and home) opener but that pregame ceremony was long and it had me thinking back to last season’s plethora of pregame ceremonies and the Maple Leafs seemingly coming out flat after each of them.  The emotion was still running pretty high after this one thankfully, but I hope this isn’t a trend going forward during this season.

-The Leafs came out strong in the first period getting an unlikely goal from checking line centre Tim Brent (assist to Dion Phaneuf) and besides the goal given up it was a great debut period for the team.

-Phil Kessel continues to impress, one of the best pure goal scorers the Leafs have ever had, maybe THE best.

-The Habs appeared to be the “better coached” team and were more organized it appeared for a lot of the game.  I still can’t shake the idea that given the current type of roster the Leafs possess a more defensive minded coach would be a better fit if the Leafs are serious about making the playoffs this season.

-Some pretty terrible penalty calls against the Habs benefited the Leafs in terms of keeping the momentum even though the power-play didn’t look strong on the night.

-I hate to admit it but P.K. Subban is legit, he skates well, handles the puck reasonably well and plays a brash, physical style of play from the backend.  The Habs have found a keeper.

Carl Gunnarsson looked awfully shaky early though he rebounded slightly but not the greatest debut.

Luke Schenn looked strong for most of the game outside of a few turnovers which I feel the forwards are as much to blame as the Leafs have terrible spacing most of the night. 

-Dion Phaneuf played one of his better overall games as a Toronto Maple Leaf, and his first as the captain.  He and Francois Beauchemin kept the game simple and were a strong pairing for most of the night.

-As previously discussed JS Giguere was a huge difference maker playing a solid and at times spectacular game making some very timely saves near the end of the third period.  This is a huge factor in any potential Leafs playoff berth as we are going to need the steady goaltending all season.

Clarke MacArthur scored a beautiful goal (the winner) in the third period on a beautiful deke and backhand score on Carey Price.  It will be great when either Tyler Bozak hits the second line or the Leafs finally replace Mikael Grabovski who is just not an acceptable top six centre.  He is still way too weak on his skates, makes some terrible decisions in the neutral zone and is probably the very bane of Brian Burke’s existence.

-The checking line of Freddy Sjostrom-Tim Brent-Colby Armstrong did their job getting in the grills of the Canadiens top line and trying to establish a fore check and keeping the game simple, kudos on the great effort.

All in all Ron Wilson and the Buds have to be happy with the effort however they were outplayed a good portion of this game and they need to shore up the abundance of turnovers, especially in their own zone if they hope on stringing a few decent win streaks together this season.  But you have to give credit where credit is due, the Leafs persevered and they managed to squeak out a win in their first game.

Advertisements

This seems to be the preferred line-up (see below) for Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson, at least early into training camp and preseason.  This line-up would not include John Mitchell, Marcel Mueller, Luca Caputi, Brayden Irwin, Jay Rosehill, Jeff Finger, Brett Lebda, Jesse Blacker and Matt Lashoff, among others.  I think it would be a real shame that Rosehill will not break camp with the team if this line-up holds as with the addition of the extremely effective Mike Brown he has become a bit redundant.

1 Kulemin-Bozak-Kessel

2 Versteeg-Kadri-Armstrong

3 Sjostrom-Grabovski-MacArthur

4 Brown-Hanson-Orr

1 Phanuef-Beauchemin

2 Kaberle-Komisarek

3 Schenn-Gunnarsson

Another player I feel could be AHL bound is London Knights standout centre Nazem Kadri.  He hasn’t looked himself (early) and barring a turnaround and some prolonged consistent play I think the AHL is just what he needs to continue his development physically and maybe more importantly, mentally.  It would be a good test for Kadri and the Leafs to see how we would potentially deal with the disappointment of beginning the year in the minor leagues.  Let’s face it Kadri isn’t Sidney Crosby (duh), he still has a long way to go and I think growing up a bit might actually be the first step and when I view him on most nights his overall body language to me screams ‘entitlement’.  Some of the top players in the game have honed their crafts in the underrated and valuable AHL.

So if Kadri is Toronto Marlies bound to begin the year, what are the Leafs options in terms of the most effective line-up?  I think the defence core remains the same until or unless one of the current “top six” either gets injured or is simply ineffective.  That is an extremely deep and promising group of defenders and with Luke Schenn appearing confident early, it will be a real area of strength for the team on the ice and in the front office should Brian Burke feel the need to address his weakness at the centre ice position by moving one of Kaberle, Beauchemin, Komisarek and depending if he gets blown away with an offer and he comes out of the gate strong, Schenn.

Here is my ideal line-up:

1 Kulemin-Bozak-Kessel

2 Versteeg-Grabovksi-MacArthur

3 Caputi-Mitchell/Kadri-Armstrong

4 Brown-Hanson-Orr

Honestly I do like the first line-up with Grabovski on the third line adding some solid scoring depth, but only if Nazem Kadri proves to be big league ready right off the bat, which so far (very early on) is just not the case.  So I moved Grabo up to the 2nd line centre role between newcomers Kris Versteeg and Clarke MacArthur.  This could prove to be a solid goal scoring line with all three players capable of sniping up to 20-25 goals while adding a nice touch of speed and skill to the line-up.  We brought in both Versteeg and MacArthur to pick up the scoring slack so no sense wasting either in a lesser 3rd line role. 

Speaking of the 3rd line, this is John Mitchell’s chance to prove he belongs, likely his last opportunity to do so in the NHL.  He’ll be between Luca Caputi and Colby Armstrong, both players who can skate, hit and hopefully score a few while playing a sound defensive game.  Caputi has shown up to camp in tremendous shape and looks to be bigger, stronger and most importantly faster on his skates.  He has been a big prospect for a few years and he needs to start showcasing that potential this season.  We already know what Armstrong brings, and he will be a fan favourite for his rambunctious style of play.  This could be an effective, abrasive and solid checking style line with the chance to pop in a few goals and make some things happen down low and on the cycle.

The argument for keeping Kadri on the team and playing with the 3rd line unit is simple, give him a chance to stay with the big club and hopefully simplify his game and improve his defensive shortcomings by throwing him into the fire.  It is doubtful the Leafs will want to do this and would likely prefer him starring in the AHL in a more prolific offensive role, but it’s a thought to ponder.

The 4th line is a pure energy and momentum changing line with two solid skating big men (Hanson and Brown) who aren’t scared to get their noses dirty and of course the Leafs heavyweight (Orr).  Mike Brown could prove to be one of Burke’s best offseason additions with his tenacity, strong skating and hitting tendencies and a bonus that he is a great penalty killer.  I like Christian Hanson and I think he deserves to be on this team and I look for a breakout season and a potential move up to the 3rd line depending on how Mitchell/Kadri performs.  Colton Orr brings his usual presence and huge right hand on a nightly basis and he could be the best pure fighter in Leafs history?

A lot of the Leafs success will clearly rest with the defence and as long as we stay healthy and each player plays up to his potential it should be one of the better groups in the NHL.  Goaltending will also be imperative to any potential playoff berth and I think I can safely say (knock on wood) that there is no way it can be any worse than what the sieve named Vesa Toskala provided us last season, especially early when we started so terribly.  JS Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson provide a pretty solid tandem and it finally appears we have a couple solid young tenders in the system in Jussi Rynnas, Ben Scrivens and Reimer.

We can make the playoffs a reality if:

-Phil Kessel stays healthy

-Tyler Bozak and Nik Kulemin play the entire season with Kessel and they continue building (and improving) on their success and chemisty from last season

-Dion Phaneuf scores 15+ goals and returns to the dominating (maybe slightly calmer) physical presence and power play star

-Luke Schenn forces Ron Wilson to play him 20+ minutes due to outstanding play, which in turn allows Brian Burke to move one of our excess defenseman (Kaberle) for a top notch centre

-Mikael Grabovski has a career year (60+ points)

-Nazem Kadri joins the Leafs half way through the season and starts to contribute at the big league level, consistently, adding much needed secondary scoring

-Versteeg, Armstrong, Brown, MacArthur, Komisarek, Beauchemin and Giguere simply play to their career norms, or slightly above

-Jonas Gustavsson’s play forces Ron Wilson to re-think the tandem due to extremely consistent performances

-Improved play from Hanson, Caputi, Mitchell and Kulemin

-Ron Wilson and the coaching staff improve the worst special teams in the history of the franchise, two years running

-We don’t start the year 0-7-1 and we drastically improve our putrid shootout record post lockout

What are your other keys to a successful Maple Leafs season?  What are you looking for from the team this year?  Who are you most excited, nervous, and anxious or worried about?

What a difference twenty four hours can make, of course it might also have to do with a completely different roster of players.  Whatever it was, the Toronto Maple Leafs had a lot more jump and looked very impressive in their 4-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators.  Here are a few observations on some individual performances.

-Once again, Jay Rosehill was a big contributor with his underrated speed and physical presence.  Attacking defenders on the forecheck and leaving no man standing in his wake, Rosey has been one of my favourite Leafs for the past two years, I would love to see him get a 4th line role with the team this year.

Tyler Bozak is here to stay, the kid is legit.  He looks bigger and stronger but unlike Nazem Kadri he still appears to have all of the skills that make him effective, namely, his speed and overall vision on the ice.

Luca Caputi had a strong game and is starting to show glimpses of the potential that made the Pittsburgh Penguins originally draft Caputi as he notched a goal and an assist and a strong physical presence.

Phil Kessel was his normal dynamic self and Nik Kulemin appears poised to take another step forward this year in his development.

Luke Schenn appears to have regained his confidence and showcased an improving level of confidence and poise en route to a very solid game.  If Schenn is only our #5 or 6 defenseman the Leafs are in amazing shape on the blue line.  Jesse Blacker looked like a major leaguer and will give the Leafs even more headaches when trying to decide the final NHL roster before the season starts.

Mikael Grabovski has a boatload of skill and talent, if he puts in the work I see a big year for our #2 centre.  I expect him to play with Kris Versteeg and possibly Clarke MacArthur or Colby Armstrong and potentially score 25 goals and hopefully net 65 points if he can stay healthy.

-Good to see Mike Komisarek back in action, if he can play a smart and simple game he could be a big time addition to the Leafs backend.  If you don’t notice him much, it means he is having a good game, when he tried to over compensate and act like a crazy head hunter is when his game suffers.

All in all a much improved effort with the Leafs showcasing a pretty impressive combo of speed, skill and truculence (I had to say it).  When I think of the two different groups the Leafs put on the ice in game one and two I am actually pretty excited to think of assembling the best 4 lines of forwards and top 6 defenseman and turning it into one complete roster, I think the Leafs could surprise a few teams this year regardless of the rest of the preseason, Brian Burke has this team heading in the right direction.