Games: 30. Record: 12-12-6. Points: 30. Fourth in the Northeast Division and 11th in the Eastern Conference. That's how it stands for the Leafs as they head toward the All-Star break at the end of January. I admit that the team is far more fun to watch and plays with more grit and heart than I expected--many of this season's losses have come in shootouts or have been lost by very slim margins. That being said, it's painfully obvious that the team needs to improve in a number of areas, of which I will highlight but a few:
1. First periods. The Leafs have been pretty poor in the first period of games, giving up 38 goals (the second period hasn't been much better: 37). I'd say there's room for improvement there.
2. The shootout. the Leafs are 2-6 in shootouts this year, both wins coming against New Jersey. The Buds need to find a way to win if pushed all the way to the "skills competition". If you convert a few more of those shootout losses into wins? You're looking at a significantly different record.
3. Road games. Toronto has a losing record on the road and thus they need to learn to steal a few more away from the ACC. Funnily enough, last season it was at home where the team struggled mightily. Make up your mind, boys!
Rather than just pointing out some areas where improvement is necessary, here are some areas of real strength:
1. Speed. This team can skate with the best of them and tend to control the tempo of play in a game. Other than Antropove, there really isn't a slow skater on the squad and even Big Nik has seemingly improved.
2. Third periods. The Leafs have allowed the least amount of goals against of any team in the NHL in the third period this season with 20. Now, if they can just manage to actually get more leads earlier in games...
3. Grit and passion. This is not a team that rests on its laurels too often, especially when compared with Muskoka Five-era teams of yore! Players fight hard, play strong in the corners, and aren't afraid to take the body, which is good to see.
Considering we are in a rebuilding year and weren't expected to do much of anything, I am impressed with this 2008-09 Toronto Maple Leafs team.
Bingleafs Grade: B