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Leafs' hopes look promising early on

Jeremy Wall | Interrobang | Sports | October 17th, 2011

Heading into their October 15 game at home against the Calgary Flames, the Toronto Maple Leafs remain undefeated. But just barely.

The Leafs opened the season October 6 with a win over Montreal and followed that up with a win over Ottawa on October 8. Toronto beat Ottawa 6-5, but Ottawa embarrassed Toronto in the third period, scoring five goals, including a few easy ones on Leafs goalie James Reimer after it looked like the Leafs had the game in hand. Reimer, who shutout Montreal in the season opener, was solid early, shutting out Ottawa until getting blitzed in the third. The Leafs' special teams were also terrible that night. Ottawa netted two power play goals and a shorthanded goal in the third.

Much of this season's success depends on the play of James Reimer. In his first two games, when he's played well, he's been brilliant. But the third period against Ottawa showed that consistency may be a problem, and consistency in his play is something Reimer will need to have if the Leafs are expecting him to play 50 or more games this season.

One bright spot in the Ottawa game, though, was the production of Phil Kessel, who tallied a hat trick and added an assist. It was Kessel's first hat trick as a Leaf. If it wasn't for Kessel's hat trick, the Ottawa game would have been an embarrassing come-from-behind loss for the Leafs. Granted, the team is short a few players: Tim Connolly is already hurt, Nazem Kadri is also out for a few weeks and Clarke MacArthur is serving a suspension he earned during preseason. Both Connolly and MacArthur were expected back for the October 15 game against Calgary.

There's a problem here, though: Ottawa stinks. They're forecasted to be among the lowliest of the basement dwellers this season, a team that's planning to rebuild through the draft, which means multiple seasons of last place finishes. They're one of the worst teams in the league and Toronto barely beat them.

A nagging problem for the Leafs during the past few seasons has been both their power play and penalty kill. The Ottawa game showed that, though hopes are high for Toronto this season, Toronto's special teams have much room for improvement.

It will be interesting to see how Connolly plays alongside Kessel. Kessel is off to a hot start and logic says with a playmaker like Connolly centering his line, Kessel should produce even more. But logic has little to do with team chemistry in hockey and Kessel and Connolly had little time to gel during preseason. It may take time to find their mutual chemistry this season, should they find it at all. And the more often Connolly is out of the line-up, the more difficult finding that chemistry becomes.

MacArthur is a bigger asset to have in the line-up than Connolly. The MacArthur-Kulemin- Grabovski line was the Leafs' best last year and figures to be the best again this year. As with Reimer, consistency from these players will be vital to any success the Leafs have this season.
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