Tuesday, March 1, 2011

February Recap: Playoffs? Playoffs!

So, February was a crazy month here in Leafs Nation, right? Who would have thought that this team would be making a charge for the final playoff spot after suffering through multiple death spirals throughout the season. The Leafs went a brutal 8-15-3 in November and December and made everyone hate their lives before giving a slight glimmer of hope in January with an outstanding 6-6-1 record. And then everything turned around. The classic Leafs move of turning it on when everyone has counted you out and the pressure is non-existent is in full effect. And like some idiot who never learns from the past I love every minute of it!

- The Leafs went 8-2-4 in February. Boner!

- The Leafs did give away two crucial points over the weekend after letting third period leads slip away, but whatever, I’m not here to depress you.

- After languishing in the bottom five of the league the Leafs have crawled their way out of the basement and are making (what appears to be) a legitimate charge at the playoffs. They’re only four points behind eighth placed Carolina with only one team in between them. That team would be the Sabres who unfortunately have two games at hand on the Leafs.

- The Leafs improved play is largely thanks to James Reimer. Optimus Reim has started his career with a 10-4-3 record supported by a 2.31 GAA and .929 SV% (not to mention two shut outs).

- Phil Kessel was selected last for the All-Star game, but instead of sulking about it he’s tearing it up. 6 goals and 6 assists over his last 10 games, which includes two big ones against the Bruins who have eaten him up over the past year and a half. Kessel’s hot streak has vaulted him up the Leafs scoring leaderboard ahead of Grabovski and only one behind MacArthur.

- What's most surprising about Kessel is that he's engaged physically. Of course he isn't like a young Cam Neely out there, but he's showing a willingness to take a hit to make a play and even ventures into the dirty areas of the ice. Wild!

- Dion Phaneuf has five points in his last seven games. Call off the search party!


OUT: Tomas Kaberle, Francois Beauchemin, Kris Versteeg, and John Mitchell
IN: Joffrey Lupul, Joe Colborne, Jake Gardiner, two first round picks, one conditional second round pick, one third round pick, one seventh round pick

- Without Kaberle and Beauchemin the Leafs have relied on increasing the minutes of their other defencemen. Gunnarsson is responding well and Aulie isn’t looking totally out-of-place either (although he has some difficulty with his first pass when under pressure). What's truly crazy is that Mike Komisarek and (gasp) Brett Lebda aren’t playing horribly.

- The Leafs didn’t trade for John-Michael Liles. That’s good considering they just traded Kaberle and Liles is a bad version of Kaberle who is just as expensive. Let the kids play and learn on the job. Plus, I don’t think these hyphen names.

- The Leafs didn’t trade Clarke MacArthur. I’m glad. He’s fit in well and both sides will likely negotiate a reasonable contract for both team and player. I think somewhere in the $2.5-3 million range for 2-3 years sounds about right.

- Brad Richards wasn’t traded either. That’s okay. The Leafs didn’t have the assets to acquire him (nor should they have tried) and he will hopefully make it to July 1st considering the Stars ownership situation is a giant mess. The Leafs should also have a ton of cap space heading into next season without Giguere and Kaberle. There are rumours that the cap will increase by $2-3 million as well. Money!

- Joe Colborne has started his career with the Marlies by scoring 4 goals and 1 assist in 6 games.

- I’m still a little pissed about the Versteeg trade, but Lupul is everything the Leafs hoped they were getting with Versteeg, except he’s bigger and plays a more physical game. Lupul is suiting up with Bozak and Kessel and they seem to have developed some chemistry. He finally broke out on Saturday with a two goal effort, which was an obvious relief for him considering he’s had tons of chances to start his Maple Leafs career.

- Did I mention there’s two first round picks! Sure, this is a draft that has no headlining name and the consensus is it isn’t incredibly deep… but two first round picks! That must be some sort of Leafs record.

- The Leafs actually won a game in Buffalo!

- Nazem Kadri is continuing his fine play in the AHL. He has 36 points in 37 games, which is only four point behind Mike Zigomanis for the team lead, despite playing in 18 fewer games.

- I don’t mean to alarm you, but the Leafs start a bit of a death schedule starting tomorrow against the Penguins. After that they face the Flyers, Blackhawks, Islanders (pfft), Flyers, Sabres, and Lightning. The schedule lightens up a little until the end of the month when there’s a heavy dose of Bruins, Sabres, and even Red Wings for good measure. Fun!

- The classic Leafs of February/March are back. Are they playing well because there is no pressure or are they playing well because they’re a scrappy group who have banded together and developed some chemistry while receiving excellent goaltending? Don’t ask me, I’m just enjoying the ride.

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