The Toronto Maple Leafs are 3-0-0 and are the only team in the NHL who can make that claim. Awesome.
To win three games in a row, some things have to be going well and there have certainly been some positives in the early going for Toronto but it hasn't been all sunshine and smiles. With three games in the books, I thought I'd share some of my observations from the early days of the 2013-14 season.
The Good and the Bad of Tyler Bozak
I'll preface this by saying that I've been on Bozak's case for an awfully long time now but he really hasn't done anything in the first three games to alter my opinion of him. He throws the puck to Kessel in all situations and doesn't have the skill or offensive instincts to capitalize when Kessel gives it back. There have been at least a half-dozen opportunities in the early stages of the season where Bozak has either feebly put a one-time shot in the direction of the net or missed the puck entirely. What it all boils down to is that Bozak is a disaster at 5-on-5 and the fact that he's still skating with Kessel is either a damning reflection of the job Burke/Nonis have done at filling the centre position or an indictment of Randy Carlyle's deployment of the centres we do have.
Having said all of that, Bozak has looked awfully good on the penalty-kill. He's been playing the points very aggressively and twice in the first three games it's paid off -- once with a shorthanded goal and once with what nearly turned into a shorthanded breakaway. Couple this with his proficiency in the shootout and Bozak has it in him to be a useful player in select situations.
Van Riemsdyk's Steady Play
Is it just me or has Van Riemsdyk quickly become one of the most consistent Leafs forwards? He seems to create at least one scoring chance for himself every game at even strength and he always looks dangerous on the powerplay. I've been very impressed with Van Riemsdyk's play thus far and I've got a feeling he's going to put up some pretty gaudy special teams numbers.
Our Goalies Are Great
As much as I'm a Reimer fanboy, he had a bit of a rough one last night. His defense was collapsing all over him (often literally) but he was still scrambling more than you'd like to see. Despite that, we all know what he's capable of and he outplayed Carey Price in Montreal during the season opener.
Bernier has put in a pair of masterful performances so far. The Leafs had a horrible first period and a pretty rough game overall in Philadelphia and Bernier still managed to earn the Buds a win. Last night, he came into the game in a tough situation, down 4-2, and held Ottawa scoreless for the remainder of the game and the shootout.
You may not think that the Leafs needed another goalie but you'd have to acknowledge that the team looks better for having two young studs in net.
What The Heck Is Going On With Our Defense?
Aside from Dion Phaneuf, our defense has looked somewhere between not good and brutal in each of the first three games. Ranger has been terrible, Franson has been occasionally great (Montreal, Philadelphia) and sometimes abysmal (Ottawa), Gardiner has been a factor at both ends of the ice, and Gunnarsson hasn't bounced back to his pre-hip injury form. If the Leafs are going to make the playoffs this season, they'll need a better effort from their backend than what they've been given thus far.
Good Find, Nonis
It's early but the additions Nonis made in the offseason have all looked good. I think everyone expected Mason Raymond to be a solid addition to the team and Bernier has certainly lived up to his end of the bargain through a game and a half. Personally, I wasn't enamoured with the acquisition of Dave Bolland but he's looked really solid so far. I'm not sure that I buy the "untapped offensive potential" argument just yet but he's been a positive player for the team so far and he's started changing my mind.
I'm interested to see what happens when Clarkson rejoins the team. He didn't really standout for me in the pre-season but he adds an element of skilled-toughness that this team doesn't really have. I'm also of the opinion that he and Kadri might make a pretty formidable 1-2 punch on the second line (assuming Carlyle doesn't come to his senses and start skating Kadri with Kessel.)
Presented Without Comment
Phil Kessel is the man.