The Toronto Maple Leafs are now well removed from a playoff spot, and barring a miracle 10 game win streak or something close to it, the team touted as a playoff contender has managed to fail it's fanbase once again. We're not halfway through the season yet, however, so it is still very possible to sneak in by virtue of the lackluster bottom 8 teams in the Eastern Conference. A team however like the Oilers or the Wild have no chance, even though each sport a better record than Toronto because of the predictably competitive Western Conference, where basement dwellers at this point in the season are destined to remain as such. So if you're Leaf supporter(I can't think of why you'd be reading this otherwise) take solace in the knowledge that this is the East, where anything can happen(i.e New York Rangers in the playoffs while the New Jersey Devils in the basement).
So what has to happen then? Many Toronto fans are asking themselves, "Why aren't the Leafs winning?!" when they should be asking themselves, "Why are the Leafs losing". For one, they play a very run and gun risky style of hockey, prone to neutral zone giveaways, which is why teams like Boston and Buffalo, who trap and make the most of opportunities, regularly dominate the Leafs. Another reason, very smallish forwards and no one to win puck battles, especially on the boards in the offensive zone. Apart from Nikolai Kulemin, the forwards on this team are miserable at one-on-one battles. Very poor net presence is of paramount consequence and contributes nighltly to Toronto's scoring woes. Apart from these reasons, poor faceoff percentage on most nights, and a very embarrassing PP have led this team to be even worse than it was last year after 32 games. Surprising, I know. The Grabovski line has really picked up the pace, and scores on a nightly basis. If Kessel and Bozak can find ways to get each other the puck, instead of Kessel holding on too long or Bozak making an errand pass to no one, this top six won't be as miserable as it has been thus far. Versteeg being on the one of the top lines is also imperative if this team wants to make the playoffs. Yes, he has played better on the 3rd line, but not utilizing one of your best offensive weapons at a crucial point in the season is a recipe for a coach's dissmissal. Dion Phaneuf has to focus more on the offensive side to his game. He needs to jump into the rush, and clearly needs to close the gap from where he shoots(often near the boards from the blue line) because the pucks are just going nowhere, albeit with incredible force. Put him on the blue line on the PP with Kaberle, then try to do something where he and Versteeg switch places so there's at least someone who's not afraid to stand in front of the net. There are countless other suggestions that I have come up with either by observation, or by bantering with my fellow Leaf observers, but Rome was not built in one day, and the first real task is to make it to .500.
We've been told the goal is the playoffs, as it has been since '05, Can we really keep losing, or does something have to give?