It’s been a storybook start for the Toronto Maple Leafs this season. They’re first in the league, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner are red hot, and Frederik Andersen has looked steadier than he usually does early on.
Despite the success, it hasn’t all been fun and games. Joe Thornton, Jack Campbell, and Nick Robertson have yet to return from injury – not to mention Wayne Simmonds is now on the shelf for at least six weeks following a freak wrist injury.
Travis Dermott missed last game with a Charlie horse, but he appears ready to re-join the lineup. He was seen taking reps on his usual pairing with Zach Bogosian at practice and figures to check in next game against the Montreal Canadiens – despite recent, impressive play from Mikko Lehtonen.
Jeff Skinner – 10 GP – 1 PT
( 9M Cap Hit )
Frederik Andersen 10 GP – 1 PT
Jason Spezza 11 GP – 8 Pts
Travis Boyd – 4 GP – 4 Pts
Mikko Lehtonen 5 GP – 3 Pts
( Total combined Cap Hit 7.65m )
— Gordon Bombay (@CoachBombayy) February 7, 2021
Luckily, this is the deepest the Leafs have been in years and the carousel of forwards and defensemen at their disposal has helped to alleviate some of the pain.
The only narrative that has been haunting the Buds’ hot start is the fact that they haven’t been beating the best teams. They have wins against both the Canadiens and the Winnipeg Jets (two squads having great season); however, most of their wins have come against teams that are really struggling.
Now, they’re set to play two straight against Les Habitants, and the results will be extremely telling.
There are a few players who really need to step it up; otherwise, their regular roster spots could disappear once the injured reserve starts to empty.
Two players that instantly come to mind are Ilya Mikheyev and Jimmy Vesey. Both have performed adequately enough given their salaries and their roles, but the Leafs were hoping for more than the bare minimum.
Mikheyev has looked good in most games so far. He’s clearly a bit snake-bitten at the moment, but he’s been trying as hard as he can every shift and his puck luck is bound to change at some point.
🕯 Mikheyev 🕯
— Gordon Bombay (@CoachBombayy) February 6, 2021
Vesey, on the other hand, seems to be mailing it in on some shifts and really needs to start playing like the organization knows he can.
He’s been an NHL-caliber player since entering the league, and still is, but this is also not the same player who was scoring exciting goals for the New York Rangers just two seasons ago.
A good way to spark motivation could be to try him on the second power play unit, as he’s typically been effective when given time on the man advantage. But does he deserve that chance?
Despite playing subpar, he hasn’t been a full-on disaster. He’s looked decent on the penalty kill, has positively driven play (54% CF%), and has moved the puck without much trouble when called upon. But that’s about it.
He’s certainly in a tie with Alex Kerfoot as Leafs Nation’s favourite scapegoat. After all, the fanbase always needs at least one, even when they’re playing well.
Alex Kerfoot not drawing a boarding penalty after his three penalty night in Edmonton feels like the scene in Beverly Hills Cop where Axel Foley is thrown out of a plate glass window and gets arrested for disturbing the peace
— Dril Nylander (@LeBronMaclean) February 5, 2021
All things considered, the season is still young. There’s never any benefit to overreacting to a small sample size – whether the data is positive or negative. Both players should be able to turn it around.
Vesey, in particular, needs to find his legs – a roadblock that likely stems from the fact that he didn’t play a professional game of hockey for over 10 months (since he was on the Buffalo Sabres last season). Even so, he needs to get it together to avoid the press box and/or the taxi squad.
Kerfoot hasn’t exactly had a year to write home about either, but he’s played well enough to stay in the lineup. Not to mention the Leafs aren’t exactly flush with options at center.
What’s most alarming is that he already has ten giveaways. For context, a lot of fans have been criticizing Vesey for his giveaways, but he only has 4. Kerfoot really needs to be stronger on the puck, as ten giveaways in 13 games is simply unacceptable.
Perhaps he will fall back to the wing once Thornton returns. Kerfoot’s best games in Toronto have come on the wing, and he’s shown chemistry with John Tavares and William Nylander in the past as well.
All-in-all, the upcoming mini-series against Montreal should be nothing short of a barnburner. These two teams have been trading places atop the North Division since the season began; therefore, this is an important opportunity to create separation.
If you like goals, hits, fights, and rivalries, I would suggest tuning in.
Leafs have to make a statement tomorrow against the Habs.
— Shanny (@cshanny55) February 10, 2021