5 questions for Maple Leafs to answer in second half
The Toronto Maple Leafs resume regular season play against the Columbus Blue Jackets after the midseason NHL All-Star break, safely in a playoff spot but with question marks hanging over the team's postseason prospects.
OMAR: I know I may be alone on this, but like, my goal for the Leaf season is to win a round. That's it. And now that the all-star break is over and we're in the final stretch, the main question is, what do the Leafs need to show us? I know I have a couple of things that they need to show us in preparation of the playoffs to show that they can do it this time.
First, we need to see who the number one goaltender is. Right now, it's Ilya Samsonov. And to be honest, by proxy, it might end up being him for the rest of the season, because who knows what's up with Matt Murray, and I doubt you're going to let Joseph Holl take the wheel. So if Ilya Samsonov is the number one goalie, can he do it? Can he handle the grind? Can he handle the load? Can he handle playing all of these games all over and over again?
Can Sheldon Keefe be strategic in how he plays both Samsonov, and Wall, or Murray depending on when he comes back? Show us the second-line left winger. Who is he going to be? It can't be Kerfoot. It can't be Engvall. It can't be Jarnkrok Jarnkrok has done a good job, but it can't be him. It needs to be someone else.
Kyle, Kyle Dubas, I'm looking at you. Show us who is going to be the second line left winger who can help add to a top six and make the offense of the Leafs a lot more dangerous than it already is. Who are the top six defensemen? OK, if it's going to be Timothy Liljegren, Rasmus Sandin, TJ Brodie, Justin Holl, Mark Giordano, and Morgan Reilly, is that the six? Morgan Rielly, can you step the game up? It hasn't been good enough.
Rasmus Sandin, Timothy Liljegren, great offense. Sometimes, the defense is lacking. That happens. Mark Giordano, can you handle the load at your age? I know you've been playing well, but can you handle it?
Justin Holl, can you be better? Justin Holl, are you even going to be here? Is Justin Holl going to be included in some type of trade? So who's going to be in the top six once the playoff starts? Who's going to be in the top six for the rest of the season?
William Nylander, are you going to keep on going with these goals and this great season you're having? Or are you going to stop? I think based off what we've seen so far from Nylander, I don't think he's stopping. I think he's going to continue going.
I don't know what it was, but this year Nylander came into the season like on a mission, on a mission to be a leader on the ice, off the ice. He's the first at practices. He's the first to skate. He does those extra skill sessions, and it's paying off.
Matthews being out of the lineup, that's OK, because Nylander is taking up the load and scoring goals as well. But can he continue that? 40-50? Who knows? Both would be sick.
And finally, can we stop losing those games that we should not lose? The Leafs have the benefit of having one of the easiest schedules in the second half of the season amongst other teams in the league. We're facing a lot of non-playoff teams.
And I don't know about the mission to pass Boston. At this point, it seems like Boston is destined to finish first at the Atlantic. But even still, you don't want to be losing those games heading into the playoffs, because regardless of what anyone says, that's not a good look. You want to go into the playoffs feeling great and feeling strong. You want to head into the second half of the season knowing that you can dominate every single game.
And losing to teams like Columbus, or Chicago, or Arizona, or Montreal, or Ottawa isn't going to help the case. This team needs to be different. And whether it's internally, or whether it's externally, or whether it's-- I don't know-- some type of culture thing, whatever, the Leafs need to be different, and they need to feel different in this stretch heading to the end of the season. Because if they think they're different, and they believe they're different, and they feel they're different, then maybe we'll get a different ending which doesn't involve me hysterically crying into a camera.