Now, where were we?
The Maple Leafs renew their season Thursday with a road date against the New York Islanders followed by another road engagement with Montreal on Saturday.
Here are 10 questions facing the club as they approach the last 22 games of the regular season.
- Can Phil Kessel maintain his torrid pace? Kessel, a five-goal scorer during the Olympics and the tournament’s top forward, banked 27 points over his last 15 Leaf games. In that stretch he scored 11 times and did not go more than two games without a goal. The question for Kessel and, by extension the Leafs, is will the lack of a break and the Team USA’s lackluster finish wear on the gifted Leaf forward?
- Is this Dion Phaneuf’s finest season? The Leaf captain is playing a little less – his ice time is down by nearly a minute at 24:15- but his plus 19 is an incredible feat considering his constant deployment against the opposition’s top players. Up to now, Phaneuf’s best plus/minus season was plus 12 six seasons ago in Calgary. “He continues to grow in his leadership role, off the ice and I don’t see any reason to see why he doesn’t continue to grow on the ice,” said Leafs Vice President of Hockey Operations Dave Poulin. “Dion is 28. If you look at many defencemen historically, they are just coming into their own at the age Dion is. There’s still upside, as a person and a player.”
- Will Morgan Rielly’s ice time fluctuate now that the season is winding down? “I think we’re only scratching the surface on where Morgan can go,” Poulin said. “As impressive as he has been in handling everything from whether he would play in the World Junior and the tremendous number of games he has played over the last year, he has continued to improve.” The 19-year-old rookie may benefit more than any other player on the roster from the Olympic hiatus as he tackles the arduous demands of his first full professional season. It will fascinating to see how much Rielly will play as the final quarter of the campaign.
- When will Dave Bolland return? Bolland was the best Leaf when a tendon in his ankle was severed four months ago. He could be back as soon as this week and Bolland’s gradual reintroduction into the lineup should allow him to be rounding nicely into shape should the Leafs return to the post-season. A veteran with two Stanley Cups and a Cup-winning goal is a phenomenal asset for a still-youngish team.
- The trade deadline is two weeks away. Will the Leafs make a move to add depth at forward or on the blue line? The Sabres Matt Moulson and Steve Ott and the Islanders Thomas Vanek have been pegged as three of the most likely high caliber players to be dealt. GM Dave Nonis has said he doesn’t anticipate any major dealing but a depth defenceman and another defensively sound forward wouldn’t hurt.
- Will Jonathan Bernier show signs of wear? In five seasons in LA, Bernier appeared in 62 games. He has played 44 games this season and has assumed the mantle of number one goalie. Bernier has shown no evidence of losing his sense of absolute command of the crease. His save percentage of .927 is the sixth-best in the league.
- Will the rest benefit Joffrey Lupul? Lupul has but two goals in his last 10 games and the Leafs could use some scoring from the second unit.
- Will David Clarkson right his confounding first season as a Leaf? In 39 games, Clarkson has scored just four times and has one goal in his last 13.
- When will Tyler Bozak get his due? The knock on Bozak is that while he is defensively conscientious he is not a top-drawer offensive player. But his 12 goals and 32 points in 36 games equates to 27 goals and 73 points over 82 games. Bozak, a 52.6 per cent faceoff winner last season has slipped to 48 per cent in the circle this year.
- Can Tim Gleason handle more playing time? In Gleason’s last five games he has averaged 20 minutes a night, two more minutes a game than he was accorded in his first five games as a Leaf. Gleason has goosed the Leafs blue line with his competitiveness and commitment to shot blocking, precisely the elements that are needed most in pressure games. He seems destined to earn more playing time as the season winds down.