A Look Ahead to November

The Leafs’ weekend was almost mirrored by my own. Had a great start to the weekend, partying in NYC, and then stumbled on a minor inconvenience when I left my phone in a cab, never to be seen again. The Leafs kicked off their Halloween weekend with a rousing win over the league-leading Pittsburgh Penguins, then couldn’t close the deal on the road against an upstart Ottawa team. Had to be impressed with the win over Pittsburgh, even if Brent Johnson was in net and the ‘Guins are a bit banged up.

Tim Connolly looks to be fitting in nicely, and I’m glad he wasn’t rushed back into the lineup from whatever injury was ailing him early in the year. The powerplay will likely benefit from his presence, and I liked what the Leafs were doing with the man advantage this weekend. Alot more movement, players rotating and moving the puck much better. If the PP started clicking, the Leafs will be in very good shape heading into a crucial month of November. Make the jump for a look at what the Leafs have on the horizon for the upcoming month. 

Toronto heads into the season’s 2nd month with a sparkling 7-3-1 record, and while their goal differential is a miniscule +1, the fact that 5 of their 7 wins came in one-goal games is an impressive one, as they’ve had to battle for everything they’ve gotten thus far. They’ll start this month on the road with a couple of winnable games in New Jersey and Columbus before coming home for round 2 of their season series with the Bruins. It’s a real mix-n-match for the rest of the month. Five of their remaining 11 games in November are against Western Conference teams (St. Louis, Phoenix, Nashville, Dallas, Anaheim), and only two are against Northeast Division opponents, both at home where the Leafs sit at 5-0-1 right now (Ottawa, Boston). They’ll also get their fill of the Southeast Division this month, with trips to Tampa Bay and Carolina, as well as home matches with Washington and Florida.

Looking at those games, and it’s obviously a bit difficult to predict how injuries to both the Leafs and their opponents will affect things over the course of a month, given the Leafs’ current state of affairs, you’d have to be happy coming away with 7 or 8 wins, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility to expect as many as 9 or 10. The month of November has been a killer for the Leafs in the past two seasons, though (3-7-3 in ’10-11, 5-5-3 in ’08-09 after posting just 1 win in October). Obviously this year’s start has been much better than either of their past two starts, but the key will be sustaining that through the next month.

A big part of that will center on the two players that have finally started to emerge as true NHL superstars in a Leaf uniform. Phil Kessel became the first Leaf to score 10 goals in his first 10 games since Rick Vaive did it in 1983. I’ve said it more than enough times already, but I’ll keep saying it – his game is simply more complete this year. He’s playing 200-foot hockey every night, and the difference is clear. If Connolly can continue to find chemistry on that top line, Kessel should be able to steer clear of those slumps that have overshadowed his two previous 30-goal seasons in Toronto.

Just as important will be Dion Phaneuf, who leads the Eastern Conference with a +7 rating and has 11 points to go along with it. Not only has he contributed offensively, but he’s done a great job of playing true number-one minutes, ranking 5th in the league with an average time on ice of 26:49 through the first 11 games. He’s playing physical, but he’s playing smart, and continues to show the confidence to step into the offense when needed.

Obviously, there’s still alot of question marks that have to be answered, and we’ll take a closer look at some of these this week. Is Jonas Gustavsson finally turning the corner? What’s the deal with Luke Schenn? How about the rest of the d-men – does Jake Gardiner need to go back down to the Marlies so Cody Franson can finally get a fair shot? Are Mike Komisarek and Carl Gunnarsson going to continue to be solid? Stay tuned this week as we take a look at the Leafs’ back end.

That’s all for now, and as always, you can follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/editorinleaf. Go Leafs!

Topics: Boston Bruins, Carl Gunnarsson, Cody Franson, Dion Phaneuf, Jake Gardiner, Jonas Gustavsson, Luke Schenn, Mike Komisarek, Ottawa Senators, Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh Penguins, Tim Connolly, Toronto Maple Leafs

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