Originally posted on Red Light District Hockey  |  Last updated 10/21/11

TORONTO - NOVEMBER 3: Phil Kessel #81 of the Toronto Maple Leafs regroups after getting hit by Mattias Ohlund #5 of the Tampa Bay Lightning during a NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on November 3, 2009 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada . (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)

We have all witnessed the amazing start by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first two weeks of the season, as they have quickly become the media darlings again. But last night against the Boston Bruins there was a rude wake up call for Leaf Nation, as they were picked apart by the defending champions in a 6-2 loss one night after a shootout win against Winnipeg.

The Maple Leafs, after having fortunate scheduling with their first five games at home, started a four-game road trip in Boston last night with games in Montreal, Philadelphia and New York next week. With expectations for this team sky high to start the season and immediate success during the first two weeks, last night proved all good things can come to an end without a defense to back up the talent at forward.

After the Leafs win in Winnipeg Wednesday night, head coach Ron Wilson stressed the importance of keeping the game easy and falling back on solid fundamentals. “Our strength is our speed and skill up front, if we aren’t moving pucks; we aren’t a very good team.” Finding the right defensive pairing who can quickly move pucks and transition easily to the offensive zone allowing for the Leaf forwards to work their magic will be the critical piece to the puzzle. The Leafs defense struggled with that aspect of the game and basically every other phase as well.

The Toronto defensemen regularly gave up the blue line during Bruins rushes allowing for enough time and space for crisp passing and easy goals that made backup, Jonas Gustavsson, appear a lot worse than he really is. Coach Wilson is still looking for the right defensive pairings as he sat Mike Komisarek last night to gain some “perspective,” although he will be back in the lineup against Montreal next week.

With the Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul carrying the scoring load for the Maple Leafs, many are concerned that the other lines are not holding up their end of the bargain. Wilson addressed those concerns in the post game press conference Wednesday after their win against Winnipeg, “Yes and no, but fact of the matter is that line got the job done…those two guys are hot”.

Well last night they cooled down a bit with Kessel and Lupul combining for only three shots and no goals. The Leafs will need the second line, led by Mikhail Grabovski, to start producing more; Grabovski in fact scored his first goal of the season last night. A lack of scoring ability on the lower lines is what separates a good from a great team.

Kessel has been notoriously criticized for being a streaky player since he came into the league, but the 24-year-old is continuing to hone his game. Wilson on his star player’s current streak, “Well it could be how to you know? He has always been a streaky player and he’s on a good one, only time will tell if he finds a way to be more consistent, I don’t see any holes in his game right now, he’s back checking, fore checking, making good decisions with the puck, not turning it over, and staying on top of things. He wants the puck all the time, and he’s demanding, and he’s getting it. That’s the big thing.” With only one shot last night, Kessel will need to do more than that to prove his skeptics wrong.

All eyes will be on the Maple Leafs as they try to bring their success at home on the road next week, although many are skeptical considering they now have the same record after six games as their start in 2010-11, which resulted in a 37-34-11 season with 85 points.

“Keeping it simple and shooting the puck”, it is one of those cliché lines that’s always on the tip of player’s tongues after a win, and the line “staying positive” after a loss. Toronto will have to remember both as they look for the right line combinations for continued success.
Photo credit: Getty Images
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