was set on going in a different direction. Polak will add a more physical element to the defense that Gunnarsson didn’t provide. Goaltending Jonathan Bernier was solid in net for most of the season, but he was injured down the stretch during the team’s most important games. Although his .922 save percentage and 2.70GAA were not spectacular, he did play behind a porous defense that repeatedly failed to clear pucks out of the zone and allowed the most shots per game of any team in the league. Bernier was acquired before last season in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings, and with an increased physical presence in front of him, a healthy Bernier is ready to make his mark in Toronto. Backup goalie James Reimer was stellar in 2012-13 but he was relegated to the backup role when Bernier was brought in. With the late season injuries to Bernier, Reimer was forced into important situations, but he wasn’t quite up to the challenge. Power Play One of the major bright spots for the Maple Leafs was their power play and they’ll return their top four goal scorers from last year’s unit. They finished the season converting on 19.8 percent of their penalties, which ranked fifth in the NHL. Kessel was the team’s most dangerous weapon on the power play with 20 points, and is the unit’s undisputed leader. But even eight goals was a down year for Kessel who has scored as many as twelve goals in a season. He’ll have plenty of help from van Riemsdyk and Kadri. The two young forwards combined for 16 power-play goals and 17 assists. Even if van Riemsdyk is separated from Kessel on even strength series, it’s likely that opponents will see plenty of the combo on the power-play. From the blue line, Phaneuf will see time on the power play along with Gardiner, Cody Franson and Morgan Rielly. Penalty Kill While the power play was a bright spot for the Maple Leafs, the penalty kill was a black mark for the team. They prevented just 78.3 percent of their shorthanded opportunities and allowed 58 power-play goals. Both of those were ranked 28th out of the 30 NHL teams. Although David Dion Phaneuf Jared Silber/NHL/Getty Images Clarkson struggled in his first season with the Maple Leafs, the veteran could go a long way in repairing his status among the fans by bringing his skills to the penalty kill. His offensive numbers were down, but he did show his willingness to sacrifice for the team by blocking 35 shots. The team will also play Dan Winnik, who came over from Anaheim, and Leo Komarov, who saw his first NHL action last season. Both Phaneuf and Lupul will continue their roles on the unit, but the team hopes that others on the team will step up and take some of that time off their hands. Three Questions 1. Can the team bounce back from last season’s collapse? The Maple Leafs are on shaky ground after what happened last season. The franchise has only made the playoffs once in the last nine seasons, but they have the pieces to in place to make it. If Kessel and Phaneuf take the lead, Toronto can be dangerous all season. 2. Where will the secondary scoring come from? There is no question that the Maple Leafs have an excellent first line, but things fall off after that. Moving van Riemsdyk to the second line will spread the scoring around a bit and may spark a connection between him and Kadri that could pay big dividends in the future. 3. Can Randy Carlyle survive a slow start to the season? Brendan Shanahan was brought in to shake up the franchise, and many people were surprised when he kept Carlyle behind the bench. But he’ll be given an extra short leash and needs the team to play like the Maple Leafs from before March. Carlyle’s seat is hot, and the pressure of expectation will likely get the best of him. Prediction The Toronto Maple Leafs appeared to be a lock for the playoffs late last season, but a disastrous finish to the season derailed that. Now they have to rebuild the mental pieces and welcome the clean slate of a new season. They have the offensive talent but this team will only go as far as their defense takes them. Because of that, they’ll struggle to reach the postseason.
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