Player Projections + Opening Night Preview
If the Toronto Maple Leafs wish to avoid another eight-game losing streak to open its regular season, it's vital the players don't let last season's collapse linger in the back of their minds---that's especially important for Mike Komisarek considering the Leafs open the season against the Montreal Canadiens.
Luckily for the Leafs, the odds seem to be in their favor with Michael Cammalleri out of the line-up due to a one-game suspension, as well as Andrei Markov, who continues to nurse his right knee. It also helps the Leafs have several new faces in the opening night line-up, including Phil Kessel, Dion Phaneuf and Jean-Sebastien Giguere. That said, the Canadiens have plenty of firepower upfront to temporarily fill the void. With P.K. Subban, Lars Eller and even Carey Price eager to display their skills, it'd be foolish to underestimate the long-time rivals. After all, the Leafs are a testimony to the capabilities of undervalued and desperate hockey players.
Perhaps the most intriguing storyline from the Leafs' standpoint is that of Komisarek. The rearguard enters his second campaign with the Leafs hoping to solidify his role as a reliable defensive defenseman who can lay some bone-crushing hits and block shots. Nothing more, nothing less. Last season he simply tried too hard and exited his comfort zone, which resulted in frequent turnovers and needless penalties. He set the tone on opening night last season with five minor penalties, and the Canadiens capitalized on two of those. If the Leafs, or Komisarek, have any chance on starting the season on the right foot, discipline will need to be one of their strengths, especially with the "truculence first, ask questions later" attitude Burke hopes to instill.
The first powerplay unit of Kris Versteeg, Tyler Bozak, Phil Kessel, Tomas Kaberle and Dion Phaneuf look to continue its dominance from the pre-season, and it'll be interesting to see if Phaneuf will continue to screen the goaltender. Plenty of options with Phaneuf's point shot, Kessel from the left circle or Versteeg's excellent vision and puck control to create some space. If the Leafs are to make any progress in the Eastern Conference standings, the special teams must improve on last season' abysmal statistics.
And if there's any readers who happen to be attending the opening-night game, be sure to make Price feel right at home by unleashing the boo birds. If the Leafs can get at him early, his confidence could get shaken. I know I'd be giddy like a schoolgirl watching the Leafs dominate its number one rival. And hey, maybe Komisarek can even chip-in a goal or two!
Anyway, considering the regular season is nearly 30 hours away, here's my point projections of the Leafs' key players---as I'm sure you don't care about bottom-six predictions.
Note---all predictions based on 82 games.
Kris Versteeg: 23 goals, 56 points
Tyler Bozak: 18 G, 52 PTS
Phil Kessel: 36 G, 69 PTS
Nikolai Kulemin: 21 G, 48 PTS
Mikhail Grabovski: 16 G, 51 PTS
Clarke MacArthur: 21 G, 46 PTS
Tomas Kaberle: 8 G, 52 PTS
Dion Phaneuf: 15 G, 49 PTS
Francois Beauchemin: 10 G, 32 PTS