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Don't worry, Be happy

Brodi Craddock - Leaf Blogger, hockeytracker.net

After escaping a notoriously tough November above the ever-important .500 mark, the Toronto Maple Leafs have ran out of steam in December winning only 2 of their last 8 games. A free-falling penalty kill combined with various injuries and sub-par goaltending have relegated the Leafs to 7th place in the Eastern conference with two games remaining before the Christmas break. A familiar sense of despair is slowly beginning to creep over Leafs Nation, but as the voice of reason in an ever-apprehensive rabble of supporters, I assure you that your fears are misguided.

Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul are the leagues highest fraternal duo. Dion Phaneuf is proving to the league that he is just as good as the Weber's and Chara's. Tyler Bozak has 18 points in his last 19 games. David Steckel is arguably the best face-off man in the league. Jake Gardiner can glide faster than many players can skate. Luke Schenn leads the league in combined hits/blocks. John-Michael Liles appears to have found his groove in Toronto and is constantly creating chances in the offensive zone. Matt Frattin, while not scoring as much as we'd like, is about as hard to knock over as an NFL linebacker.

But most importantly, Reimer appears to have regained form, as was demonstrated in the shootout loss vs LA. Even if he sputters there seems to be a renewed confidence in Jonas Gustavsson, who has been unspectacular however is still en route to his best season in the NHL. Tim Connolly has played in consecutive games, and is proving he can be incredibly creative when he's 100%.

It's hard to explain the proverbial step backwards last years top unit of Kulemin, Grabovski and MacArthur have taken. Kulemin is playing well but not really being rewarded. Grabovski looks like the hardest working player night-in night-out but is now a marked man after his breakout performance last season, not to mention he is now splitting quality ice-time with Bozak and Connolly. MacArthur has dealt with injuries and a brief suspension but has never really taken off yet this season. He looks good with former teammate Tim Connolly, but doesn't really have a defined role on the team at the moment.

That alone is more positivity than we've had around Toronto in years. The fact that Florida and Ottawa are both overachieving right now should lend hope to the Leafs playoff aspirations. It's probably safe to say teams like Carolina, NYI, and Montreal will not be in the playoff picture. Winnipeg is highly unpredictable and don't really have an identity at all(not to slag them off but I don't see them in the playoffs). Tampa Bay are proving me right in that they were a fluke last season riding a hot young scorer. That leaves Washington, Buffalo, and New Jersey as Toronto's main rivals for the three remaining playoff spots. It's hard to see Washington missing, but stranger things have happened. New Jersey is another unpredictble team lacking identity, but could squeak into the playoffs if they get lucky.

Buffalo, who before the season declared themselves Cup contenders, are now struggling to hold onto a playoff spot. As a lifelong Leaf fan, I have always thought of Buffalo as an annoying little brother who didn't have many friends so he took to annoying the more popular older sibling, Toronto. They have been a pain in our asses since entering the league in 67, and their fanbase is mostly comprised of disenchanted Leaf fans. Trust me, if another team were put in the GTA, that organization would crumble faster than their status as "Cup contenders".

The Leafs face the Sabres Thursday night. I hope they put the little shits in their place.

@brodicraddock @hockey_tracker

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