Monday, November 1, 2010
It’s a long season and it’s always important to remind yourself of both the good and the bad to ensure you don’t get too high or too low.
For example, after the Leafs started the season 4-0, I was very seriously considering betting on them to win the Northeast Division. The odds were good and the Leafs were rolling. Then I told myself they squeaked by against Montreal, held on against an undermanned Pittsburgh team, outplayed a badly undermanned New York team, yet only won on a power-play in overtime, and throttled Ottawa because the Senators are garbage. The reasonable voice inside my head told me the Leafs finished 29th only a year ago and I already predicted they would have to fight all year just to make the playoffs (which they’ll make in case you’re wondering). The rational fan won. The passionate fan was too busy getting drunk and yelling ‘Go Leafs Go!’ to provide a cogent argument.
Let’s take a brief look at the first month of the season and see what’s going right for the Leafs and, unfortunately, what’s going wrong.
- Last season the Leafs ended October with a record of 1-7-4, which gave them a mere 6 points. This season the Leafs are 5-4-1 and have 11 points. Improvement!
- Phil Kessel is scoring goals. He already has 7 in 10 games. That puts him on pace for 57 goals. 10 games is way too small of a sample size to make any projections, but Kessel’s early play indicates that 40 goals could be a minimum. What’s different about Kessel’s play is that he’s just as willing to crash the net and pot rebounds as he is wiring a stinging wrist shot from the wing.
- Clarke MacArthur is scoring goals, too! He has a surprising 6 in 10 games. Based on his career, Mac usually starts scoring at a rapid pace and eventually dries up. However, it seems likely that MacArthur can break 20 goals for the first time in his career thanks to his increased role on the Leafs.
- The Leafs defence was equally hyped (by Leaf fans) and trashed (by Leaf haters) this off-season. The early results favour the Leaf fans. The Leafs have the sixth best goals against-per-game, allowing only 2.3 per game
- The Kaberle-Schenn pairing is gold. They are both averaging over 22 minutes a game and are a combined +7.
- Toronto’s penalty killing is vastly improved from last season. The unit currently ranks 13th in the league with a respectable 84.8% efficiency.
- The Leafs’ goaltending is also vastly improved from last season. J.S. Giguere is 4-2-1 with a 2.27 GAA and .909 SV%. Jonas Gustavsson is 1-2 with a 2.36 GAA and .921 SV%. Both have played solidly for the Leafs, showing an ability to shut the door in the closing minutes to preserve a win or make a timely save to keep the Leafs in a game when trailing.
- Nazem Kadri leads the Marlies with four goals and four assists in eight games. But that doesn't mean they should call him up. Let him develop.
- The Leafs have gone 1-4-1 after winning their first four games of the season.
- I mentioned both Phil Kessel and Clarke MacArthur are scoring, but that’s pretty much it. The Leafs have the second lowest goals-per-game (next to New Jersey) and have relied on Kessel and MacArthur to score nearly 57% of their goals. It’s bad when Tim Brent and Colton Orr have the third most goals on the team.
- The Leafs power-play has picked up where it left off last season. The Leafs are 24th in the league with a paltry 11.9% efficiency. They have no net presence and Dion Phaneuf seems incapable of hitting the net at times. Without a real point threat teams can focus on eliminating Kessel.
- Mike Komisarek is averaging only 13:48 minutes of ice time a night. The only defenceman who averages less is Brett Lebda (13:43). I don’t think Komisarek has been bad enough to warrant such a decreased role, but he hasn’t been good enough to justify 20 minutes a night.
- Kris Versteeg only has one goal and one assist and is -4 to start the season. Versteeg was supposed to develop into one of the primary scorers for the Leafs, but it hasn’t happened yet. He needs to play better.
- Dion Phaneuf is a team worst -6. Is the pressure of being the captain affecting him?
- Colby Armstrong is out 4-6 weeks with a busted hand (thanks to Chris Higgins), but before that he registered only 1 goal and no assists in 8 games. He was working hard, killing penalties, and adding some truculence, but it would be nice to receive a little production for $3 million a season.
- The Leafs have been shut-out twice this season and have scored only once in two other games.
- The rumours of Brad Richards to the Leafs percolated even before the season started. Once the season began they intensified. It’s nice to think that the Stars will give Brad Richards away for financial reasons, but, in reality, Richards has scored more points than Vincent Lecavalier since he was traded from the Lightning. The Leafs don’t have the assets to get a player like that. Stop the non-sense.