Monday, October 31, 2011

October Recap: Flying High

Stephane's mom always warned him about playing close to the tracks.
The Leafs are off to a great start and the derisive cries of "it'll never last" get quieter and quieter after their improbable run continues. The longer they hold high in the Eastern Conference the more people have to wonder whether the Leafs are a legitimately good team this year. They certainly don't look like the bottom dwellers of years past, although there are certainly some major flaws to their start.

- The Leafs are off to their best start in 12 years. They're sitting in second place in the Eastern Conference with a 7-3-1 record. Yes, their schedule hasn't been all that difficult (more than half their opponents were not in the playoffs last year), but they did beat the first place Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday (who, admittedly, were playing backup Brent Johnson).

- Tyler Seguin who? Phil Kessel is leading the league in both goals and points and looks like an actual hockey player, rather than someone who turns it on only when there's a scoring chance. He's meshed extremely well with Joffrey Lupul and has scored 23 goals and 24 assists in the 39 games since the Leafs acquired Lupul. Kessel is on pace for 74 goals and 133 points. That's a scientific way of me telling you this streak will never end!

- Note: I live in fear of the terrible Kessel slump. It looks like he's a changed player all over the ice and should be effective even when he isn't scoring, but the regularity of his seemingly never-ending slumps last year are make me very afraid.

- Uh, yes I know Tyler Seguin has 10 points in 10 games and is Boston's best player by far. Shut up.

- Speaking of Joffrey Lupul, he's looking like a reborn player with the Maple Leafs. 11 points in 11 games.

- Dion Phaneuf has got the old swagger back. He's playing nearly 27 minutes a game, which is only surpassed by Brian Campbell, Ryan Suter, Dan Girardi, and, amazingly, James Wisniewski. He's also scored 11 points in 11 games and looks like the dominant player he was a long, long time ago in a province far, far away.

- Dion Phaneuf nearly ended Stephane Da Costa's life. Major respect for Da Costa not dying and admitting after the game that the hit was legal and he should have known Phaneuf was on the ice.

- David Steckel is a face off machine. The nights Ron Wilson plays him close to 19 minutes a night are a bit confusing though. Let him stick to his strengths, Ron. He's a fourth liner.

- Negative Nancy says: The Leafs great start is masking some major flaws. The penalty kill is still about as effective as a hockey stick in Colton Orr's hands (72.3%) and the Leafs are still letting in a ton of goals (currently 26th in goals against per game). Cody Franson hasn't been able to crack the line-up and he's pretty pissed about it. Luke Schenn hasn't been all that good, and Philippe Dupuis looks like the second-coming of Rickard Wallin (forgot he existed, didn't you?)

- Tim Connolly was injured. Insert joke here.

- Mike Komisarek hasn't been awful. You read that correctly: hasn't. In fact, he's been downright effective in certain games. Shocking.

- The Leafs are third in the league in goals scored! Amazing, really. Sure, Kessel isn't going to score 100 goals and Joffrey Lupul isn't going to be a point-per-game player in all likelihood, but the Leafs are getting contributions throughout the line-up.

- Mikhail Grabovski either takes a huge hit each game or narrowly avoids one by getting his head up at the last second. I don't understand how he isn't concussed out of his mind. Regardless, he's becoming a responsible two-way player that is quite willing to go to the hard areas of the ice to make things happen.

- James Reimer has provided average goaltending so far, which in comparison to years past, is positively amazing. The problem is that now he's hurt and The Monster is the de facto number one.

- The Monster is confusing. He lets in a lot of goals, then has a good game to make you think you should like him. Just when you're starting to warm up to him he lets in a stinker like this.

- Joe Colborne is leading the AHL in points and is second in goals. THANK YOU, KABERLE. But seriously, thanks for waiving your no-trade clause, Tomas.

- Nazem Kadri was demoted and has so far been held pointless in two games with the Marlies. Can anyone confirm whether he's playing on a line with Colborne? Part of me wants them to stay in the AHL for a while so I can see them play together in the AHL version of the Winter Classic at Ivor Wynne Stadium in January as the Marlies take on the Bulldogs.

- The loss to Ottawa hurt (and what the hell is going on in Ottawa?), but it was a pretty good month of October nonetheless. I hope the customary November kick in the teeth is re-scheduled for never.

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