Thursday, February 2, 2012

January Recap: Monster Mashing

Jonas Gustavsson didn't see his shadow. That means there will be spring hockey in Toronto.
The race for the final few playoff spots is on. The Leafs are battling with a number of teams and have wavered in and out depending on the week. They had a good run in January and are in a position where they just need to keep winning at a reasonable pace, which is a nice change from the last few seasons when a .700 winning percentage was a minimum.

- Jonas Gustavsson yanked the starting gig from James Reimer and ran with it in January. The Monster went 7-3-1 with a 2.08 GAA, .926 SV%, and three shutouts. Did not see that one coming.

- The Leafs took 15 out of a possible 24 points in the month, which is a pace of slightly over 100 points in a season. Positive!

- The penalty kill went a whole month without allowing a goal. Allow a moment for that to sink in. The penalty kill, which has routinely gone games without killing one off, actually managed an entire month without allowing one powerplay goal against. This is truly the end of days.

- The penalty kill was so bad before January that even going an entire month without allowing a goal still meant that the Leafs were the league's 30th ranked PK unit. Yup.

- One of the reasons the penalty kill was so good was because the team limited the amount of penalties. The old cliché is that the hardest penalty to kill off is a bad one, and the Leafs made sure they didn't take too many bad penalties, or really any penalties for that matter. The Leafs went weeks without taking more than a handful of penalties, which really helps out a beleaguered group of penalty killers.

- Mikhail Grabovski caught on fire, scoring 8 goals and adding 8 assists in 12 games. He won the first star of the week for the final week of January and really looked like Toronto's best player on most nights. This also made me sad because he might just price himself out of Toronto.

- The Leafs signed John-Michael Liles to a four-year contract extension worth $3.875 million per season, which saves the Leafs $325,000 compared to Liles current deal. That's not a lot, but every penny counts. Sorry, that's the Nashville Predators motto. I think Toronto's motto is something like "mo money, mo condos", which is at least an upgrade from the previous "no trade clauses for all" motto that JFJ tattooed on his arm.

- In a Sports Illustrated players poll, Dion Phaneuf was named the most overrated player in the league, confirming that NHL players are unable to differentiate between overpaid and overrated. For the last two years Phaneuf has been trashed quite a bit, and is only starting to hear some more praise for his game this season. I'm not sure how someone can be overrated when lots of people have criticised them for the past two seasons.

- A truly overrated player is someone who is good, but gets excessive praise. For example, Erik Karlsson is having an amazing season. Really spectacular. But people are pencilling his name in for a Norris Trophy. Uh, the last defenceman to put up big points but didn't match up against the opposition's best players and started close to 60% of his shifts in the offensive zone was Mike Green, and no one took his Norris candidacy seriously. Sorry, Karlsson is great, but tons of points does not make you the league's best defenceman.

- Joe Colborne and Nazem Kadri made the AHL All-Star game, but neither played. Kadri was still with the Leafs and Colborne decided not to take part. I don't even care about the NHL All-Star game, so I'm not going to pretend that anything about the AHL All-Star game matters.

- Kadri threw this beauty hit. For a player of his size, he has a surprising edge to his game. Despite being small he's got a chip on his shoulder and likes to throw his body around when he gets the chance.

- Playoffs!

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