At a time when the Alex Rodriguez steroid issue is making the rounds around the sporting world, I’m wondering if Leaf coach Ron Wilson has some of that “magic stuff” stashed inside that doghouse of his. After Ian White and Jason Blake were healthy scratches early on during the season, both players have been playing exceptionally well of late. Ian White is logging a ton of very efficient ice-time on the blueline, while Blake is almost singlehandedly carrying the Maple Leaf offense.
Just how good have they been?
Let’s start with Ian White.
Here’s a crazy stat: Over his last 10 games played, Ian White is averaging over 27 minutes of ice-time every night. He’s also got 4 points over his last 7 games played, and is making things happen with quick, smart passes and has also displayed an uncanny knack to get point shots through crowds and on net. He is leading the entire defense corps with an average of 2.3 shots per game.
In talking about versatility: Ian White is the only Toronto defender to average over 20 minutes of total ice-time, over 2 minutes on the PP AND over 2 minutes on the PK. Not Kubina, not Kaberle, but Ian White. Here’s another strange stat: He is only defensive regular (not counting Van Ryn due to his injuries) to actually be on the positive end of the +/- spectrum. How about that?
Not only that, but his defensive stats have shown tremendous improvement across the board:
Last season: 1.19 hits/game, 0.98 blocked shots/game, 0.74 giveaways/game, 0.32 takeaways/game
Using my defensive efficiency rating, that would have yielded a score of: 20.47. Not very good.
This season: 1.77 hits/game, 1.42 blocked shots/game, 0.67 giveaways/game, 0.44 takeaways/game
Crunching those numbers gives us a robust 47.92 efficiency rating.
Let’s take a step back and try to absorb all of this for a second. Ian White is a 24 year old defenseman who is playing in all situations, averaging over 20 minutes/night, logs roughly 25 minutes/night over the last month and a half, and is on an 82 game pace for 31 points. Definitely deserving of a pat on the back.
And now onto the star of our (statistical) show, Jason Blake. Roughly a month ago, Ron Wilson had this to say about Blake:
” I don’t think I’m stepping out on a gang plank here or anything, but he’s (Blake) been our best player the past two months. The points he’s getting… he shows he’s paying attention to details, being part of the team, and all those things I heard were negative before. He’s bought into the whole team concept here and the team and I think he’s only going to get better.”
Wilson said that during the morning skate prior to the Carolina game. Anyone remember what happened that night? 3 goals and 2 assists for Mr. Blake. Holy (Bleep)! But that was just the beginning. During the last span of 11 games played, Jason Blake has recorded 9 goals and 9 assists for 18 points! 11 points in 14 December games, 16 points in 13 January games, and now 5 points through 4 February games. That entire line is making things happen almost every time they step on the ice. Jason is utilizing his speed not to get off 40 foot wristers, but instead to beat defenders to the net, knocking in loose pucks, or setting up quality scoring chances for his teammates.
But like Wilson mentioned, Blake’s drastic turnaround has not only been about his own offensive totals (which have been damn #*@$ing impressive regardless), but has also included the aspect of “buying into the team concept”. How many times last season could you have used the word “selfish” to describe Blake’s play? He was rarely concerned with contributing on the defensive side of the ice and always seemed to be the first one out of the Leaf zone, looking for those stretch passes so that he could get off those deadly logo-seeking missiles of his. Not so much this year.
Once again, let’s crunch some numbers and we’re gonna see some stark contrasts. Crazy facts time:
Blake’s minutes are DOWN from a year ago, his PP time is down from 3 minutes/game to 2 minutes/game, but his PK time has increased from an amazing 9 seconds/game to a surprising 1:43/game. In fact, he’s actually been getting more PK time than any Leaf forward not named Dominic Moore. How about that? More than Matty Stajan, Nik Antropov, and even the supposed PK specialist Jamal Mayers.
Pulling up the ‘ol defensive stats shows us this:
Last season: 0.17 blocked shots/game, 0.77 giveaways/game, 0.51 takeaways/game
Virtually no contribution in defensive coverage and a giveaway machine to boot.
Now this season: 0.42 blocked shots/game, 0.46 giveaways/game, 0.58 takeaways/game
Whoa. Blocked shot rate has nearly tripled, giveaways have been drastically cut down, and takeaways are up as well. Oh baby!
We’ve seen a number of interesting storylines develop over the course of this season, but the resurgence of Jason Blake and the quiet “breakout” season of Ian White are a couple that I am following with great intrigue. Two very different situations. On one hand, you’ve got an aging player, dealing with a ton of criticism on top of an already full plate of on and off ice issues, displaying great resilience and poise in showing that he’s still got something left in the tank. At the other end of the spectrum is a young kid, highly touted coming out of junior as a member of Team Canada, one of the chief scapegoats of the Leafs struggles over the past few years as deemed by the fans, who is now starting to round into form and gaining tons of confidence and poise along the way.
In the dark cloud that has been the Leafs season thus far, it’s nice to see that there are at least a couple of silver linings.
Always a pleasure,