Submitted by Michael Stephens (a.k.a. Baumgartner)
The Toronto Maple Leafs have the Leagueâ€™s worst penalty kill, sporting a 73.0% success rate. They have been shorthanded 252 times this season, surrendering 68 goals. Through 71 games this season, they average 3.5 penalties (252ts/71gp) each night.
Around January 15th, this vaunted penalty kill was even worse, an abysmal 68.9%. Ron Wilson was smugly talking about how he had to teach his boys how to flip the puck down the ice and out of the zone.
However, I would like us to look at the Leafs Penalty Kill on January 30th, 2010. This date is important, as it was the 56th and final game of the season prior to the blockbuster trades that landed the Buds with Dion Phaneuf and Monsieur Giguere. The Leafs Penalty kill at that moment was 70.1% (the Leafs had allowed 60 goals on 201 times shorthanded).
January 31st, 2010 may go down as Brian Burkeâ€™s best day in his career as Leafs GM, as the trades he made have had a larger impact than many realize. In the 15 games that have followed (as of Thursday nightâ€™s win against New Jersey), the Leafs have surrendered 8 goals in 51 times shorthanded. This figure amounts to a stunning 84.3% Penalty Kill. Seriously. 84.3%. To put this into perspective, the Chicago Blackhawks have an 84.4% PK this season (fifth best PK in the league). As a caveat, I am well aware that 15 games is not the broadest sample. However, during these 15 games, the leafs have been shorthanded 3.4 times (51ts/15gp) per game, in line with their season average.
So who do we have to thank for this? Ron Wilson, with his fabled PK strategies? Dion Phaneufâ€™s over extended forehead blocking shots? Giggy standing on his head? Well…maybe. But In fairness, Ron Wilson is only now seeing an active, effective penalty kill, after almost two full seasons with Toronto. Dion Phaneuf is known for intimidation and soul eradicating hits, so he has certainly been a factor. J.S. Giguere has 2.46 GAA, .915 SV% , 2 SO in 10 games with the Leafs, so it is fair to say that heâ€™s been a reason. The inspired work of Tyler Bozak and Nik Kulemin hasnâ€™t gone unnoticed. Ditto Carl Gunnarsson. Ditto Luke Schenn. I see active sticks; winning puck battles with strength, speed, or skill; getting the puck down the ice. Even better, Jonas Gustavsson has put up some quietly positive numbers in the past 4 or 5 games. Earlier in the season, I felt he was often a liability in net on the PK.
And yet, Iâ€™m not entirely convinced that this vast improvement has yet been adequately explained. There are 8 other men who have impacted the Leafs Penalty Kill.
Matt Stajan. Niklas Hagman. Lee Stempniak. Ian White. Jamal Mayers. Alexei Ponikarovsky. Jason Blake. Vesa Toskala. All of these assembled gentlemen logged tons of minutes on the Leafs PK. All, save for Stemps and Poni (who hung out in the blue and white till march 3rd), were gone as of January 31st. Earlier this season, I regularly voiced my appreciation for Hagmanâ€™s two way responsibility. We all knew Toskala was no good, but defence has been the calling card of all the other players. I was talking with my dad about the Leafs at the trade deadline, we spoke about the Poni deal. We agreed that Pittsburgh made a great move not only picking up a winger but picking up a winger who can play â€œin all situations.â€ And yet here we are. Out with the old, in with the new. The Kids are Alright. Additional clichÃ©s. Every game seems to be a trial by fire for this young Leaf team. Thus far, we havenâ€™t been getting burned. At least 84.3% of the time.
OH YEAH! I was also thinking…
At the writing of this, there are 11 games remaining in the Leafs â€™09-â€™10 season. Ostensibly, the pressure is off. Something of a long shot though it may be, the Leafs find themselves back in another race. 28th spot. The Leafs, with 62 points, are only 4 back of Carolina. Florida and the Islanders sit with 67 points. Tampa has 68 points. Columbus 69. If the Leafs can continue their recent success (and in all likelihood, any of the aforementioned team stumbling in the final stretch) thereâ€™s a chance that they can finish above 29th. Lessen the percentage chance in the draft lottery of a top two pick. Lessen Bostonâ€™s chances of landing Seguin or Hall at the draft. Cam Fowler, the projected number 3 pick, will likely be an amazing defenceman. But I sincerely doubt that he will have the short term offensive impact of his peers. This is perhaps the most important race facing Maple Leaf Hot Stove right now. The forums will be filled with glee, for on that fateful draft day…a Fowler in Yellow and Black will have us cheering â€œWe won the Kessel trade!…for now. Maybe!â€