Bits & Pieces: Early Observations

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    The Leafs will travel to Madison Square Garden tomorrow and put their 3-0 record on the line against the 1-1 Rangers. In the meantime, some early observations from the stats column and an analysis of the progress on the powerplay from Gus Katsaros:

    • As mentioned in last night’s post-game thread, Tim Brent is 11 for 35 on faceoffs this season (31% success rate). The trio of Fredrik Sjostrom, Brent and Colby Armstrong has been an effective shutdown line but one of the keys to continued effectiveness will be the presence of a pivot with prowess in the faceoff circle to get the puck moving in the right direction. Some suggested they were surprised it was Brent and not Mike Zigomanis (who is 10 for 14 this season) out to take the final draw of the game in the defensive zone. In fairness to Wilson, while Brent was 5 for 12 in total last night, he was 4 for 5 in the defensive zone at the time. Any offence such as the two goals he’s produced so far is obviously a really nice bonus but Brent’s main responsibility is as a defensive centre, so improvement on the dot is a must. More on the Tim Brent story from The Sun’s Rob Longley - add Brent’s ex coach Dan Bylsma to the list (that also includes Marlies bench boss Dallas Eakins) of those that believe he can be an NHL regular.

    • As Mirtle points out, MacArthur isn’t new to fast starts. He had four goals in his first six last year before posting only 12 in his final 75. Secondary scoring was the key to the win last night as the top line seemed to miss the bus to Pittsburgh. Having MacArthur as well as Grabovski manage consistent offensive production is a key to qualifying for playoff hockey this April.

    • Add Armstrong to that list, too. He’s doing the small things well on that checking unit and will hope to get on the scoreboard soon as he’s pointless through three.

    • Luke Schenn deserves a major share of the credit for the Leafs‘ better defensive performances to start the season. He is leading the team in shifts per game and tops the blueline with a +3. His ten hits are the most among Leafs defencemen. And he’s doing it all with confidence, particularly in the offensive zone. He picked up two primary assists last night on the Colton Orr tip and Francois Beauchemin’s goal from the point.

    • The Leafs rarely opened the scoring last year, and had a .231 winning percentage if trailing first, so the fast starts must continue. The Leafs were also 25th in the league at winning when they did score first, so the fact that we’ve seen the Leafs successfully close out the one-goal Montreal and Pittsburgh games is nice. Small sample size of course, but so far that difference described has been all about goaltending. Giguere and Gustavsson were both brilliant in the closing stages of those games, whereas Toskala we all know was great at letting in a goal at the worst possible time, as well as just about all additional times.

    • Where as the Leafs’ historically bad penalty kill of yesteryear has seen night and day improvement to the tune of a 90% kill rate through three, the powerplay remains of middling output. Not to say there aren’t good signs. Gus Katsaros supplies us with a scout’s analysis of the PP so far:
      -They’ve adopted an umbrella set up, with an added level of passing.
      -Still don’t have enough traffic getting in front of the net, which limits shooting.
      -Rely more on opening seams and the umbrella provides another level to make plays. Look at MacArthur’s 2nd goal versus Pens, with a pass from Kaberle.
      -Good puck movement and they’ve been winning the little battles with support along the boards.
      -Phaneuf roves through the zone, and sometimes I find a forward that should be down low in the play taking charge at the top of the umbrella – like Kessel. That shouldn’t happen.
      -Teams know about Kaberle’s penchant for passing, so he’s somewhat reinventing himself this season. More mobile on the point, and sneakier on the back door.
      -Kessel isn’t looking as flat footed along the boards, more active skating.
      -There’s no reliance on Phaneuf shooting from the point, its more about getting opposition moving in different directions and opening up lanes. Dion’s shot is a bonus.
      -I keep coming back to this, but traffic in front is key to a successful PP. Leafs have to do a better job at this.

    • As Garrett pointed out in his last blog, the biggest test yet for this team will come in their response to their first loss. While those “plan the paraders” who like to tell us what we’re thinking might say otherwise, Leafs fans actually do know this is coming.

    Alec Brownscombe is the founder of MapleLeafsHotStove.com, where he has written daily about the Leafs since September of 2008. He was also the editor of the 2009-12 Maple Leafs Annuals. Contact him at [email protected]

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