Through five games, Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul and Dion Phaneuf are responsible for 45% of all Leafs shots for (58 of 130) and 75% of their goals scored (12 of 16). And one of the other four came off the stick of Colton Orr.
On one hand, it’s always a positive when your best players are playing like your best players. On the other, Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul aren’t going to score 114 and 65 goals respectively. It’s been a funny turn of events from preseason to the real games; it first looked like the Grabovski line was picking up where it left off last season as the de facto number one unit, while the Kessel line was a disappearing act for long spells at a time. In one sense it’s worrying, on the other it’s somewhat encouraging; if the likes of Kessel, Lupul and Phaneuf cannot realistically sustain their pace, by the same token surely the MGK (Or FGK) line cannot stay this quiet for much longer. Hopefully, both lines start clicking (even at a more realistic pace from Kessel and Lupul) and the Leafs have a dangerous one-two punch that makes them really tough to shutdown, a sort of pick your poison for opposition coaches assigning their matchups.
The secondary scoring problem doesn’t begin and end with the Grabovski line, as the other six regular forwards – Frattin, Brown, Lombardi, the now-injured Armstrong, Dupuis, Steckel – have combined for only one goal, two if you count Colton Orr’s against Ottawa. The configuration will change with the injuries to MacArthur and Armstrong, as Nazem Kadri steps back into the lineup and Frattin moves up to play alongside Grabo and Kulemin. To be fair to Frattin, he’s hit a number of posts and has to be the most dangerous offensive player in the league yet to record a point.
Armstrong has been placed on the injury reserve with a sprained ankle, and MacArthur appears to be feeling the lingering effects of an infected elbow. While neither had gotten on the board yet this season, it will present an even bigger test for the Leafs’ secondary cast of forwards. It’s also an opportunity, as Kadri will get a chance in a third line role alongside Matthew Lombardi and Dave Steckel, Â where he will see some sheltered minutes and maybe some powerplay time.
Jay Rosehill will dress on the fourth line tonight as Wilson adds an injection of toughness against a team that accumulated 73 major penalties last season (third in league).
While the Bruins are experiencing what many will chalk up to a Stanley Cup hangover, Boston not only presents arguably the team’s stiffest test yet, but may be the game the Leafs need their secondary scorers to step up most. Kessel had what we hope was a pair of breakthrough performances against Boston in his last two meetings with his former team in March and early April, but still has only two goals and six points in 12 career games against the Bs. That’s in large part thanks to a certain 6’9″ defenceman that will be shadowing Kessel all game tonight.
In an interesting bit of plot drama, the Bruins’ hottest hand is Tyler Seguin, who has five points in six games for the thus-far low-scoring Bruins.
Jonas Gustavsson draws in between the pipes for his first regular seasonÂ appearanceÂ of the 2011-12 season. A back-to-back situation, on the road, against the league’s lowest scoring team through six games seems like a good situation in which to give Jonas his first start. Flashes of the familiar issues with Gustavsson – rebound control and overactivity in the crease – were concerning but it should be noted Gus never really played a bad game in preseason.
Defensively, Jake Gardiner stays in the lineup after an extremely poised 25+ minute performance last night. If he keeps this up, and Wilson remains totally averse to the idea of scratching Komisarek, Franson better get used to that press box he so badly hates.
Few would argue Luke Schenn has been the Leafs’ worst defenceman through five games, but he will be given the chance to play his way out of his funk. As James Mirtle tweeted earlier today, he’s not the type of personality that needs a pressbox wakeup call to understand his performance hasn’t been up to snuff. He’s averaged the lowest ice time among the Leafs’ seven active defenceman and surely knows full well why that is. I hope his problems are more the result of a lack of confidence – which can lead to the type of second guessing visible in his decisions with the puck – and not something more problematic like a loss of foot speed. It’s known Schenn added some more weight over the summer while training with Shea Weber, with Mirtle reporting in an August article that he was up over 230 pounds. It should be noted thatÂ Schenn was at 235 entering last season and didn’t look like he was skating in sand as he has in the last few games. Â Given Komisarek is a couple inches taller at 6’4″, played at 237 last season and feels he is now benefiting from some weight loss over the summer, a high playing weight does remain a possibility, however.
Your lineup for tonight:
Lupul – Bozak – Kessel
Frattin – Grabovski – Kulemin
Kadri – Lombardi – Steckel
Brown – Dupuis – Rosehill
Phaneuf – Gunnarsson
Liles – Schenn
Franson – Gardiner