Morning Mashup: Truth and Illusion after 8 games

Morning Mashup: Truth and Illusion after 8 games

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The Toronto Maple Leafs have leapt from the gate.  With 10% of the season in the books, the Leafs are 3rd in the conference, and 6th overall in total goals scored.  They are the best Canadian team.  They are unbeaten in regulation at home.  Going into Tuesday night’s games, the Leafs boast the highest scoring forward and defenseman in the league.  All this while icing one of the youngest teams in the league, one whose forward corps has been decimated by injuries in the early going.

Despite the plethora of positive stat lines, the data can be equally damning.  They have the 26th ranked penalty kill (still an improvement over last season, sadly), have allowed more goals than they’ve scored, and haven’t been able to beat a team ranked higher than 13th overall in either conference.  These statistics speak more of an unremarkable team that has received remarkable individual efforts rather than a pack of world beaters.

While the results have been favourable, the numbers – increasingly – haven’t.  Looking behind the curtain, we can see some troubling trends.  After the jump, let’s take a look at some of the funny numbers that should have you wondering just how precarious the Leafs situation is.

-   To everyone saying that Mike Komisarek needs to play better: point your gun in another direction.  Its Luke Schenn’s game that is in the greatest need of improvement.  While he’s managed to register a solid 3 assists, he’s seen the ice about 25% less than last season.  Averaging 15:43 per game so far while struggling in his own zone, Schenn’s overall ice time per game is lowest amongst the Toronto defenders.  A far cry from last season’s dominance, which saw him earn a big pay cheque this pre season (and saw Komisarek’s minutes evaporate).  Luke was a big part of the turn around last season, as he shut down opposing forwards and kept the attack to the outside.  He needs to reclaim last year’s snarl to help the Leafs make a meaningful run at the playoffs.

-  While it’s the closest margin between the two categories in a long while, its perhaps most troublesome to see that the Leafs have scored 26 goals and allowed 27.  Its hard (not impossible) to be continually successful with play like that, unless you can win close games.  It has been promising, even this early, that the Leafs have won 4 of 5 1-goal games.  However its quite dubious to mention that the Leafs have had to rally from behind in 4 of those games.

-  Of course, the previous stat line was warped by the middling play of Jonas Gustavsson, who has given up 13 goals in 160 minutes of play.  James Reimer, by contrast, has given up 1 more goal in twice the amount of time in the nets.  The sample has been small and the sympathetic voice will tell you that Gustavsson has played under less favourable situations (ie: cold and against better teams).  You’ve got to wonder how much longer the Buds’ brass will keep bleating that he actually gives the Leafs a chance to win games when his save percentage is .857.

-  The single most important reason behind the team’s triumph has been Phil Kessel, who has created his own luck off the rush.  Yet he’s managed only 3 of his 15 points on the power play.  While it’s selfish and unreasonable to expect Kessel to play any better than he already has, he and the entire man advantage unit need to be better than 15.4%.

-  Speaking of special teams, the Leafs have gone a modest 27/36 (75.0%).  Its either sunk the team or allowed the opposition to get back into the game most nights.  Either way, it remains the single greatest weakness to team success moving forward.

-  The Grabovski line has managed 5 goals and 3 assists and that is simply not even close to what’s needed.  The line hasn’t really struggled – as some suggest – as much as they haven’t produced.  The trio has been terrific at keeping pressure up with a good, mobile cycle but has been guilty of over passing.  They might find more success by just shooting and using their speed to pot rebounds instead of looking for the flashier tic-tac-toe plays.

-  Don’t hold your breath, but Tim Connolly is expected to make his Leafs debut this Thursday against the New York Rangers.  While he should expect to feature with Kessel on the power play, don’t be shocked if the game tested Matthew Lombardi is the top line pivot at even strength.  Given his price tag and volatile injury history, it’s only right that he’s eased back into the line up.  It’s a long shot, but his return could just be the spark that the special teams have needed.

-  With Connolly expected to be back, Bozak ready and Armstrong not far from returning, Matt Frattin might be running out of racetrack.  While he’s been an effective 200 foot hockey player, he’s been snakebitten.  Despite only tallying one assist, he’s warranted more and more ice time in Toronto.  He’ll get it.  Just with the Marlies.

-  After calling him out last Wednesday, John Michael Liles has responded with 5 assists in the past 4 games.  That’s great and all, but the 2 – 2 – 0 record isn’t.

Perhaps we should take these contradicting tales about the Leafs play through the first tenth of the season as the foibles and faults of a young team building together.  Who cares how they did it, they got it done.  Yet this club has shown through these first 8 games that they are clearly a work in progress.  While they have the pieces to be competitive each and every night, they are more fragile than the front page would have you believe.

Links:

Mike Brophy musing on our home and native land.

After I commented about the dearth of Tim Connolly news, I suppose I should have expected an abundance of it.  It never rains but it pours.

Rob Longley with even more thoughts and questions about Tim Connolly’s debut.

Something not about Tim Connolly by VLM.

And there are even more question marks surrounding the Rags.

Damien Cox (you’ve been warned) on Jonas Gustavsson.  And I thought I was being harsh.

Always end on a high note.  DGB.

Michael Stephens has been writing for Maple Leafs Hotstove since 2010, and has featured in the 2010 and 2012 Maple Leaf Annuals. Former Editiorial Intern at The Hockey News. Undergraduate degree from the University of Windsor. Chat me up about all things hockey on twitter @MLHS_Mike

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