Sunday Mashup: Requesting Back Up

Sunday Mashup: Requesting Back Up

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Photo: Reuters

It’s becoming abundantly clear that all is not well in the house that Brian Burke built.  The Toronto Maple Leafs, after roaring out of the gate like a bat out of hell, have begun to falter.  Their weaknesses have been exposed and have damned the team to a 1 – 3 – 0 record in the past 4 games.  Mired in this slump, the Leafs have a -14 goal differential (5 goals for, 19 goals against) and are primed for a deep plunge in the Eastern Conference standings.

Any panelist can glance at the wonky numbers above and castigate Ben Scrivens, Jonas Gustavsson or Brian Gionta.  There’s about 19 points to support that argument, but an increasing concern has to be Toronto’s inability to get scoring out of anyone not skating with Phil Kessel.  More specifically, it’s the deteriorating play of the second line of Clarke MacArthur, Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin that bears most watching.  Held (and therefore rendered) pointless over the past 4, they have become the poster boys for the Leafs recent downturn.

After starting well (10pts in 13 gp) despite being notorious for playing poorly in October, Mikhail Grabovski’s game seems to be lost.  Pointed out by Mislav, the Belorussian pivot only seems to be making the wrong choice in the offensive zone.  The most skilled and temperamental of the three forwards has millions riding on his play this season.  As a pending UFA, a repeat performance of last season will guarantee a price tag north of $4.5 million

Clarke MacArthur, despite scoring 6 goals in 5 games at the turn of the month, has done little to justify his 6.5 million dollar contract extension this season.  Despite a beautiful centering pass last night that led to the Senators 5th goal, MacArthur has looked a shadow of the player that put up 41 assists last year as the main playmaker for the line.  He was the biggest question mark on the line, after posting career highs as an afterthought signing by Burke in august of 2010.

Worst of the bunch, statistically speaking, has been Magnitogorsk native Nikolai Kulemin.  Praised last season for the quiet, rugged and reliable way in which he posted 30 goals, his absence from the score sheet seems most puzzling.  He hasn’t scored a goal in close to a month (some of which can be attributed to not shooting enough), yet has played a strong heads up game.  He just needs to be a little more selfish and a little more determined at the top of the crease.

Some of the blame has to fall on coach Ron Wilson’s shoulders, who has responded to this extended period of inefficacy with very little.  For portions of the third period last night, Wilson swapped left wingers, and tried Matthew Lombardi with Kulemin and Grabovski.  The same Matthew Lombardi that has tallied but 1 assist in the past 8 games (and has recorded an alibi-less -8 in that same period).  Beyond the short lived “Matt and USSR” line from last night, Wilson has stood pat while the trio has floundered.

While I appreciate that Ron has faith in the struggling troika, one of Wilson’s perceived failings as a coach is his resistance to change.  Like playing a 14 year old in NHL 12, he’s regularly stuck to the same strategy in spite of the results.  While many would consider it heresy to separate Lupul and Kessel given their world beating numbers through 20% of the season, sooner or later Wilson will have to split his top two scorers in the hopes that they will re-ignite the slumping scoring corps.

This isn’t to pillory Misters Kulemin, Grabovski and MacArthur, as over the past 4 games 9 of 12 Leaf forwards haven’t scored a goal.  However, after all posting career years last season the mere mention of their nickname brought visions of consistency and results.  Now all they seem to bring is the cycle to no where.

With a less than favourable schedule which sees them play 5 of the next 6 games on the road, the Leafs will need the trio to rekindle their scoring touch to remain relevant in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.  Worse yet, if it is proved that the team cannot rely on them, Mislav will have to alter his Game in Ten graphic.

Onto the links!

DGB’s defensive playbook

Michael Langlois wouldn’t get along with Ronny boy

Tyler Bozak doesn’t let himself off the hook

Lance Hornby on the Leafs ability to win 1 goal games

WARNING! DAMIEN COX ARTICLE!  The Leafs have problems

Onto the shameless self promotion!

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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