MLHS Notebook: Wednesday Edition

MLHS Notebook: Wednesday Edition

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A dozen thoughts, observations, or interesting stats for your Wednesday night:

1) Can Armstrong catch a break in Toronto? He played 79 and 82 game seasons in Atlanta in the two seasons prior to signing on with the Leafs, and had never missed more than 10 games in a season since entering the league. Since arriving in T.O., Armstrong has played in only 59 of 115 games as a Leaf.

Armstrong had only put up one point this season, never really having a chance to mesh into the flow of things. His near .5 point-per-game rate in 50 games last season was a tantalizing sample of what Army could bring to this team as a third line grinder, secondary scorer, and fan favourite wrapped in one. Suddenly you worry if he’s ever going to get a chance to play that role consistently in Toronto.

Some concussions (especially if it’s the first for the individual, as is the case with Armstrong; “single” vs. “cumulative”) can in fact involve relatively short recoveries, so let’s hope it’s the case with Colby. We tend to associate all concussions with Crosby-like year-long layoffs, but fortunately there is such a thing as a less severe concussion with a shorter recovery time.

2) Armstrong’s brief concealment of his concussion speaks to the level of frustration he’s got to be feeling with his injury issues. The symptoms need to be immediately reported to team doctors, but given his history and the “fuss” now associated with this injury you’ve got to sympathize with his hesitation. Athletes hate being told they can’t compete (albeit this was a particularly frustrated one) and you wonder if this could become a theme given the protocol clubs must follow for concussions. Ultimately – and thankfully – Armstrong didn’t try to play Monday night.

3) I’d like to see Marcel Mueller get a chance at some point, especially in wake of Colby Armstrong’s latest injury. Joe Colborne remains a possibility here, too, but the void for a big body on the third line to help establish a good forecheck and cycle game needs to be filled. I’m not sure Nazem Kadri does that, but it would be nice if Kadri’s insertion helps bring some scoring balance throughout the lineup. I’d expect to see something like this up front for tomorrow against Buffalo:

Lupul – Bozak – Kessel
Frattin – Grabovski – Kulemin
MacArthur – Connolly – Kadri
Boyce – Steckel (if healthy) – Crabb

Bozak and Connolly could be switched, but Bozak was playing at a point a game pace over 18 games on the top line and frankly, appears a much better fit alongside Lupul and Kessel than does Connolly. Given its performance last season, Wilson had to give MGK it’s due time and then some to try to rekindle last year’s magic, but Frattin has pretty consistently brightened up the second line. He scored an important goal against Los Angeles on Monday after Wilson rotated him onto a unit with Grabo and Kuli. Kadri also gets a couple of skilled guys to play with in Mac and Connolly.

4) Pretty amazing to see Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel’s names still among the top names in the scoring race as we inch towards the half way point of the season. Just look at the company… Malkin, the Sedins, Giroux, and Stamkos comprise the top 7 alongside ‘Loops’ and Phil.

Kessel is at 61% of his total point production from last season with only 40% of the season completed. 33 games in the books and Lupul is only 16 points off of his career high.

5) Phil Kessel’s 20 assists rank him 18th in the league in the category. That’s perhaps more impressive than the goal scoring, which we always knew he was capable of. 32 assists, good for 80th in the league, is the highest Kessel’s ever finished. His underrated playmaking and passing ability has really shown through now that he’s drawing extra coverage.

6) The Leafs under Ron Wilson have always been disciplined. They have consistently been in the top ten in penalty killing time (from lowest to highest) under his reign and yet, the discipline has disappeared this season. The Leafs are in the bottom half of the league (16th) in penalty killing time at 202 minutes and 4 seconds. And it’s given the penalty kill more opportunities to show off it’s incompetency.

7) While on the depressing PK note, the Leafs have allowed 34 powerplay goals against, the highest in the league by a five-goal margin. Their save percentage in shorthanded situations sits at 0.819, second lowest in the league next to Columbus. The league average PK save percentage is .879. Run that number against their shots allowed on the PK and the Leafs would’ve let in 12 less goals this season with just a league average penalty kill.

It’s important to keep in mind that less powerplay goals against means more goals against at even strength as the Leafs would be trailing less often. But for the purposes of this illustration, a 12 goal drop (excluding a bump upwards in EV GA) would move the Leafs to the middle of the pack (15th) in goals against at 2.85 GA/G.

In short and with less numbers, it’s a major problem to have a penalty kill this bad, especially when you’re putting it to use this often. It’s not infeasible that the Leafs could be a high teens/low twenties team in goals against per game if they could get their PK closer to competent.

8.) I do believe it would take a fundamental shift in style of play, and/or an alteration in personnel, to improve that number much further, however. The Ron Wilson run and gun approach puts a young team in a position to make even more mistakes than they would already, plus the blueline as currently constituted has a more offensive than defensive leaning.

9) Philippe Dupuis is one of two NHL players to have played 30 games this season without recording a single point. He had six goals and 17 points in 74 games on Colorado’s fourth line last season, so you have to wonder if it’s a by product of the Leafs’ inability to put together a 4th line that can make the occasional offensive contribution.

It was nice to see Boyce get the recall in wake of Dupuis’ injury. He brought jam and was pretty opportunistic when chances came his way last season.

More importantly, Boyce will be a new body for the coaching staff to try out on the PK. Not suggesting Boyce is the solution to this years long problem, just that Dupuis didn’t play a second on the penalty kill against the Kings on Monday.

10) The Leafs’ record at this point last season (December 21st) was 12-17-4 (28 points). Their record now is 16-13-4 (36 points). Amid a more “Leaf-ish” November/December stretch of 7-10-3 since their 9-3-1 start, it’s easy to lose sight of the importance of that eight point improvement as far as the 2012 playoff outlook is concerned.

Nevertheless, 17 points in 20 games since November 4 is a legitimate cause for concern. It goes without saying the Leafs will not be in a playoff spot for long if that pace keeps up.

11) A look at how the remaining schedule shakes down from here in terms of travel and strength of schedule, courtesy of Dirk Hoag:

Since the lockout, games on back-to-back nights typically result in a drop in winning percentage of .450 rather than .500, so that’s the Leafs’ biggest challenge coming down the stretch. The opponents do get softer from here on in.

Team Games Played Miles Traveled Bk-to-Bk Sets Avg Opp Win% Games Remaining Miles To Go Bk-to-Bk Sets Avg Opp Win%
Toronto Maple Leafs 33 12,657
(29th in NHL)
6
(5th in NHL)
.507 (13th in NHL) 49 19,582 (23rd in NHL) 11 (2nd in NHL) .495 (20th in NHL)

12) Injury Updates (courtesy of CBSSports.com):

Mike Brown underwent back surgery last week and is listed as about five weeks away from returning.

Mike Komisarek is listed at two weeks away as he continues to recover from a broken arm.

Matthew Lombardi is reportedly out 1-2 more weeks with his shoulder injury.

David Steckel (bronchitis) could be ready to return tomorrow against the Sabres.

Glove tap to Dirk Hoag and Gabe Desjardins for helping with some of the stats work.

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. You can contact him at [email protected]