Last night, the Toronto Maple Leafs put on a classically Toronto Maple Leaf performance, falling 7-4 to the New York Islanders. It got ugly late, as an out of synch, laboured Leaf club seemed to erode in the final 40 minutes. It was an all-too-familiar sight to behold. And it has, perhaps unduly, substantially darkened the opinions of the team.
So what can be made of Leaf’s four game season? Here are a couple quick thoughts on the manic life of a rebuilding club.
A close win over a divisional rival, a close loss to a divisional rival. A blowout come-from-behind win, a blowout come-from-behind loss. 12 goals for, 12 against. Manic.
Thursday’s ugly display brought to the foreground a lot of the weaknesses that many suspected the Leafs to have this season. Their goaltending looked inexperienced, shaky, and ultimately defeating. Their defense was porous, serving up so many turnovers you’d think Pillsbury paid their salaries. And yet not-so-young futures Nazem Kadri, Matt Frattin and Carl Gunnarsson exploded onto the score sheet to the tune of 8 points.
The power play is puzzle, and the pieces aren’t quite fitting. The zone entries are terrible, dump and chase is no way to run a PP. Worse yet, the team has been awarded a two-man advantage in three consecutive games, feebly striking once, and an essentially meaningless goal to boot. Yet surprisingly the Leafs have managed a marker with the man advantage in each game. It stands at a middling 16%, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it begins to trend down. There is a lot of scoring talent on this team, but if Carlyle views this type of system as the best to pair with the play styles of his best offensive players, they are going to struggle.
The PK has looked much more confident in the early going, highlighted by new additions Leo Komarov (despite his errant pass last night), Tyler Bozak and Jay McClement. The kill rate stands at a marginally acceptable 80%. That number might not sound like a bellwether for team success, but 2005-2006 was the last season the Leafs finished with a penalty kill in the 80s. Even modest, sustained improvements to a PK that has been this bad this long will go a long way to making this club a winner. In this vein, Randy Carlyle deserves some credit.
It will be interesting to me see what the learning curve for the shortened season will be. Matt Frattin had an electric debut, recording a goal and two assists and looking every inch an NHLer. Nazem Kadri has been close to a revelation through the first four, doing everything with his meagre ice time but win face offs (he’s won 38.5% of his draws). They have had the benefit of playing for the Marlies, and it appears that their ability to read and react to the play is better calibrated. But what happens when the rest of team rosters shake off the rust?
As an addendum to Nazem’s pivotal failures, it’s great that he’s stuck with the team, but he’s still probably more suited to the wing. With Lupul out and Kadri with the hot hand, it wouldn’t be the worst idea to give him an extended look with Phil Kessel. It might start wreaking havoc with the line combinations, but adding depth to the wings puts David Steckel in (who can do nothing but win face offs) and takes Colton Orr out (who can do little to nothing). So, win-win-win?
As means of sign off, I want to offer a warning to you ardent Leaf fans. Phil Kessel hasn’t scored a goal through 4 games. By Saturday, we’re probably going to be awash in absolutely terribly reasoned arguments as to why.
Hey look, Links:
Wanna read an excellently-written tragedy? Well, Alec provides it in last night’s Game in 10
On the other side, here’s Michael Langlois’ post-mortem
Jon Bois at SBNation has a zany, creative piece on Randy Carlyle. Seriously fun read.
Speaking of zany, Sean Fitz-Gerald at the National Post provides us this feature on how the Amazing Kreskin can use his telepathy to better the fortunes of the Toronto Maple Leafs. My editorial on this matter is… wow; I thought the Amazing Kreskin was fictitious what’s the worst that could happen?
If you haven’t had a chance, Down Goes Brown had a terrific piece on Grantland, regarding the beloved NHLers we should despise. A lot of fair points to be made about Marty St. Louis and Henrik Lundqvist