Despite splitting the state of Florida, it’s been a pretty terrific week for the Toronto Maple Leafs. The club finished the road portion of the regular season with a record of 13 – 8 – 3, earning a respectable 29 of their 57 points on the season away from the ACC. James Reimer recorded his fourth shutout and 19th win in only his 33rd start of the season. Phil Kessel scored three goals in the two games to leap into sixth in the league in scoring with 51 points.
Are you ready for the most uplifting (small sample size) Four for Friday yet?
Thank you Kessel
Brian Burke was his bluff best when he lauded the pricy acquisition of Phil Kessel in September of 2009, almost fawning over his treasure. Four seasons down the line, we can now say that, while he came at a premium, Kessel has done his best prove Burke right and win the trade.
He’s scored 0.90 points per game (252 points in 281 games) over the lifetime of the contract with the Leafs, leading the team in scoring every season he’s been here. Though he came to the city as a sniper his game has matured and become more dangerous, with 56 goals and 77 assists for 133 points in his last 129 games. Were this a full season, he’d be well on pace for a fifth consecutive 30+ goal season. Season-to-season, he’s bringing Mats Sundin-levels of consistency offensively.
Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton are already household names. But neither player four-time 30-goal scorer; neither is a point per game player; and neither is among the best in the league. It’s about time more people start recognizing just how talented Kessel is.
Randy the juggler
So the Leafs sit Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren, outshoot the Tampa Bay Lightning and lose handily 5 – 2. Orr comes back in, the Leafs get doubled up in shots yet rout the bottom-feeding Florida Panthers by a score of 4 – 0. So what does it say about the team? Really not a whole hell of a lot, but I’m liking the newfound creativity in Coach Randy Carlyle’s lineups. He’s trying out some different looks, resting players and gaining some traction with even his staunchest detractors.
Last night gave the Leafs a rose-tinted glimpse of life without Tyler Bozak. Nazem Kadri paired with Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel, and performed well better than Carlyle’s grade of “okay,” and absolutely shredded the Panthers in their own zone. Mike Kostka and Cody Franson combined for almost 50 minutes of ice time to rest Phaneuf. Matt Frattin and Joe Colborne played in consecutive games, and played well to boot. Mikhail Grabovski didn’t play much, but at least had some good linemates.
Drew MacIntyre: King of the Journeymen
Once the Achilles heel of the franchise, the Leafs will enter the postseason on the strength of their sensational goaltending. So too will the Marlies, who finished their season in the AHL on a high note due to the net-minding of late season addition Drew MacIntyre. MacIntyre, a 29-year old former draft pick of the Red Wings in 2001, has posted a 1.83 goals against average and a scintillating .931 save percentage in 21 games for the Marlies. A pick-up by GM Dave Nonis necessitated by Ben Scrivens’ promotion, MacIntyre is a possibly the quintessential Journeyman goaltender.
He’s played for Toronto in the AHL, Reading in the ECHL, and Lev Praha in the KHL. This season alone. He’s played 305 games for SEVEN different AHL teams since 2004, and has four games of NHL experience. With the Jussi Rynnas experiment unsuccessful and the Mark Owuya experiment as-yet inconclusive, the well-travelled MacIntyre has taken to the Ricoh with aplomb.
Now he’s putting up the best numbers of his career. He’s earned a contract with some team for next year and may still sneak a couple more games in the NHL, however unlikely that must have seemed for him a couple months ago. If nothing else, he’s yet another feel-good story for Toronto hockey, and worth 200 words.
Too close for missiles, I’m switching to guns
I was talking with the venerable numbers wizard and PPP mainstay, Steve Burtch, yesterday about the Leafs scoring chances on the road. He revealed some fascinating stuff about the Leafs shooting percentages for and against from less than 10 feet away from the net. The Leafs had scored 14 goals on 47 shots from inside 10 feet in 23 road games (prior to last night vs. Florida) this season. They’ve only allowed 5 goals on 34 shots from the same distance over that same span.
What does that all mean? For one, it means the Leafs are doubling up the opposition on shooting percentage from close range, scoring at a monstrous 29.7% clip while admitting a stingy 14.7% against. It’s also a testament to the Leafs defense around the blue paint, limiting higher percentage chances. The Leafs give up a ton more shots than they take by an average of about five shots a game (and 17 last night). But they have been creating and converting on many more chances than they’re giving up.
Now, Burtch was quick to point out that the shooting percentage is likely unsustainable over an 82-game season. Though potentially unrepeatable next season, it has helped the Leafs to their best road record in years and is a reason for the ‘x’ beside their name this season. And from a quick glance at highlights, it appears that the Leafs scored at least another three from less than 10 feet out last night. Figures don’t lie, but liars figure.
Enjoy the last regular season game tomorrow night, it’s been one hell of a year.
Jonas Siegel with TSN’s Leaf Report. Pretty hilarious quote from Kadri in there.
Eric T. from Broad Street Hockey with a terrific piece on the cost of trading up at the entry draft. Contains a weighting on draft pick value, and some great information on how trades get put together. So, basically the most awesome thing ever.
Cam Charron at the Leafs Nation takes a look at Nazem Kadri’s recent scoring slump over the past few games. Turns out your house league coach was right: good things do happen when you shoot.
Hope in the Big Smoke tackles the perception of talented, Lilliputian scorers Phil Kessel and Marty St. Louis and chips in his two cents on backlog of defenders. As a bonus, he advocates for Jake Gardiner’s regular inclusion in the lineup with the sweetest highlight from last season.
Grantland’s Sean McIndoe (Down Goes Brown) breaks down the potentially awesome playoff matchups we could see next week. Leafs vs. Habs in round one? Leafs can make it so with a win on Saturday.