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Garrett Bauman

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It used to be one would say the Leafs are becoming accustomed to skating on tilted ice as the start of a joke at their expense. But a month into the season, it’s beginning to appear as though the joke is on the jester. Despite being outshot for the 11th straight game – and 12th out of 14 – the team improved to 10-4-0 (and 5-2-0 on the road), claiming sole possession of first place in the East and tied for 2nd overall in the league.  Once again, timely shooting and stellar goaltending were the recipe for success.

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Three Or More 30-goal Seasons By Age 24, Post-Lockout

Player 30+ Goals Range
Sidney Crosby 5 2005/06 – 2006/07,
2008-09 – 2009/10
Ilya Kovalchuk * 5 2002/03 – 2007/08
Alexander Ovechkin 5 2005/06 – 2009/10
Marian Gaborik * 4 2001/02 – 2002/03,
2005/06 – 2006/07
Phil Kessel 4 2008/09 – 2011/12
Eric Staal 4 2005/06 – 2008/09
Evgeni Malkin 3 2006/07 – 2008/09
Rick Nash 3 2005/06,
2007/08 – 2008/09
Zach Parise 3 2007/08 – 2009/10
Bobby Ryan 3 2008/09 – 2010/11
Steven Stamkos 3 2009/10 – 2011/12

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* Both Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Gaborik had recorded two of their 30-goal campaigns prior to the 2004/05 NHL  lockout. They qualify for this list by virtue of reaching age 24 during the post-lockout era.

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National Hockey League

One of the more interesting dynamics in hockey is the relationship between Goals For and Goals Against, and how that relationship correlates to a team’s overall record.

Obviously, a team needs to score more than its opponent to win, but the question of exactly how the differential between goal-production and goal-prevention relates to a team’s overall record — and more importantly, whether it can be used as a predictive or projection-based tool — requires a bit of mathematical analysis.

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Photo: The Star

Since starting the season on a 4-0-1 tear, the Leafs have performed at a consistently-inconsistent 25-25-6 clip. The story of pretty much any Leafs game this season can be summarized as follows: You’ve got offense, defense and goaltending: Pick one.

Rare has been the occasion where even two of those facets has performed up to expectation at the same time. With all of three days to go until the trade deadline, the talk is permeating every corridor of Toronto: Who is available? Who will depart? And is there enough time left for the Leafs to turn their season around?

Is it possible the volume of trade talk has had a negative impact? Players will always claim they don’t pay attention to it, but where in Toronto can one turn without smacking face-first into the subject? Telling is the Leafs’ 1-6-1 record in their past 8 games. As recently-traded Kyle Quincey told reporters, “There’s a lot of guys whose bags are packed outside their door.” If it’s a distraction in Colorado, how could it not be one in Toronto? These next three days can’t go by quick enough.

Recommended reading after the jump.

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Toronto Maple Leafs logo

Last night, James Mirtle raised the topic of how the Leafs fared against teams currently in a playoff position, and after a quick bit of research I tweeted out a few stats in answer to the question. For those not on Twitter, or those who did not see it, I’ve posted the results in further detail here.

Predictably, the Leafs’ record versus teams currently in a playoff position is rather poor. More troubling than their overall record against those teams, however, is the differential between goals for and against in those games. More after the jump.

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With 987 points in 981 games as a member of the Maple Leafs, Mats Sundin created his fair share of memories for Toronto fans. While most can recall where they were when he achieved many of the moments of greatness which will long live in the lore of Leafs’ history, few can recall either his first goal or first assist in a Toronto uniform.

At the NHL draft in 1994, Cliff Fletcher shocked the Leafs’ fanbase with a blockbuster deal that sent fan favorite Wendel Clark, stalwart blueliner Sylvain Lefebvre, prospect Landon Wilson and the Leafs’ 1st round pick to Quebec for the then-23 year old Sundin, veteran defender Garth Butcher and the Nordiques’ 1st round pick.  The Leafs subsequently dealt the Nordiques’ pick, along with winger Rob Pearson, to Washington for veteran centre Mike Ridley and the Capitals’ 1st round pick.

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In order to clear roster space for Colby Armstrong and John-Michael Liles, both of whom are returning from injury, the Toronto Maple Leafs have assigned Nazem Kadri and Keith Aulie to the Toronto Marlies of the AHL.

Kadri and Aulie are both waiver-exempt, and each will benefit far more from increased ice time at the AHL level than playing minimal minutes or being a healthy scratch in the NHL. While the decision to send Aulie to the AHL does not come as a particular surprise, some may question why another player wasn’t sent down instead of the ever-improving Kadri. The fact of the matter is, the only realistic options to be sent down would be the Leafs’ 4th line role players (Brown, Boyce, Crabb, Rosehill), a role for which Kadri is not at all suited.

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On the heels of a shocking late-game collapse, the Maple Leafs head home to face the Penguins tonight in the second match of a back-to-back set. The Leafs will have to find a way to put last night’s shootout loss behind them in rather quick fashion if they are to have a chance at earning the two points they came within six seconds of earning in Pittsburgh.

Many were quick to place the blame squarely on Gustavsson’s shoulders, pointing out two goals in particular that he should have stopped with ease as the reason for the team’s collapse (“if he stops those we aren’t in a one-goal situation at the end”). Although this argument is rooted in a logical basis, the singular appropriation of blame  is not an entirely accurate assessment.

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Have you ever wondered what the Maple Leafs record “by station broadcasting the game” is? Danny Gray (@ACatNamedFelix) of The Leafs Nation mused about that very topic over Twitter last night, so I decided to do some quick digging to find the answer.

Without further ado, here are the 2011/12 Maple Leafs Broadcast Standings to date:

Maple Leafs Broadcast Standings
TSN 5-3-0 .625
Sportsnet 6-4-4 .571
CBC 6-5-0 .545
LeafsTV 2-3-1 .417

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Obviously, these numbers don’t really mean much of anything. But it’s fun nonetheless. For kicks, I’ll be keeping a running tally on the sidebar (near the bottom, below ‘categories’) throughout the season.

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Photo: Patrick Doyle/Reuters

The Maple Leafs have reportedly placed seldom-used Colton Orr on waivers, likely spelling the end of the enforcer’s tenure in Toronto.

Ultimately, this move should not come as much of a surprise. Orr spent more time in the press box / on the sidelines (34 games) than on the ice (5 games), and when he did play he was noticeably lacking the fiestiness to which fans had previously become accustomed.

Perhaps a part of that was his recovery from a concussion sustained midway through last season. Certainly, the presence of Mike Brown and Jay Rosehill — each of whom can hold his own in a fight, and whose respective abilities allow for greater contributions to a checking unit — played a significant role in Orr’s reduction in playing time.

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Another name was added to the Maple Leafs’ injured list today, as defenceman John-Michael Liles was placed on IR indefinitely with concussion-like symptoms.  The injury stems back to a hit he took from Paul Gaustad in the Leafs’ 3-2 win over Buffalo on December 22nd.

Watch the replay of the hit after the jump.

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    A highly-anticipated re-match with the Buffalo Sabres did not disappoint. A wide-open affair, with plenty of scoring opportunities, great goaltending and highlight-reel hits kept the ACC fans thoroughly entertained throughout the night. A renewed commitment to generating traffic in front of the opposition net — a gameplan spoken of by Ron Wilson prior to the game — paid off en route to a hard-fought 3-2 victory. The task now is for the Leafs to continue this trend going forward.

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    Image: sbnation.com

    As you no doubt aware, the NHL Governers agreed Monday night to Commissioner Gary Bettman’s plan for realignment, in an effort to reduce team travel and shake up the structure of the playoff system. Gone would be the two-conference, six-division setup that fans have grown accustomed to since the mid-90s, to be replaced by a four-conference system in which each team is guaranteed home-and-home matches with all other teams.

    The recommended format — which must pass the NHLPA approval process before becoming official — also promotes inter-conference rivalries, while preserving traditional rivalries which built up under the former (er, current, for now) system.  While there are several advantages to the new system, which addresses many concerns voiced by fans throughout the years, there are a few disadvantages to adopting this approach also. And since this is a Toronto Maple Leafs blog, I’m sure you’re all wondering how exactly these changes will affect the boys in blue. We’ll get to that a bit further down.

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    Following a couple day’s break, the Leafs are back in action tonight with a stop in Dallas. After allowing only one goal each to Washington and Tampa Bay in his last two starts, the oft-maligned Jonas Gustavsson seems to have found his game, his confidence, and perhaps the starting role. “The Monster” will tend the net for the third time in four games against a surprisingly good Stars’ team, one which hasn’t missed Brad Richards at all.

    In a bit of an odd schedule quirk, the Leafs will not play a Saturday night game this week (instead, HNIC viewers will see Pittsburgh visit Montreal).  After tonight, the Leafs head to Anaheim for a Sunday night tilt against the Ducks — the first visit to Anaheim for Joffrey Lupul and Jake Gardiner as members of the Leafs.

    Morning links after the jump.

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      Mislav had to sit this one out, let’s hope I can fill his shoes as well as Gustavsson filled the Leafs’ net tonight. Glove tap to Alec for contributing a few of his insights as well.

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      Milan Lucic avoided supplementary discipline for his questionable collision with Ryan Miller

      Milan Lucic avoided supplementary discipline for his questionable collision with Ryan Miller

      (Photo credit: Boston Globe)

      In the wake of the recent collision between Bruins’ winger Milan Lucic and Sabres’ goaltender Ryan Miller, in which Lucic escaped a suspension while Miller remains out with a concussion, many among the Maple Leafs’ fanbase were quick to recall the October 22nd collision between Canadiens’ winger Brian Gionta and Leafs’ goaltender James Reimer.

      Although the temptation to directly compare the two incidents is understandable (player colliding with goaltender attempting to make a play, goaltender sustains a head injury, player is not suspended), they are in fact two quite different incidents subject to different sets of rules.

      Through the course of examining these two incidents, and the reasons for a lack of supplementary discipline in light of the NHL rulebook, we stumble upon a significant debate: does the current iteration of the NHL’s illegal contact rules do more to protect goaltenders, or to hinder them?

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      Fresh off a 7-3-1 month of October, the Maple Leafs begin November on a mini road trip which will take them to New Jersey (tonight) and Columbus (Thursday) before returning home to face Boston on Saturday.  A quick start to the month will be essential for the Leafs if they hope to finally eradicate the Ghost of November Past.

      Maple Leafs’ November record, post-lockout:

      2010-11: 3-7-3 | 2009-10: 5-5-3 | 2008-09: 4-6-3 | 2007-08: 4-6-3
      2006-07: 7-6-1 | 2005-06: 8-5-1

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      Maple Leafs’ rookie winger Matt Frattin, who to the surprise of many earned himself a spot on the team out of training camp, has been assigned to the AHL Toronto Marlies. Coming up to take his spot on the Leafs’ roster is veteran winger Joey Crabb.

      Although Frattin acquitted himself to the physical game of the NHL quite well, and was able to generate scoring chances, he was only able to register a single assist through the first 11 games (plus a shootout game-winner), and recently appeared to be playing with less confidence.  A trip to the AHL, where top ice time on a scoring line awaits, may be just what the doctor ordered to get his game back on track.

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      After a four game road swing (2-2-0), the Maple Leafs return home for a brief one-gamer versus the Pittsburgh Penguins before heading back on the road for a three game set against Ottawa, New Jersey and Columbus.  Tonight’s game marks an unlikely battle of division leaders: At 6-2-1 the Leafs hold the lead in the Northeast by a single point over the Buffalo Sabres; meanwhile, at 8-2-2 the Crosby-less Penguins hold a commanding seven point lead in the Atlantic.

      The embattled Jonas Gustavsson, coming off an excellent performance Thursday night in New York, gets the start in net again as James Reimer will not be eligible to return from IR until tomorrow at the earliest. For Pittsburgh, Marc-Andre Fleury gets a rest tonight while backup goaltender Brent Johnson gets the call.