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. [more…]
Somewhere in one of my post Boston Game In 10s I advocated changes to the lineup. A bigger forward on the top line to improve our offensive zone cycles and puck retrieval and have also criticized Wilson for not having a good transition game which partially stemmed from our back end and the inability to make that first pass out of the defensive zone.
Well, I donâ€™t know if you can say that Burkeâ€™s original plan wasnâ€™t/isnâ€™t to bring in a top line forward with size, especially since thatâ€™s what the organization and numerous panelists slated as our No1 need prior to the season. But what you can say is that changes did happen, even if they werenâ€™t exactly by design. Strange as this seems, injuries proved to be a blessing in disguise.
Personally, I thought the changes had to be made via trades. And, I was wrong, but was hardly the only one. How many people really thought those much needed changes could come from inside the organization?
Phil Kessel is tired of losing, that much is clear.
In layman's terms, there are two types of hockey players: Those who love to win and those who hate to lose. It took Kessel some time, but he's become the second one.
Justin Bourne, who now runs The Score's blog "Backhand Shelf," discussed this concept last season over at Puck Daddy (viewÂ here). In it he says, "Here's the difference: It's like putting a cupcake between a chubby kid from a mansion on the hill, and some wiry starving kid from the streets. They both want the cupcake. But our portly friend isn't fighting to the death over the damn thing. He might take a swing or two, but in the end, he knows if he doesn't get this one another will come along eventually. And that's when the wiry punk kicks him in the groin and one-bites the entire cupcake." [more…]
We're now 18 games into the 2011-12 season. Though the Leafs have hit a bit of a rough patch in the last few weeks, there is much to be optimistic about with regards to playoff hopes. Kessel has emerged as a new player, Lupul is back to old form and though not scoring as much as last year, Grabovski and MacArthur have played well. The oft injured Connolly has been excellent in limited action so far. However, there will be several nights this season where the top six forwards don't produce. On those nights, a good complimentary package in the bottom six is required to pull out the win. In my review of the bottom six from last season, I stated that without increased scoring from them, the playoffs would be a far more difficult goal. Unfortunately, not much seems to have changed thus far in the 2011-12 season.
The top six for the Leafs have scored 81 points so far, 37 of which are goals. The defence has scored 42 points, 5 of which have been goals. Finally, the bottom six has scored a miniscule 17 points and 9 goals. So they've accounted for only 12.1% of Toronto's points this season. For reference, the Blackhawks have 35 points and 18 goals from their bottom six so far this year, meaning they've contributed 22% of the Blackhawks' points so far. This lack of production can likely account for a few of the losses so far this season and if it keeps up, many more in the future. So the question then becomes what in particular has lead to this lack of production. [more…]
How do we accurately evaluate this team? Just how good are we? If youâ€™re looking for me (or anyone else for that matter) to answer those questions right now youâ€™re setting yourself up for a pretty big disappointment.Â In light of recent events, pretty much any scenario is possible.
What if weâ€™re missing Reimer until February? How will the duo of Scrivens and, to a lesser degree, Gustavsson perform? Will Tim Connolly ever stay healthy for a considerable number of games? Is our record so far sustainable through 82 games? I canâ€™t answer that right now, nobody can. There's too many variables involved. Should we look to the trade route? All I can speak to is the need to still improve further, which was always a part of the plan. [more…]
These might not be the same old Leafs, but it is looking like the same old Leaf penalty kill.
At this stage of the season, I maintain a couple of things as I write this: it's still very, very early, and the Leafs are adjusting to a new penalty killing scheme which is bound to cause mix-ups and missed assignments early in the season. So I don't think this penalty kill is completely doomed, but I do think there is a lot of work to be done.
First let's look at penalty killing in it's most basic form. At the youngest of ages you are taught how to form a box on the penalty kill. You make a box because you can keep the play to the outside and it allows you to have two guys down low to protect the net, and two guys up high to keep the defensemen honest and to take away point shots. [more…]
The "NHL Goaltender's Style Guide" is a comprehensive ebook that breaks down all NHL goaltenders, and their styles and tendencies. The man behind independent goaltending scouting service "The Goalie Guild", Justin Goldman is responsible for bringing a higher level of knowledge on the subject of the goaltending position and for that, we thank him. He was gracious enough to provide us with access to his scouting reports and style guide on Toronto Maple Leafs goaltenders, James Reimer aka: "Optimus Reim" and Jonas Gustavsson aka: "The Monster"â€”borrowed from the aforementioned book. [more…]
Last night, only two days before the Leafs' season opener against the Montreal Canadiens, Brian Burke added Dave Steckel to the roster in exchange for a fourth round pick in 2012. Although drafted in the first round, no one would mistake the 29 year old Steckel for an offensive forward. He's kept himself in the league through his defensive play, made significantly easier by his big size, despite his inclination to not use said size. So tonight, one night before the regular season begins, we're going to take a peek at Steckel's defensive stats and see how he measures up with other centers on the two teams he played for in 2010-11.
Steckel split time between Washington and New Jersey in 2010-11, totalling 75 games played. His ice time at even strength was extremely limited, coming out to 10:04 minutes per game. This put him below centers Boyd Gordon, Marcus Johansson, Brooks Laich, Jason Arnott and Nicklas Backstrom on Washington and Jacob Josefson, Brian Rolston, Dainius Zubrus and Travis Zajac on New Jersey. The team's save percentage (Sv%) when Steckel was on the ice was .924, which puts him ahead of all of the aforementioned except Josefson (.943) on New Jersey and Backstrom (.934), Laich (.940) and Johansson (.929) on Washington. A high Sv% indicates that attacking forwards were forced to the outside by strong defensive play.
Toronto Maple Leafs training camp opens today, with an enormous player base of 70 invitees. Some are guaranteed spots, some are looking to secure one. All of them want to make a positive impression. Here are some thoughts on the camp outlook.
At forward, Tim Connolly, Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin, Clarke MacArthur and Colby Armstrong are guaranteed spots on the roster. For Lupul, training camp and the preseason this year is an opportunity to show coach Ron Wilson that he has what it takes to be a first line forward. If he fails in doing that, someone like Nazem Kadri could easily come in and usurp that position with a strong preseason. MacArthur, Kulemin and Grabovski will be looking to show that their line wasn't a one year wonder and, with Grabovski in a contract year, I wouldn't be surprised to see some explosiveness from this line in the preseason contests. [more…]
The rivalries remain, but the faces change.Â For all the substantial additions that the Leafs have made, the 29 other teams in the league have not been idle.Â Though its anyoneâ€™s game any given night, itâ€™s the contemplative, patient process of adding the right pieces during the summer that allow continued success over the marathon half year regular season.Â Over the next couple of weeks, weâ€™ll be looking at all 6 divisions in the NHL team by team, how the Leafs compared to them last season, their improvements, additions, subtractions and the Leafs outlook against these revamped teams come the fall.
Prior to speaking with Rick Dudley for the Maple Leafs Annual, I also had the opportunity to speak with Dave Poulin, Vice-President of Hockey Operations for the Toronto Maple Leafs.Â Having contributed an interview for last year's edition of the Annual, Mr. Poulin graciously agreed to accommodate our request again this year.
Follow the jump for a few excerpts of our chat.
As was the case with prior excerpts, the following quotes are excerpted from a larger interview and thus the flow of the questions may seem a bit off.Â The full interview will appear in the Maple Leafs Annual, due to hit newsstands in September.
Defence is a lot more multi-faceted than is the forward position. It requires more finesse and more all around ability in order to rise to the upper echelon of NHL defencemen. The Leafs tried to compliment each of their offensive defencemen with a more defensive partner. This is a winning strategy often used on championship teams. With that in mind, of the six regulars on Toronto's blue line at the end of the season, who rises to the top? Let's find out.
The previous articles in this series are recommended reading. You can find "Season in Review: Top 6 Forwards" here, while the article entitled "Season in Review: Bottom 6 Forwards" can be found here. [more…]