Photo: Getty Images via NHL.com
Nazem Kadri will attend a hearing with league discipline czar Brendan Shanahan this afternoon. The hearing is reportedly about the collision with goaltender Niklas Backstrom. It’s not clear as of yet if this indicates the League has reviewed Kadri’s hit on Mikael Granlund and found no supplemental discipline is needed.
Bear with me and read through this. I know it is a topic that has been beaten to death, but I would like to add another perspective.
Some of you have probably noticed that my Twitter feed and recent postings have had some form of hockey analytics mentioned. A part of that reason is that I wanted to share a different perspective on my feed as well as chronicling my growing interest in the puck possession trend. But the main reason is because I have finally filtered out the negative personalities behind some of the metrics and focused more on the measures being used.
It is no secret that at the puck possession level, the Toronto Maple Leafs have been a frustrating example of a team that rope-a-dopes throughout the game, often spending too much time in their own end trying to regain the puck rather than actually producing offense. Which is kind of the conundrum – the Leafs are an offensive powerhouse, having finished 10th and 6th overall in goals per game in the last two seasons, without actually putting a lot of pucks on net and being soundly outshout almost every game.
Hockey doesn’t really glorify statistics the way football and baseball do. The sport idealizes certain numbers like 50 in 50 or the hat-trick, but until recently, hockey hasn’t really found a way to measure time of possession. I remember when I played the EA’s NHL series on the XBox 360, there would be a post-game analysis that showed exactly how long I had the puck. I always found that number fascinating because I would often get frustrated by how often I DID NOT have the puck. Which is part of the grand theme here – I wanted to improve my possession time because it meant that I was getting better at the game and that the opposition would have less of a chance of scoring those stupid goals I stood no chance of defending.
The discussion and analysis of possession isn’t exactly new to hockey vernacular either. Many of you know of the Edmonton Oilers’ 1980s dominance – a lot of ink was used to describe their game, often referring to their ability to possess the puck for minutes on end, frustrating their opponents. As hockey expanded into the 1990s, the Detroit Red Wings took over as the league’s most dominant hockey team – their puck possession was often highlighted as one of the core reasons for their success.
In fact, going back to 2003, well before the advent of Corsi and Fenwick, I found an article that aptly explains just how the Red Wing teams dominated their opponents:
At a time when defenses still are strangling offenses on a daily basis, the Red Wings are playing an Edmonton Oilers, circa 1980s, puck possession style of game. Although time of possession is not an NHL statistic, the Red Wings are presumed to be the league leader. They fly with the puck about the ice, back and forth, like they are doing yo-yo tricks.
“It’s an awful difficult game to play, and here we have four lines who can play the same way,” Schneider says. “You don’t have two lines who can do it and two others who just fire it in and try to get it back.”
Schneider says Los Angeles coach Andy Murray “was as open a coach as anyone” in terms of wanting his defensemen to jump into the offensive flow. However, since joining the Red Wings, Schneider is carrying the puck more now than he ever did. Detroit general manager Ken Holland says the team’s puck possession really dates to 1996, when coach Scotty Bowman pushed for and acquired Slava Fetisov and Larionov and put together the Russian Five that also included Vladimir Konstantinov, Fedorov and Slava Kozlov.
“I think the rest of our guys practiced with these guys and watched these guys hang onto the puck and hang onto the puck, and pretty soon even our checkers got to the point where they could cycle the puck and hang onto it,” Holland says. “That’s just our game … a lot of guys have been playing it since 1996.”
You see, hockey isn’t just about scoring goals. It’s about preventing them too. Owning the puck is one of many ways to prevent goals, and quite possibly the best way to do so. When you have the puck, the other team cannot score. Just as much as I love watching a Leafs player stiff arm his opponent trying to drive through the boards, I love to see my own team take advantage of their puck skills to play keep-away or make a pretty pass.
Of course, that’s not all. Now that Corsi has had several years to accumulate data and tweak its statistical merits, there’s more statistical development coming along. @mc79hockey actually went through a lot of trouble to find a way to quantify the value of a faceoff by using the time after a faceoff to determine a winning or losing influence on a shot attempt. A happy coincidence because we happen to have a pretty polarizing centre playing on the first line in Tyler Bozak. The link above positively quantifies Bozak’s faceoff value, but of course, it would be nice to have him finish off a brilliant Phil Kessel pass more often than not.
Coincidentally, I was reading up on faceoffs a while ago and found an article from 2002 that I have been saving specifically for a post like this one. This article goes into great detail of using Yanic Perreault as an example of the value of faceoffs. At the very least, faceoffs are a valuable commodity – something that Bozak should be getting more credit for, especially given the scarcity of the Leafs offensive zone faceoffs in recent seasons.
In addition, there’s another metric being tracked called zone entry. This is actually a fascinating question and answer session from Eric T. of Broadstreet Hockey detailing the many benefits of tracking zone entries:
• How involved is he in gaining the zone: if the team enters the zone with him on the ice, what are the odds he’s the one sending it in?
• How successful is he at gaining the zone: when he brings the puck in, how often does he carry it to possession rather than dump and chase?
• How good is he with the puck in the offensive zone: when he carries the puck in, how many shots does the team get?
• How good is he off the puck in the neutral zone: what is the team’s carry-in percentage when he’s on the ice?
• How good is he off the puck in the offensive zone: how many shots per carry-in does the team get when he’s on the ice?
• How good is he at puck retrieval: how many shots per dump-in does the team get when he’s on the ice?
• How good is his neutral zone defense: what is the opponent’s carry-in percentage when he’s on the ice?
• How good is his defensive zone defense: how many shots per carry-in do the opponents get when he’s on the ice?
Overall, the main point of this article is that as much as we love to hate those who run around on social media insulting anyone who disagrees with their approach, there’s a lot to like and a lot to gain from having a statistical outlook on the sport’s possession influence. I am not trying to convert anyone here. But I do want to see people become more open-minded about the real promise possession proxies have in hockey – there is no disadvantage in following the evolution of statistics in sports. However, I do understand where @Burtonboy12 was coming from when he said he just wants to be able to watch hockey without drowning the entertainment in numbers that don’t always reflect the outcome.
On Morgan Rielly:
Yesterday, we got an article from Pierre Lebrun that quoted a Western scout suggesting that he had nothing more than second pairing upside. Not so fast, Mr. Vancouver scout. Rielly’s performance last night showed exactly why he was drafted fifth overall.
Once Rielly got the first period nerves out of the way, when he had the puck on his stick, he was making more positive things happen than negative ones. There was one play in the second period where he had two forecheckers barreling towards him on the left side of the boards, little time to make a play, and actually fired a precise pass to a breaking Leafs forward across the ice that resulted in an odd-man rush. The breakout skill is badly needed on this team.
In addition, we saw at least three breakouts on Rielly’s part that all resulted in a scoring chance. He gained the zone with ease and highlighted promising distribution ability on the point. I think he’s here to stay. It’s only been one game, but if the offense is at the NHL level, the only way Rielly will learn defense at the NHL level is to stay with the team.
Great win last night. Here’s hoping the boys go for four in a row on Tuesday.
On Friday morning, I took some shots at a particular writer at the PPP community that were misinterpreted. I will be taking the time to make some clarifications here.
The scoring chance tangent of my previous post had everything to do with Greg Cronin’s interview last week with Alec Brownscombe. Cronin explicitly stated that he believed that the Leafs were not out-possessed last season and made a mention that the coaching staff tracked scoring chances. I thought the premise was odd given that scoring chances are generated via shots – more shots, more scoring chances. Unfortunately, we only have one source to track scoring chances. Cam Charron will not be publishing the numbers pulled from last season, so we’re left with using Greg Sinclair’s excellent shot-tracker website.
So I wanted to try and bridge the many events of the Leafs off-season into a giant post – unfortunately, after I get one of the topics off my chest, I am probably going to wing this (sorry Alec). I haven’t had the time to really break down my own thoughts because my summer has been all about being as lazy as I could possibly be – I’m a little surprised that I haven’t gone a day without taking a shower yet. So I hope everyone is enjoying their summer, getting sun, and trying out new beer.
Scoring Chances, Being a Douchebag, and Circle Jerkin’
At the end of the Leafs season, there were some questions about the path management would take to improve the possession weakness that had plagued the organization all season long. By any metric available to the public, the Leafs were soundly out-shot, out-possessed – this is indisputable by shots taken, shots attempted, and in the recorded cases, puck possession time.
In perhaps one of the greatest hockey interviews ever by our own Alec Brownscombe, Leafs assistant coach Greg Cronin declared that he did not believe that the team was out-possessed at all. Skepticism aside, it did give the fan-base some clue of what the team tracked as far possession was concerned – scoring chances. I took a quick look at Cam Charron’s scoring chance work throughout the season, but couldn’t find anything beyond 36 games. But at the 36 game mark, the Leafs did actually out-chance their opponents 474-469. Edit: I erred on my interpretation of these numbers — the original included special teams. The actual numbers available to us are 392 against and 355 for on even-strength. However, this isn’t the chasm inferred via shots total against. But it does leave me wondering what Cam’s final scoring chance counter was.
The Leafs out-chancing the opposition doesn’t necessarily mean anything. But it does give credence that the coaching staff actually knows what they want out of their line-up, how to get it, and what they are tracking. Oddly enough, the narrative that Carlyle and Co. don’t have a clue what they are doing come from the lowest denominator of an internet arm-chair general manager from that other place. You might get a good look here and wonder why SkinnyPPPhish has difficulties understanding that Ben Scrivens’ save percentage was well below the league average from 10 and 20 feet out while improving as the shots were pushed out. This was repeatedly pointed out, but I guess this is a last resort to draw attention to less circle-jerkin’ in a comment section and more open-mindedness about the devil in the details.
And by the way, James Reimer was above the league average for save percentage in the 10 and 20 feet distances, which kind of busts the myth the goals given up were a little high. In fact, if you consider the shots given up with Reimer in net in the 10 and 20 feet area of the ice, he was slightly below the league average of roughly 6.974 shots per game – he took 6.94 whereas Scrivens took 5.5 per game and gave up 20 goals. So the evidence clearly points to Scrivens being less than stellar with handling scoring chances while Reimer was significantly above league average.
Now, I wanted to actually find out what exactly the scoring chances were against Reimer and Scrivens. Thanks to Greg Sinclair, I went to check www.somekindofninja.com to check out the scoring chance data we have available. As some of you know, the blogging community has explored the scoring chance data by using a home-plate area of the ice just in front of the net. Sinclair’s site has added the home-plate area search feature to our benefit:
James Reimer: 34 goals, 262 shots: .870%
Ben Scrivens: 25 goals, 128 shots: .805%
At this point, I think we can quickly bust whatever point SkinnyPPPhish was trying to make with his super fancy stats, pie charts and tables, general douchebaggery, and move on with our lives. Scriven’s scoring chance performance at even strength was abysmal – his performance is likely why the Leafs went ahead to acquire Jonathan Bernier (as well as insurance against a Reimer injury). While it’s not entirely fair to throw the Leafs’ short-comings at one player’s feet, Scrivens did have a rough season.
If a skeptic wants my data, I can provide the excel spreadsheet via email – just tweet or DM me on Twitter and I’ll fire off the attachment.
All told, I am going to undertake a project on my own to track scoring chances this coming season. Just for the Leafs and their opponents – I’m going to also try and locate who was on the ice at the time of the scoring chance and see where it takes me. Here’s a great refresher on the definition of a scoring chance.
I will get into more details once I have it mapped out for the season.
The re-signing of Tyler Bozak is extremely questionable to me. On one hand, it is so goddamn tiring to have mediocre centre options on the first line. I want a bona-fide number one centre who can dish the puck, shoot the puck, and make life a living hell for opponents with Kessel and van Reimsdyk flying down the wing playing shotgun. Bozak is nothing close to creative or even a good possession player – but he does defend with good effort and the face-offs do have some value to the line. I do hope that he can continue refining and expanding his game, but he’s going to have to be a little more selfish about shooting when he has the opportunity to.
Bozak’s contract is listed at 5-years / $22,000,000. On the surface, it’s terrible. Long-term, I don’t anticipate an issue. James Mirte did some conservative research on the rising cap. While the numbers are low, it’s entirely possible that within a few years, Bozak’s contract would fall into the middle or lower-tiers of a second line centre – perhaps even a third-liner. Whatever the future may be, I think it’s safe to say that it’s not the horrid contract some have purported it to be.
Conversely, the Clarkson signing is extremely intriguing and very worrying. The Leafs were already dealing with a bevy of talent on the wing, but adding Clarkson to the mix only makes them even more versatile. The Leafs can bring a speed game, a skill game, or a physical game. And it’s nice to have a player who can play hockey and throw down with some fists.
However, 7-years / $36,500,000 for a power-forward who will soon be on the downswing of his production is just too much. There’s some hope that he can sustain some sort of productivity in the later stages of his contract, but it appears to be a three or four year investment. My big hope is that Clarkson brings the possession game that many on social media have demanded – at the very least, the Leafs might not win a game next year, but at least their Corsi and Fenwicks are positive and we can all pat ourselves on each other’s backs and say, “We did It, guys! We have positive Corsi!”
For the record, I am really pleased with Carl Gunnarsson’s re-signing and the contract. A very underrated player and I hope his hip issues are behind him. As for Paul Ranger, whatever personal issues have plagued him in the last four years, I hope he’s ready and committed to helping shore up the team’s defense.
The Leafs have some three remaining RFAs to re-sign. Nazem Kadri, Cody Franson, and Mark Fraser are the three. I’m actually not that concerned about Nonis and Co.’s ability to re-sign all three since I anticipate that J.M. Liles will be traded anyway – but if Franson or Kadri are traded, all bets are off. My guess is that Fraser will be awarded less than 1M, Franson 3.1M, and Kadri 3.5M – all will be given a bridge contract.
I have a lot of faith in Kadri’s abilities and I hope that his ceiling comes sooner rather than later – the team needs his skill on the first line and I hope he’s up to the task.
More stuff coming later – someone will add links to the post. I’m off for a week. I will try and get more content up when I get back. Enjoy your weekend!
Lupul misses the Canadian Men’s Olympic hockey try-out — aims to improve
Anyone that follows me on twitter or that has read any of my pieces here at MLHS knows that I enjoy using possession statistics alongside production statistics to examine and evaluate players. After recent events, like Lupul’s tweets and Alec’s interview with Greg Cronin, that have stirred up the tension between those that use these statistics and those that don’t, I thought I’d dig into why the use of statistics should be embraced.
Well, it’s been a wild ride on twitter for the past few days. If you follow the hockey analytics crowd on twitter you probably know what I’m talking about, though for those of you that don’t, let me fill you in. I think the best place to start is the beginning of this recent road and it’s a bit of a bumpy ride so buckle up.
As I’m sure many, if not all, of you know, on Thursday afternoon the Leafs placed Grabovski on waivers for the purpose of buying him out. I think it’s pretty safe to say that this news was a shock to most of us, but none more so than those heavily involved in the “advanced statistics” community.
It’s days like these where you miss Brian Burke. The straight-shooting, loyalist ex-GM of the Leafs had his faults (eg. being too loyal), but impatience was never one of them. The buyout of Mikhail Grabovski, one year into a recently signed contract reeks of shortsightedness and impulsiveness on the part of Leafs management.
So today, a trade happened.
I don’t want to delve too deeply into a breakdown of the trade – mostly because I think this is a topic on its own and you can find what you need elsewhere. Instead, I’m going to focus on the mindset of Leafs management, what this means for James Reimer, as well as the potential Jonathan Bernier carries. I left a semi-large post of my thoughts on the trade in the comment section, but I’m going to expand on it here.
It must almost be the offseason, because NHL Awards have once again caused a stir regarding the voting structure and overall legitimacy of the accolades. Nowhere is this more apparent than with the Norris Trophy, where the Montreal Canadiens’ PK Subban won out by a hair over Minnesota Wild’s Ryan Suter. He did so despite the words, “awarded to the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-around ability in the position” right on the darn trophy. Alas, with the results of the past two seasons, the statement about ‘all-around ability’ is looking demonstrably untrue for Norris voting.
Even though the Leafs haven’t played a hockey game in weeks and the Stanley Cup Finals are about to begin, there is no shortage of storylines surrounding the team right now. Let’s get to them.
I wanted to avoid getting involved in what is turning out to be a pretty telling philosophical disconnect between some at PPP and MLHS. However, I just can’t let this post slide.
The Toronto Maple Leafs face playoff elimination tonight, but have dug their heels in against the Boston Bruins and have “done a lot of good things” in the series according to Randy Carlyle. From the perpetually unimpressed man who guided the team to a horrid crash and lottery finish and a playoff berth in less than 82 games, I’d call that high praise.
With the Buds backs against the wall, here’s four thoughts ahead of the biggest game in the longest time.
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
After last night there is no shortage of critics jumping on the uselessness of the likes of Mark Fraser, Mike Kostka, Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren and by extension the coach who continues to deploy them in his lineup. To varying degrees I have been frustrated with all of them at points throughout the season.
The fact of the matter is that toughness did play an appreciable role in the Leafs success over the 48-game haul. Let’s forget facepunching for today. Without James Reimer there’s no Leafs playoffs, but without a simplification of the defensive game, an emphasis on winning more one on one battles and protecting your net in an overall effort to reduce chances inside 20 feet, maybe Reimer isn’t in a position so much to succeed.
The Leafs are now 11 games away from a potential post season berth, and with Sports Club Stats putting them at 98% odds to make it (as of Friday morning), there is a good chance that one of the organizations most embarrassing streaks is about to be retired.
There is one thing that is even more rare in the playoffs than the Leafs and that’s the hired goon. Shocking I know since they are such important parts of the regular season (feel free to assume I rolled my eyes here), but last season’s Stanley Cup Finalists didn’t find it necessary to dress either Cam Janssen or Kevin Westgarth in a single playoff game. Of course, we are a couple of years removed from the Bruins dressing Shawn Thornton for 18 playoff games, but at the time Thornton was good enough to hold a regular shift in the league (10 minutes a night is somewhat regular, and was dressed for 79 games in the regular season) and he did see the press box and reduced ice time during the cup run.
Listen, I disagree with Don Cherry a lot. Being European, I take issue with a lot of the stuff he says and does. That being said, the relationship is sometimes quite bi-polar.
Photo by: Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images
After a good comeback/confidence-building game against the Tampa Bay Lighting, the Toronto Maple Leafs have perhaps created more questions than answers. The Penalty Kill keeps improving (now 6th in the East) and, even as a “work in progress” defensively, they can at least score in bunches to get themselves out of trouble. They are starting to show the signs that the elite teams in the league show on a regular basis. While they are probably a couple of roster moves away from being mentioned in the same breath as a Pittsburgh Penguins, the rebuild is starting to see the light of day, it appears.
It was one of the first times this season that Nazem Kadri was paired against another top offensive line, but he did it the whole game. We’re not talking about any ol’ line, but the best goal scorer in the league and his better-than-ppg-avg wingman. He beat Steven Stamkos on draws, engaged in the game physically and on the score board. It was yet another coming out party for Kadri and what a nice live viewing for the 30 GMs that were in town to discuss various NHL issues. Most were at the Air Canada Centre taking in the game against Tampa.
Up until this game, Randy Carlyle has been riding the Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin and—at least most of the time—Jay McClement line hard against the other team’s top lines. Too much so? That’s hard to say. Kulemin has had many opportunities that he simply is not bearing down on; he was on pace for 10 goals this season before his 2-goal effort against Tampa Bay on a line with Kadri.
Grabovski was paired with MacArthur and Frattin against Tampa and was still looking a little lost. As Grabo goes, those two go. And something that was enlightening in Randy Carlyle’s post-game interview:
“The one thing that we are going to do is we’re going to test Kadri against the best players,” Carlyle said after his team snapped a five-game winless skid with a 4-2 victory over the Lightning. “He wants that, he cherishes it and tonight it worked for him.”
“I think this is just another step in the maturing of a young hockey player,” Carlyle said of his decision to increase Kadri’s responsibility. “And I’m sure there’s going to be some speed bumps along the way and he’s going to turn the puck over when we don’t want him to … [but] the good things outweigh the poor judgments that he’s making by 10 to 2.”
Could #FreeGardiner and #FreeGrabo happen in the same week? It looks like Kadri wants to run with the top match-ups and wants the ice-time that is associated with it. Time will tell if he is up to the task, but this appears to be equal parts a praising and a scolding. Praise for Kadri and his excellent play to date, and a scolding for Grabovski who appeared, to me at least, that he didn’t like all his defensive zone face-offs and having to skate 200ft for his goals. It could very well be a case of lost in translation, but changing brands of sticks isn’t going to help Grabovski at this stage. He’s looking lost and it’s affecting his confidence badly.
Also troubling—to my eye—is how ineffective the Phil Kessel line is. Clearly, Phil Kessel’s game is all about speed, attacking off the rush, his release and his quick hands around the net. This may be oddly timed because Kessel is on a 5 game point streak, a testament to his ability to produce regardless of his circumstances. Kessel tallied a single assist last night giving him four goals and four assists in that span. He sits second on the team in scoring with 28 points but shifts go by where I hardly notice Bozak, him or JVR. They are clicking to a certain degree, but they are not dominating the way that Kessel and Lupul were last year with the absence of a legit number one centerman.
James van Riemsdyk, while a great addition to this team and yet another lop-sided trade from Brian Burke, is reaping the benefits from playing with Kessel, it’s just that Kessel is not reaping the benefits of playing with JVR as much as he could from a center and a winger who could play the game as his pace. MacArthur, Frattin and now Lupul have all “found chemistry” with Kadri. I think it’s more of a case of Kadri is just making everyone around him that much better. Lupul can convert those chances better than the others can. JVR would, more than likely, benefit from a good centerman more than Lupul, who has shown in the past that he can play just fine without one—no offence, Bozak.
Tyler Bozak, it seems more than ever before in his career, is playing way above his head on the 1st line. It’s dragging his, Kessel’s and JVR’s play down. He’s constantly a step behind and is not able to make the plays that the other two are able to. If you were to change JVR and Lupul, that would be magnified.
Grabovski, if we can believe what Carlyle says about Kadri, will be freed up to experiment up and down the lineup. The only logical reason that Kessel and Grabovski have never played extended periods of time together is because, it can be assumed, they both love to have the puck on their stick and both love to carry the puck through the neutral zone—they play a similar game, not a complementary game.
The caveat to that, I would contest, is that elite players will figure out how to get the puck to each other. Grabovski can skate, stick handle, navigate through traffic and shoot at absolutely top speed–the same as Kessel can. They’re good enough to play on the PP together, but that is a different discipline where it’s rarely ever off the rush and is instead done with puck movement inside the offensive blueline. Both players’ strength is scoring off the rush and, if you are going to keep Kessel on this team long term and get the most out of him in his prime years (his peak year is historically this year—his 25th year), you need a center that is as fast as him and not lagging behind the play like Bozak constantly is. I don’t think a “Big 1C” would work with Kessel’s game very well. If Kessel, Grabovski and Lupul could play their game at top-speed like they can—and execute—it would be a devastating line that would be able to handle some defensive assignments that Kessel/Bozak/JVR just aren’t able to do right now.
Carlyle is not afraid to put the blender away and try players together for more than 1 shift together. As much as arm coaches scream for change, it’s refreshing to have a coach that will play a line together for a full game, and even for bunches of games before he puts the blender to it. The one thing that has never happened with Kessel and Grabovski is them being played together, on the same line, for a week of games (or more).
Tyler Bozak is a solid hockey player trying to keep up with an elite goal scorer and an elite skater in Kessel and he just can’t keep up with the speed at which the plays are made. Bozak playing with MacArthur and Frattin on the third line would be a much better fit—soft starts, good chances at dominating the faceoff dot—and starting each play with all-important possession—and playing with players of his calibre and his foot speed. It will improve his output tremendously if he can slow the game down to his speed and play with two good, solid wingers in MacArthur and Frattin.
Under Ron Wilson, this experiment would likely have never happened; he had all the opportunity in the world to try it. Under Randy Carlyle, if he does experiment with them on the same line, you would hope that, in keeping with tradition, he’ll give them the appropriate allotment of games together to either sink or swim with this idea for the rest of the season and into the playoffs.
As far as statistical data, Left Wing Lock is said to be wildly inaccurate, but it’s all we have.
- 2010/2011 Even-Strength Forward Combinations
- 2011/2012 Even-Strength Forward Combinations
- 2012/2013 Even-Strength Forward Combinations
There’s enough data there to say that Grabovski and Kessel have hardly played together at even-strength.
Toronto’s 1st line centerman might have been under their nose all along.
Photo: Getty Images
I’ve been an advocate of Randy Carlyle hockey since last season, even when the results didn’t immediately improve after he replaced Ron Wilson. It remains to be seen, but I think he’s getting the Leafs to play the game the way it needs to be played to get more out of less and have consistent success in this league. Even if the Leafs are making too many errors in their execution as of late, they have been, overall, a more organized, detail-oriented, physical and hard-working group this season.
I liked that Tim Connolly never got a sniff of the lineup this season, that Matthew Lombardi was jettisoned, that Komisarek has been stapled to the press box and that Carlyle has given opportunities to some new blood, but that’s not to say I’ve agreed with his every personnel decision to date. For the most part, the results are on Carlyle’s side. I’m curious to see now, after a 0-2-1 mini-skid in which the Leafs have allowed 13 goals (their poor play really dates back to the third period of the 5-4 win over Ottawa), if Carlyle makes the adjustments needed to help curb a potential tailspin. Carlyle owed the group that got him the 15-9 start more benefit of the doubt than to change pieces after a competitive loss to Boston and a shootout loss to the Penguins. Taken in combination with night’s embarrassing 5-2 loss to the Jets, however, it’s concerning enough to me to justify a change or two.
Photo: Nathan Denette/Canadian Press
No games for three days makes for very little in Maple Leafs land development. There’s Komisarek’s laughable trade request, there’s Frattin’s potential return to the lineup this week, and there’s still the question of why isn’t Gardiner on the Maple Leafs, but for the most part all of it is nothing more than a waiting game. Instead, I’m going to look at the most basic of stats (goals and assists) and how the first line forwards are doing in those categories.
After 22 games, the one thing Leafs fans can agree on is that Randy Carlyle’s coaching methodology can be frustrating as hell. Nowhere is this more apparent than the deployment of Mikhail Grabovski.
After signing a five-year, 27.5-million dollar contract extension with the Toronto Maple Leafs last March, it seemed as though the Leafs had shored up a terrific top-six centreman who could be counted on for 50 points a season. But after 22 games Grabo sits with a modest 10 points (six goals, four assists); good for about 37 points in an 82-game schedule. Yet under Carlyle he’s developed into the team’s top shutdown pivot. So what’s to make of it?
The month’s half over, and after Monday’s game, the season is a third over. The Leafs are sitting three games over .500, holding 6th place in the East, and are currently on pace for 58 points (rounded up from 57.6) in a season where many prognosticators have considered 54 the magic number for making the post season.
So far, the Leafs are sitting pretty despite now being without Reimer, Gunnarsson, Frattin and Lupul. The Leafs have benefited from a friendly schedule. The average 2011-12 point total of their opposition has be 91, which averages out to facing a bubble team every night. This also doesn’t account for the dramatic drop off in teams like Washington, Philadelphia, and now Ottawa. Compare that to the average of 95 points in March and the average of 94 in April and it makes sense that the Leafs are coming out of the gates strong.
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