The Toronto Maple Leafs currently sit with an NHL-fifth-best average of 3.09 goals scored per game. Yes, fifth. The same Toronto Maple Leafs who have been desperately chasing a star forward via trade in order to upgrade whatâ€™s perceived as a lacking, ever-so-slightly-impotent offense, are â€“ by statistics â€“ one of the National Hockey Leagueâ€™s highest scoring groups.
Your guess is as good as mine.
A motivated Phil Kessel, a reincarnated-as-a-faster-Joffrey-Lupul Joffrey Lupul, and a few recent 7-1 thrashings thanks to lackadaisical efforts from Eastern conference opponents have all certainly helped the number. The American Thanksgiving (the happiest of which we wish to our southern readers) is, according to some internet rumour-mongers, a point during the season at which executives and general managers begin to seriously evaluate their team. Correctly measuring performance and determining a teamâ€™s identity are crucial steps involved in planning for the future.
If qualifying the Leafsâ€™ offensive success is difficult for us, how strange a question must it seem to Brian Burke?
Mere few weeks ago, the Leafsâ€™ forward corps skated headfirst into the November-shaped wall that often barricades the teamâ€™s perpetually hidden objective, â€œthe playoffs.â€ The power play was stagnant, the even strength lines were juggled, and a broadcaster I donâ€™t remember flashed a frightening statistic depicting the lionâ€™s share of the Leafsâ€™ goals as having come from the Kessel line. The Leafs left Nashville 1-4-1 in their previous six games, including the 4-1 loss.
Despite the more recent four day offensive explosion (one egregiously-scheduled game in Carolina notwithstanding), we seem no closer to answering the question: what is the offensive identity of this team?
The Leafsâ€™ top six are displaying a skill level expected of them, and evidently one necessary to get the job done. Thereâ€™s no questioning their speed â€“ with special mentions reserved for Lupul 2.0 and newcomer Tim Connolly, whoâ€™s displayed a surprisingly strong offensive presence when healthy. (DISCLAIMER: Thereâ€™s not enough wood in the world for me to knock while typing that). Even Nikolai Kulemin, clearly mired in the dregs of a slow offensive start, has shown recent improvements in puck battles and started to find the net with more of his shots. Ron Wilson went out of his way to mention Bozakâ€™s increased speed during Wednesdayâ€™s media scrum, citing the youngsterâ€™s newly competitive attitude towards his roster spot as a prime motivator. There might not have been a better Leaf on the ice Tuesday night in Tampa.
Itâ€™s all fine and great when theyâ€™re scoring. But when theyâ€™re not?
Peanut butter need not apply; any scout, fan, or pundit will tell you the Leafsâ€™ top six lacks a necessary element of â€œjamâ€. No Ryan Malones or Dustin Browns to be found here, despite what Twitter would have you believe has been a two-year attempt by Burke to land both players. During games where the Leafsâ€™ offense falters, one can often point to the lack of a grinding, skilled forward in the dangerous areas in front of the net as being a prime cause. Neutralize the Leafsâ€™ neutral zone/ outside speed, and youâ€™ve pretty much eliminated the main dimension of what â€“ despite a high skill level â€“ still seems like it might be one-dimensional attack.
Making the call at this point may simply be too difficult. The Leafs havenâ€™t won by accident, but as the regular season continues through the cold and eventually â€“ hopefully â€“ into the warmer months, Â the lacking presence of grit and physical tenacity amongst the Leafsâ€™ skilled forwards could become a liability.
Then again, the impressive and â€“ most would argue â€“ considerably more important dose of mental tenacity our boys have shown thus far may continue to offset the perpetual hole in the lineup card many fans have labelled â€œRick Nash, or something similar.â€
Of course, should Mr. Kessel be able to continue to score in amazing fashion at a 60-goal pace despite whoever is hanging on him, do we really have anything to worry about?
theleafnation.com’s Andrey Osadchenko grabs a telling interview with Nik Kulemin – “I’m not trying to get popular” – terrific read. Kulemin’s english is getting pretty impressive – and in print, you can barely tell how hilarious it probably still sounds.
Vintage Leaf Memories has 12 good signs for the Leafs coming out of Tampa Bay – a list which, surprisingly, did not include: “Brad Richards is no longer waiting for you in Dallas.”
The Leafs have signed Stuart Percy to a 3-year entry deal (official release), in case you somehow missed it. And today, Brian Burke tweeted about it. #socool
The Globe and Mail’s Robert MacLeod thinks the Kessel trade was a good one for the Leafs, which I’m sure will be the end of the discussion.
Mapleleafs.com has off-day video from Dallas, featuring Jonas Gustavsson, Korbinian Holzer, and Rob Zettler.
Apparently, a bunch of people mailbagged Kerry Fraser asking for his interpretation of Ryan Malone’s Tuesday night hit on Gustavsson. The real question: people actually send questions to the Kerry Fraser mailbag?
The Wild signed a 51-year old goaltender to backup Josh Harding Wednesday night as an emergency, which has nothing to do with Toronto, but is such a damn cool story that I couldn’t not throw it in.