Four for Friday

Photo: Getty Images

Mirroring the trade deadline, it’s been a slow and painful week in Leaf land.  The club still sits in sixth place in the Eastern conference, briefly flirting with fifth without even playing.  Even with the loss, the Buds are sitting on a 20 – 13 – 4 record and play only four games against teams ahead of them in standings in their remaining games.  And one of those teams is the Washington Capitals so really it’s three.   Here are some Leaf thoughts to start your Friday off right.

If you ain’t Dutch, you ain’t much

Though the Flyers and Luke Schenn got the better of the Leafs last night, the awareness and quickness James van Riemsdyk displayed on his slump-busting goal was thing of pure beauty.  JvR scored his 15th goal of the season last night, after a 10-game goalless drought.

It’s great to see the rangy left winger get off the schneid, and with a good finish he could still end up with 20 goals on the season.  He might have to, as the Leafs will probably be without Lupul’s hot hand for the foreseeable future.  I had thought that with van Riemsdyk’s recent play he could warrant some remedial goal scoring training on Kadri’s wing.

Lupul injury sign of bigger problem

Joffrey Lupul’s loss to a probable concussion is a substantial one.  But it’s not a shocking one, and that’s the rub when you look at his place in Toronto.  In his 10 games this season, Lupul’s produced prodigiously with 14 points, basically willing the recently-snapped three-game winning streak into existence.  In doing so, he made the timing of his extension seem less foolish.

But in his nine seasons, he’s suffered a rash of injuries.  It should be concerning that a brief scan of his injury history shows you that he’s already suffered two concussions, once in 2005 and again in 2008.  Also there are strains, sprains, separations and breaks that have seen him lose 120 games to injury in the past four seasons, along with the back surgeries and blood infection that almost derailed his career.

He is – to use video game parlance – a ‘glass cannon,’ vastly powerful and skilled offensively, but fragile to the touch.  I don’t mean that to make light of the hit but Lupul does seem prone to injuries, even those of the freak/unlikely variety.

Dion heating up

With two points in last night’s loss, Dion Phaneuf has 23 points (seven goals, 16 assists) in 37 games this season.  These admirable numbers – he’s on pace for 50 points in an 82-game season – are made miraculous given his season-starting slump that saw him record only one assist in his first 11 games.  He’s had eight points in his last eight games, overtaking Cody Franson for the lead in points from a defenseman over this span.

While he has been maliciously viewed as the “Most Overrated Player” by 161 of his peers in the past, Phaneuf remains one of the top defenders in the league.  He now sits seventh in defenseman scoring league-wide and fourth in goals despite his noted inaccuracy. He plays over three minutes on both the power play and the penalty kill, en route to 25:42 minutes of tough ice time each night.

Some still refuse to give Dion his label as a legitimate “Number 1” defenseman, but he’s not the only undervalued defenseman on the club because…

Jake Gardiner exists, but doesn’t play

It is baffling just how the Gardiner situation is being handled.  He’s played a total of seven games this season, five since the overblown #freejakegardiner fiasco and ensuing call up.  Now he’s been a healthy scratch the past three games.  But what’s puzzling is that the team can’t seem to agree on just how to handle the young blue liner.

Initially, he was sent down to the Marlies after returning from injury so that he could play half the game and ‘work his way’ back to the big club.  Then he was returned to the lineup at the expense of the Mike Komisarek.  But since returning to Leafs, he’s played more than 80 games in the NHL, he can’t be sent back down to the minors without having to be put on waivers.  So now, the former rookie standout is in the press box; apparently unfit to play even Mark Fraser’s tissue-soft 16 minutes a game because he didn’t handle the tougher 20 minutes he was given.

Gardiner possesses terrific vision and sublime skating, and will be a top-4 NHLer, but this is becoming a lost year and an example of poor asset management.  He’s not being given an opportunity to contribute to the big club, and can no longer help the farm team.

Friday Morning Links:

Here’s Alec’s Game in Ten. That was a bit of a heart breaking game, eh?

Cam Charron with an in depth look at the Leafs scoring chances through Saturday’s game.  He also finds it odd that Gardiner isn’t getting Fraser’s minutes.

Here’s VLM’s take on last night’s performance, with some great musings on Lupul’s injury, Kadri’s instincts and why you shouldn’t give up on promising young defensemen so soon.

In an attempt to lure sports fans into the dangerous, seedy world of fancy stats, here’s Chris Boyle from Habs Eyes on the Prize with a cool visual representative of Fenwick.

Here’s the Leaf Report post gamer from Jonas Siegel.

Connor McDavid was the runaway winner of the OHL’s rookie of the year award, and could be the top pick in 2015.  Leave your best Oilers joke in the comments.