Sports can be funny sometimes. It’s pretty clear now that the Leafs aren’t as good as they seemed after jumping out to a 4-0 start to the season. I also feel, however, that their 1-3-1 slide in their past five games is not indicative of this team on the whole.
Yet, amidst this pursuit of determining who the Buds are and where they should stand based on their collective abilities, we get a 5-3-1 team that is probably fairly close to an accurate depiction of what to expect from these guys.
Let’s get to the thoughts.
An expected issue…
The Leafs’ frustration offensively (seven goals in the past five games, including just four in the four losses) has stemmed largely from being unable to get shots on net. Some criticism has been levied against Dion Phaneuf for being unable to make accurate use of his blistering slap shot, but this issue comes down to the expectedly weak play of the club’s supposed playmakers down the middle. None of Tyler Bozak, Mikhail Grabovski or Tim Brent boast the offensive creativity to set up a dangerous attack in the opponent’s zone, so in shades of last season, Phil Kessel is relied upon to create his own scoring chances more often than not. GM Brian Burke has spoken recently of trade chatter picking up, so perhaps a capable pivot is on his way.
And an unexpected issue
Just because Phaneuf’s slap shots aren’t finding the net doesn’t exonerate the Leafs captain from some poor play over the past five games. Phaneuf is a team-worst -5 on the year (no other blue liner is worse than -1), which would be understandable if he was logging significantly heavier minutes than his teammates. However, he lags slightly behind Tomas Kaberle (+4 on the year, by the way) in average ice time (23:40 per game vs. 23:38) and doesn’t lead Francois Beauchemin (23:18) or Luke Schenn (22:52) by much. Phaneuf should be leading by example, but instead continues to seek the big hit over the simple play and has struggled with the puck in his own end. Thought to be the defensive anchor, the former Flame is in danger of making the whole unit a liability.
Can we ease up on the Kessel-Seguin talk?
I know it’s no use to try and rein in talk of the Kessel-for-Tyler Seguin and other picks trade, since it is sure to come up every time Toronto and Boston meet. But who seriously thinks that any kind of rational result can be determined now? ‘Kessel has seven goals, to Seguin’s one – that must mean the Leafs won the trade. Oh wait, Seguin scored against the Leafs while Kessel couldn’t muster any offence – that must mean the Bruins won it.’ If it isn’t tiring yet, it’s going to get there in a hurry, long before there can be any reasonable analysis of the whole deal several seasons from now (remember, it’s not just Kessel and Seguin that have to be compared, but also Boston’s second round pick Jared Knight and their first rounder next year). That being said, I will admit that the chants of “Thank you Toronto” among the Bruins faithful after Seguin’s goal were pretty funny.
Injuries highlight lack of depth
We already know that Colby Armstrong is out for 4-6 weeks after undergoing surgery to repair a “finger injury” and now Kris Versteeg is day-to-day with back woes. Without the two newcomers, the Leafs forward corps resembles that of last year’s club – and that’s not a good thing. With Burke building the team from the back end out, the forward unit is still a work in progress. However, the injuries to Armstrong and Versteeg highlight how far the team still has to go to reach a point where they’re ready for a deep play-off run.
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Written by Ben Fisher