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The Leafs This Week – Nov. 3-10
Posted By Ben Fisher On Nov 10 2011 @ 2:34 pm In Toronto Maple Leafs | No Comments
The Leafs (9-5-1) are probably asking themselves the very same question as is written in the above headline right now. The week started out encouragingly enough, with a win over Columbus that was by no means a masterpiece but did get the club its ninth win and gave Ben Scrivens his first. Then, the roof collapsed. In two home games, the Buds surrendered 12 goals while just scoring one. They were clearly still shaken by a 7-0 loss to Boston (and a Tyler Seguin hat trick to add insult to injury) when they allowed Florida to walk in and steamroll them to the tune of a 5-1 beating. Oh, and Tim Connolly (again) is out 4-6 weeks with an upper body injury while the desperately-needed James Reimer (how can a guy with 43 career NHL games to his credit be desperately-needed?) seems no closer to returning.
Missing the Net(minder)
Not sure what these folks currently lamenting the Leafs’ goaltending situation were expecting. Jonas Gustavsson’s struggles are undoubtedly disappointing, but he didn’t exactly leave observers flush with confident optimism heading into this season given his performance both last year and during the pre-season. Scrivens, who needs to learn how to gain control of his nerves and emotions in his own right, actually outplayed Gustavsson in September, but the team has been (and remains) set on giving the Monster every opportunity to gain confidence and find his game. Gustavsson’s viability for the club isn’t really a long-term concern – his contract expires at the end of the year and, with Reimer, Scrivens and Jussi Rynnas in the fold (all 25 and younger, by the way), plus the ability to bolster the position through other means, he can be cut loose with plenty of still-remaining hope for the future. It is, however, very much an immediate concern for a club looking to ride the momentum of a hot start but without a clear timetable for Reimer’s return or any level of confidence in their contingency plan.
Nine wins in 13 games to start a season will help hide whatever deficiencies a team may have, but that doesn’t mean those deficiencies aren’t there. Scoring depth has been an issue in Toronto since the start of the season, but has been mitigated early on by the big numbers being posted by Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul. Everyone knew that the two first line wingers wouldn’t keep up their torrid early scoring pace all year long, but someone was bound to step up and support them, right? Well, it hasn’t happened yet and a seven-period drought with just one Leafs goal (scored by Kessel, by the way) brings the issue to the forefront. Kessel and Lupul’s 19 goals this year represent more than 42% of the club’s over-all scoring output. Outside of a brief hot stretch by Clarke MacArthur, the second line hasn’t played up to the standards set a year ago, with Nikolai Kulemin, in particular, going invisible for long stretches of games. Beyond that, and perhaps more troublingly, it’s hard to see any depth players who have the skill set needed to step into more active scoring roles. Connolly and Colby Armstrong are hurt, guys like Colton Orr, Jay Rosehill and Philippe Dupuis can’t score a lick, Joey Crabb is unlikely to remain the scorer he was with the Marlies, David Steckel and Matt Lombardi are too much of a liability defensively (combined -11 this year) to be given a prominent scoring role and Matt Frattin still hasn’t developed that part of his game.
Can’t Blame Komisarek
My weekly recaps while the team was rolling always pointedly featured a criticism to ensure that I wasn’t giving the impression that all was perfect in Leaf Land. As such, I figure I might as well be fair and do the same in reverse to assure that, as bad as it looks, there is a sliver of good to be mixed into the doom and gloom. That good comes in the form of Mike Komisarek, who has quietly been the second most consistent blue liner on the team this season. Even after the Boston/Florida wake-up call of earlier this week, the 29-year old is a +5 on the season thanks to the physical, smart type of defence that many were expecting from Luke Schenn. Sure enough, Komisarek’s strong play mixed with Schenn’s woes has catapulted the former Hab into significant playing time, including an eight-minute bump from the final October game into the first November contest, and crunch time minutes.
Marlies Mirror Leafs with Slide
For those of you readying your finger to push the panic button on the Leafs’ season, look at it this way: at least they’re not the Marlies. Sure enough, there’s a worse slide going on at the AHL level, with the feeder group following up a 5-2 start with a disastrous road trip on which they’ve already lost five of six games, with three still to come. Injuries have played a role, with all of Keith Aulie, Darryl Boyce, Luca Caputi, Jeff Finger and, most damagingly, Joe Colborne missing time, as have the call-ups of Colborne linemate Crabb and Frattin. They also, however, have had their own goaltending issues, with Rynnas still not getting a full handle on the North American game, going 1-5 with a 3.50 GAA and .884 save percentage through six games in net. Interestingly, Scrivens’ call-up has created an opportunity for Mark Owuya to get into a pair of games, where he has impressed with a 1.81 GAA and .917 GAA.
What’s Coming Up
@ St. Louis (Thursday); vs. Ottawa (Saturday); vs. Phoenix (Tuesday)
So which Leafs team shows up this week? The one that outmuscled opponents and enjoyed the spark of Kessel, Lupul and Dion Phaneuf, or the meek, shaken up pushovers from this past week that left their goaltenders helpless on the back end and couldn’t muster much up front, either? On the other side of the ice, they’ll see a potentially rejuvenated Blues squad that shut out the Ducks in Ken Hitchcock’s return to coaching on Tuesday, then welcome a Sens’ group against whom they’ve already split a pair of games for the always-energetic Hall of Fame game and finally bring in a currently-playoff-bound Coyotes’ team that is being bolstered by, believe it or not, 39-year old Ray Whitney and Mike Smith, who hasn’t played more than 42 games in a season but is currently thriving as the starting goalie in Phoenix. The highlight of the week is definitely the Hall of Fame game, which will make for a particularly electric ACC with the induction of Leaf legend Doug Gilmour, along with former Leafs Joe Nieuwendyk and Ed Belfour (Mark Howe, too).
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