Toronto Maple Leafs 2010-11: Week 4
Sunday, October 24, 2010
Maple Leafs Record: 4-2-1, 9 pts, 3 game losing streak
Leading scorers: C. Macarthur 6G, 2A, 8 pts, P. Kessel 6G, 2A, 8 pts
The Leafs entered the week wondering which team they are. Are they the hard-working, fast-skating team that found its way to 4 wins? Or are they the mistaken-prone, snake-bitten bunch that has lost the last 3?
Areas of concern going into this week were that on the defense, Komisarek, Beachemin, Gunnarsson, and Lebda have made some costly mistakes. They will need to tighten up their play in their own end, and Phaneuf and Kaberle have to make better decisions at the offensive blue line. Offensively, after Macarthur and Kessel, only Tim Brent has more than a single goal, and Brent has not scored since game 2. Versteeg, Grabovski, Kulemin and Armstrong will need to find their scoring touch soon. Among the positives, Luke Schenn seems to be maturing well in his 3rd season. The Brown-Zigomanis-Orr line has provided some energy. And, Giguere and Gustavsson have given strong performances in net, both with save % of .900+, and GAAs around 2.50.
A non-story broke early Tuesday. Brian Burke spoke to radio station AM640, commenting that he’d received 2 ‘hits’ in terms of trade offers, but no details given… which typically, there wouldn’t be. The story found its way to TSN’s website as well as news outlets. I am not sure what all the fuss is about. We know that the Leafs are thin for talent at forward, especially centre, and have a little glut of NHL defensemen. But this just isn’t news. Burke is actively seeking trading partners, and let’s hear nothing more of it until something is complete.
Leafs welcomed the Florida Panthers, who sat near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. Lebda and Zigomanis back in, Gunnarsson and Mitchell out. A spirited game, with the close-checking Panthers trying to extend Toronto’s losing streak. An early injury to Colby Armstrong saw Wilson juggling his bottom lines. The hard-work ethic seemed to have returned, with the Leafs rewarded late in the first with a powerplay goal. Tyler Bozak went to the net and fired his first of the season high past Scott Clemmensen. Dennis Wideman replied for Florida with a powerplay goal. Important to note that in front of the crease, Giguere’s skate contacted Cory Stillman’s skate, and the goalie felt he was interfered with, though no call was made. Later in the game, Colton Orr actually bowled over Clemmensen (no call), as Tim Brent went to a loose puck and shot it past the fallen goalie (off Orr’s foot). Phil Kessel scored in the third to seal the win, and Giguere didn’t allow anything else in. The Leafs did work hard for this game, going to the dirty areas and creating chances. But, it can’t be denied they got some help from the officials with the missed call on Orr’s goal.
Wednesday we found out Armstrong requires finger surgery, out 4 weeks at least. Luca Caputi, who has a goal and assist in 5 games with the Marlies, was called up. Thursday morning came news Kris Versteeg was out with a back injury, and John Mitchell got into the line up.
Thursday night was an excellent measure of where this Leaf team is at. Boston is a legitimate Cup contender, and currently Tim Thomas is the hottest goalie in the league. Ultimately the boxscore reads Leafs lose 2-0, outshot 32-20. Truthfully, the Leafs played very well and held their own against a Bruin team with a top-flight goalie, a disciplined defensive corps with some excellent shot blockers, and a great deal of offensive depth. Excuses aside, the Leafs are an offensively challenged team, and missing Armstrong and Versteeg as potential threats made things no easier. There wasn’t any sign of the team folding, the mistakes were kept to a minimum, and the Leafs pressed on a couple occasions. The powerplay was not able to get anything going. Boston’s skaters blocked a number of shots, belying the 20 that actually got to Thomas, and he had to make some great saves on a couple. Caputi managed to hit a post in the first. Against the top teams, the Leafs are not able to match skill for skill, and they will struggle to get goals. Gustavsson made 30 saves of his own, some quite difficult. A moral victory, which isn’t 2 points, but a sign better days may lie ahead.
Saturday was almost a carbon copy of Thursday. Except this time, Leafs were getting a tired Ranger team, still missing it’s big stars and playing their 3rd game in 4 nights. The only changes were Giguere in net, Christian Hanson getting his first action of the season, and Gunnarsson and Versteeg back in the lineup, Zigomanis, Mitchell and Ledba scratched. The Leafs managed 35 shots at Henrik Lundqvist who played another stellar game. Rangers’ players blocked a large number of shots, and really Lundqvist was able to see many of the shots from the perimeter. NYR scored when Brian Boyle drove hard to the net and flicked a backhand over Giguere’s trapper, and then a penalty shot by Callaghan sealed the victory. Rangers played a textbook road game, conserving energy and keeping the changes to the outside, and the Maple Leafs found themselves with a goalless streak of over 120 minutes.
And therein lies the problem, as predicted. The Leafs are a much improved defensive team so far. After 10 games they have allowed only 23 goals, and 3 or more goals in only 3 games. However, as a team, they have only scored the same 23 goals, only 2 Leafs have more than 2. Kulemin, Armstrong, Versteeg and Bozak have a single goal apiece, while Phaneuf, Kaberle and Grabovski have yet to find the back of the net.
Leafs will hope that Ottawa will be the cure for their offensive woes. Then it’ll be off to Washington to see if they can learn anything from a Caps team that put 7 in against Calgary on Saturday, before coming home to face a struggling Buffalo team next weekend.