Gameday Preview: Invasion

 

TORONTO - NOVEMBER 2: Phil Kessel  of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates off after a loss to the Ottawa Senators during NHL action at the Air Canada Centre November 2, 2010 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)

 

 

Canada’s Hockey Team and their accompanying horde make the ritual appearance in Calgary this evening, and the recent trading history between the clubs is dominating the coverage of the affair. That’s understandable, obviously, but I think I’ll let the professionals beat that shared history to a pulp and concentrate on what the Leafs actually are at the moment.

 

 

What they are, of course, is not very good. Toronto might have the least imposing group of forwards in the league save the Islanders, with Phil Kessel being the only player that could pass for front line talent, and as Gabe Desjardins has pointed out, he’s a talented player that has got a hole or two in his game. That team weakness up front shows itself in the 5v5 numbers, where the Leafs get outshot and outscored by a fair margin.

 

It’s down the middle where the Leafs are weakest. I’m not sure that Toronto even has a player that would be considered a good second line center on a decent team, which is a pretty stunning situation for a team spending that type of money to find itself in, and one that might be distressingly familiar to people in these parts. Their best current hopes for a breakout player down the middle are Tyler Bozak and Nazem Kadri, and those two gents don’t really give the vibe of being the foundation for a good team, although Kadri has been OK against soft competition since his call up, and expecting anything more from a 20 year old would be somewhat unfair.

 

 

TORONTO, CANADA - DECEMBER 2:Tyler Bozak  of the Toronto Maple Leafs watches as Taylor Hall  of the Edmonton Oilers celebrates his goal during game action at the Air Canada Centre December 2, 2010 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Abelimages / Getty Images)

 

 

Bozak’s case is one that’s always intrigued me somewhat. He was a pretty expensive college FA signing, and for the life of me, I can’t understand why people are surprised by his inability to succeed in the big leagues. His NHLe during his first season at Denver University suggested that he might produce like a third line center if all went well, and his second year, where his age would have made him the equivalent of a fifth year senior, should have been analyzed a bit more harshly, in the same way an overage junior’s numbers get discounted. He followed that up by doing nothing in the AHL and after a hot streak last spring as a call up, he’s right back to doing nothing. Here are his NHLe and actual NHL figures:

 

07/08 NCAA age 21: .34 PPG

08/09 NCAA age 22: .50 PPG

09/10 AHL    age 23: .22 PPG

09/10 NHL    age 23: .60 PPG

10/11 NHL    age 24: .36 PPG

 

He’ll be 25 in March, and needs a new contract in the summer. I doubt he’ll get anywhere within hailing distance of his current ticket, and that might be a good thing for both him and the club. 

 

The Leafs have gotten decent value out of Clarke MacArthur after picking him off the scrap heap. The arbitration award that freed him ended up being more than double what he signed for, and his underlying numbers are good enough to suggest the Burke did well with that move. Mikhail Grabovski also seems OK by the numbers, which means his play likely rates a closer look, since the standard reports from Toronto always rip the guy as bordering on useless.

 

 

OTTAWA, ON - NOVEMBER 27: Luke Schenn  of the Toronto Maple Leafs strips the puck away from Jesse Winchester  of the Ottawa Senators in behind the net during a game at Scotiabank Place on November 27, 2010 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images)

 

 

Toronto has loaded up on expensive defenders in the last couple of years, but Brian Burke’s mantra about building from the net out appeared to work better when he had Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer playing half the game. The Leaf D isn’t that bad though, and it’s certainly a better group than the forwards, even if a few folks would be happy to see the back of Mike Komisarek. Luke Schenn has rebounded from a tough second year to be a solid NHL defenceman, albeit one that still needs a bit of sheltering, and the other player in the Phaneuf deal, Keith Aulie, is playing in the league as well, but he’s only there because of injury. He likely needs another year or two on the farm, which isn’t a knock on the young man as much as accepting the reality that very few defensmen can rush into the NHL, and those that do are almost always high skill guys that can help a PP.

 

One other thing that I noticed was that the Leafs PK, beyond the obvious poor kill rate, has once again suffered from an horrendous 4v5 SV%. It’s the worst in the league at .819, and given that the Leafs give up the fewest shots of any team in that scenario, it bears watching to see if if every PP chance teams get is into an open net, or if the goalies are stinking the joint out. Gustavsson and Giguere aren’t great goalies by any means, but something seems amiss when a goalie posts a .926 at EV and .769 on the PK, which is what Gustavsson is currently sporting. The Leaf goalies have had terrible PKSV% numbers for several years running, so maybe it wasn’t just ToskaLOL’s lousy play that was to blame. At any rate, as I said, it does bear watching.

 

Gamewise, the Flames are a deeper bunch up front, and the Leaf PK is, as mentioned, not good for whatever reason, so a decent forecheck and a PP that can, just for a start, enter the zone before the PP is half over might be the ticket. Oh, and the team really shouldn’t waste any extra energy on Dion beyond exploiting his weaknesses in coverage. Winning the game is a better message than any other nonsense, and the Flames don’t have a game to waste dicking around with some ill-considered attempt to prove something else.

 

Update: for a look at matters from a Leaf POV, Skinny Fish has posted a preview at Leafs Nation.

 

 

  • Bob Cobb

    Man, I’ll reiterate what I said previously: If we lose this game at home, star the rebuild! This is a huge litmus test in my mind. If they can’t defeat the cellar dwellers of the East during a critical homestand then it’s time to fold and hope for a better hand next year.

    • Bob Cobb

      this is a huge game for both teams. the winner gains the bragging rights to diongate. for the flames it may come at a bigger price, a vote of confidence for dutter’s gm stellar gm work. if the flames lose, there may be a mass exodus of the remaining fans from sutterville.

  • icedawg_42

    And for the record, Toronto did not take away any “stretch passes”…unless you consider a stretch pass to be a cough-up giveaway to the middle of your own zone. Stortini and the Oilers defense LOST that game.

  • SarahM

    From the Globe’s piece in preparation for tonight’s game ” Stop feeling sorry for yourself Leaf fans, it could be worse. You could be a supporter of the Calgary Flames.”

    Heh. You know things are bad when Leafs fans feel sorry for yoU!

  • icedawg_42

    I think the Oilers made the Leafs look good the other night, plenty of giveaways of an even more blatant nature than you generally see out of the Flames.

      • Bob Cobb

        That’s a poorly formed sentence, I’m glad to see know equally as little about grammer as you do about hockey.

        You could take the comma out to fix it, or you could have said “Well, the Oilers are the worst team in the League without Horcoff and Hemsky. So..yeah”

        Fyi, the Oilers lost to the Leafs because they quit competing and failed to make the appropriate changes to their game plan when the Leafs took away the stretch pass in the second period by clogging up the neutral zone.

        Go Leafs!!

        • PrairieStew

          Bob.

          Run on sentence in the last paragraph. At least 5 verbs in there, which is very confusing.

          Kent has shown considerable hockey knowledge and contributes plenty of data to support his point of view. Your anecdotal observation, while it may be valid, comes off as stinking pile of bul$%^& because of your insult at the beginning.

          Oh and it is grammar not grammer.

          FYI – I am the grammar police around here.