Maple Leafs Week in Review: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
The Toronto Maple Leafs continue to play impressive hockey. Considering they don't have a lot of scoring power, and now that a few bigger names have fallen to the injured reserve, the Leafs still managed to pull out two victories in three games this week.
I think most Leafs fans are still waiting for that big moment that will make or break the season. Since the last lockout, every year there has been a moment where the season goes down the toilet, and we think "well there's always next year."
Sure, they are only about a month into the season, but with the way they are playing, and with who they are dressing, the Leafs are stocking up the points and making it hard to actually find "bad" and "ugly" things to say about them. They came into the week at 7-5-0 and end it 9-6-0 and in sixth place, one point back of the division lead.
Here is this week's "the good, the bad and the ugly."
The Good: Ben Scrivens
Goaltender Ben Scrivens got the start on opening night and played really well against the Montreal Canadiens (21 saves on 22 shots plus a win in Montreal). Since then, James Reimer has been the go-to-guy in net.
But on Monday night, Reimer came up lame after making a save near the beginning of the second period against the Philadelphia Flyers. Cue Scrivens to take over.
There must have been a million thoughts running through the minds of Leafs fans at that point.
"Here we go again, just like the Brian Gionta situation last year (Gionta injured Reimer and he was never the same in 2011-2012)." Or, "Great, we're up 3-1, now we lose our goalie and I bet we lose the game, on home ice, again." Or even, "Well I guess (Maple Leafs General Manager) Dave Nonis will be talking to (Vancouver Canucks GM) Mike Gillis about Roberto Luongo tomorrow morning."
But wait, did Scrivens just make a crazy save to keep the Leafs up by two goals? Did Scrivens play almost two full periods and only allow a goal right at the end of the game to give the Leafs a win on home ice?
Yes, yes he did.
It was only the Leafs' second win at Air Canada Centre all year. Scrivens came into the game and did his job.
Two nights later in Carolina, however, Scrivens allowed three goals on 33 shots, all in the second period in about nine minutes of each other. But could you blame him for all of them? I seem to recall he was left hung out to dry on at least one if not two of those goals.
So what did Scrivens do on Saturday night against division and provincial rival Ottawa Senators? He channeled his inner Johnny Bower, made 34 saves, earned his first career shutout and gave the Leafs another win at ACC.
I know Scrivens has a long way to go to even be mentioned in the same sentence as Bower, but it was Maple Leafs alumni night and maybe it rubbed off on him a little.
(As a side note, the funniest moment of the night was when Bower and George Armstrong were introduced. Bower said to Armstrong "Oh how nice, I clap for you but you don't clap for me." I think these guys need to get their own version of that 24/7 show they do before the Winter Classic).
Scrivens looked good throughout the week and made 100 saves in 2:33:30 of total ice time. On a week where the Leafs very easily could have found a way to fall to three tough teams, Scrivens gave the Leafs a stable presence on the back end and allowed them to get the job done up front.
It looks like James Reimer will not be out for a long time, but it's good to know that Scrivens can be called upon to win the game. If Reimer returns to form and continues his strong season, the Maple Leafs will have a great tandem moving forward the rest of the season. It will be up to head coach Randy Carlyle to execute a plan to use them both in winnable situations.
The Bad: Power-Play Scoring
The Maple Leafs scored nine goals in nine periods this week. However, only one of them came on the power play. For the season, the Leafs' PP unit is now ranked 23rd in the league. They are 10 for 69 which is a 14.49 percent success rate.
They had nine opportunities this week to get those stats up but couldn't convert on eight of those chances: 0-5 against the 16th-ranked Flyers' penalty kill unit; 1-3 against the 28th-ranked Hurricanes' PK unit; 0-3 against the third-ranked Senators' PK unit.
It's these areas the Leafs will need to improve on if they hope to have any kind of run to the playoffs as the season continues. If you can't take advantage while up by a man, it will come back to haunt you.
While it didn't hurt the Leafs during the Flyers and Senators games, it did against the Hurricanes. They had two chances in the first and got nothing. While they were able to tie it up on the PP in the second, they never even got another opportunity in the rest of the game.
While you can look at this and say at least they are scoring at even strength, and you would be correct, it's the teams that capitalize on the PP that win important games.
Again it is a young season, and the Leafs are a young team. It will be a work in progress the whole year, and if/when they get guys like Matt Frattin, Joffrey Lupul and Carl Gunnarsson back, they should see some improvements in that area.
The Ugly: Clarke MacArthur, Mikhail Grabovski, and Nikolai Kulemin Scoring
Before you get all crazy over this stat, just remember that until you win a Stanley Cup, there are always going to need to be improvements made. This isn't a knock against these three guys. Personally, I think the three of them are playing decent hockey most nights. And I am aware that they are no longer on the same line together every night, if at all.
However, in 2010-2011, these guys combined for 81 goals and 117 points. They were one of the best secondary scoring lines in the league that year. They saw a drop in their overall totals last year: 50 goals between the trio with 122 points. Not awful, but not as good as we would have expected, especially with Kulemin's minus-23 goal differential of 30 in 2010-2011 to seven last year.
Right now they combine for six goals and 17 points in the 15 games the Leafs have played.
I think it is safe to say we would like to see a little more from these three. Again, on most nights, they are playing good shutdown hockey. Carlyle has seemingly asked them to change their game from the run-and-gun style that former coach Ron Wilson had them playing.
MacArthur, Grabovski and Kulemin are constantly going up against the big scorers on the opposition and keeping them away from good scoring chances. If they continue this play and the Leafs constantly outscore their opponents, then I think it will be okay for me to an extent.
I think these guys have shown in the past their ability to produce offensively. I believe this trio is essential to the team's overall point production, and as the season wears on, I would like to see those point increases go up a little higher. I don't think that is asking too much.
Again I don't think they have been awful this year. Kulemin and MacArthur are both minus-2 while Grabovski is minus-1. If they are putting up that kind of rating playing major minutes against the teams with better scorers, then they are at least getting the defensive side of their job done.
I know they have been split up and are paired up with different linemates, but for a couple of guys who all put up over 20 goals two years ago, it would be nice to see them light the lamp a few more times.
The Week Ahead
They will get one day off in between and come home to play the Buffalo Sabres (6-8-1) for the third time this season. Then they have a rematch against the Ottawa Senators (7-6-2) in Ottawa on Hockey Night in Canada.
It could one of those weeks where the stars are aligned, but everything goes wrong. As of Sunday, the Leafs are ahead of all these teams in the standings.
But that rarely plays into the Leafs' favour. Playing four games in six days may take its toll on the buds, especially if Reimer doesn't return to relieve Scrivens. Regardless of how well he's playing, it will be a tough stretch physically on the young goaltender, and Carlyle would be wise to give each guy two starts this week if available.
I think the Leafs should be able to go 2-2-0 this week. I think they can get past Florida on Monday but will fall to the Lightning and the Sabres, while repeating their success against the Sens on Saturday. Steven Stamkos for the Lightning and Ryan Miller for the Sabres always play well against the Leafs and seem to stop their momentum.
Last week I said the Leafs would go 1-2-0, and they reversed that to go 2-1-0. I'm always hoping that they can outdo my predictions but I also try to stay realistic. If the Leafs continue this pace I may have to change the title to "Week in Review: The Good, The Better, and The Best."
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