Carl Gunnarsson: Could He Be the Maple Leafs X-Factor on Defense?

Brad LeClair@beerad87Correspondent IApril 19, 2013

MONTREAL, CANADA - JANUARY 19:  Carl Gunnarsson #36 of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Rene Bourque #17 of the Montreal Canadiens shove each other during the NHL game at the Bell Centre on January 19, 2013 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

It's been three games since the Toronto Maple Leafs lost defenceman Carl Gunnarsson to a nagging lower-body injury. And the results of that loss have been felt quickly.

Without Gunnarsson, the Leafs defence has been exposed more than they usually are. The giveaways are usually there regardless, but at least with Gunnarsson, he's a tactical player who usually makes the simple play and is never caught out of position.

Dion Phaneuf, while playing with Gunnarsson has seen his plus minus rating go up +12, meanwhile his impact on the game has been great.

However, without Gunnarsson, Phaneuf is rating goes from +12 to -14 while playing with the group of rookies Jake Gardiner, Mike Kostka, and Korbinian Holzer.

Gunnarsson is a calming veteran influence on a very young Leafs defence. Much like when the Leafs got John Michael Liles playing regularly, the change in the Leafs defence is noticeable when Gunnarsson is not there.

The last three games the Leafs have been collectively out-shot 107 to 64 and have been thoroughly outplayed.

Not only has the shot difference been noticeable, but the once vaunted penalty-kill which hadn't allowed a power-play goal in 46 short handed chances, has allowed a few power-play goals, albeit it was against the Washington Capitals, the top-ranked powerplay in the NHL.

Gunnarsson's impact on the penalty kill means there is more pressure on the remaining young defenceman to get the job done. Gardiner and Liles generally are not looked upon as great penalty killers, and when the defence takes a penalty, the remaining defenders on the kill are overworked because of the loss of Gunnarsson.

Likely the quietest and most unheralded defenceman on the Leafs back-end, his loss from the line-up has hit the Leafs defence hard.

Hopefully for all of Leafs Nation's sake, Gunnarsson can return quickly so he can help right this ship, because as Shea Hillenbrand, formerly of the Toronto Blue Jays said "this ships is sinking fast'. It was an 18-wheeler that fell off a cliff last year, hopefully this year, the ship doesn't run into troubled water and sink.

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