Maple Leafs Scoring Woes: What They Can Learn From Tampa Bay, Steven Stamkos

Jon Neely@@iamjonneelyAnalyst INovember 9, 2010

I know, I know, writing about the Toronto Maple Leafs needing a set-up man for Phil Kessel is about as original as a Brett Favre story. And as old as him.

It's a known fact that the Leafs have a serious scoring issue, with just 31 goals through 13 games-2.38 Goals Per Game-which has them ranked 28th in the league. That's a great recipe for missing the playoffs for yet another year in Toronto.

Kessel is tied for the team lead in scoring with Clarke MacArthur (both with seven goals), which means those two have combined for close to half the team's goals.

Again, unless they're potting a goal per period, that's not a great way to make the playoffs either.

The goaltending has been relatively solid this season with J.S. Giguere handling much of the load (.909 SV percent, 2.31 GAA) and with a 2.46 goals against per game as a team, they're tenth best in the NHL defensively.

So the defense and goaltending has been good enough thus far.

It's just putting that darn puck into the net that's the biggest issue so far. Big news, I know.

Plain and simple, the Leafs need help, and if there's one team they can look at for some advice on how to manufacture goals; it's the Tampa Bay Lightning.  

Just as the Leafs rely largely on Kessel to do most of the scoring this season, the Lightning also rely heavily on Stamkos to get the job done up front.

Since entering the league in 2008-09, Stamkos had scored 74 goals coming into this season. His 51 goals last season was obviously the best on his team, with the next two on the list (Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavelier) scoring a combined 53 goals.

So it's clear, if Stamkos doesn't score, the team doesn't score.

But what might be the most important factor in Stamkos having so much success around the net is his certified set-up man in St. Louis.

One of the best passers in the NHL, St. Louis makes a habit of finding Stamkos and feeding him picture perfect passes that end up bulging the twine. It's like clockwork.

Last year, St. Louis had 65 assists, most of which were to his center man, with a direct flight to goal celebration.

This season, Stamkos leads the NHL with 11 goals through just 13 games, and though St. Louis has assisted on just three of them, he still acts as the perfect partner in crime. St. Louis has eight assists and 14 points thus far.

Tampa Bay (7-4-2) currently sits fourth in the Eastern Conference.

Stamkos' 11 goals are first on the team this season, with the next three on the list combining to score just 13 goals.

Kessel, on the other hand, is as dangerous a scorer as there is in the NHL, with his rocket-like wrist-shot and quick-shooting ability. But unlike Stamkos in Tampa, Kessel has had very little help offensively since he arrived in Toronto.

He's been through center man who've never been able to sustain much productivity over a long period. And though Kessel has been able to score (30 goals last season), he'd be much more effective if he had someone who could consistently get him the biscuit.

Now I understand this concept has been tossed around since he stepped foot on Toronto ice, but if the rest of the team is any indication this year, one top-six center could be the difference between scoring troubles and the playoffs for the Leafs this year.

It really could be that simple.

Five of their eight losses have been by one goal. That means if they managed to scored just five more goals, it's a whole different story in Toronto.

Though it will be no easy task for Burke to simply walk out on the street and find Kessel someone a line mate, he can be comforted in the fact that finding that one player could be all it takes for this team to start winning games.

Easier said than done, of course.

It hasn't worked well with anyone thus far, and calling up Nazem Kadri isn't the answer (on the first line, anyway), so whether it's by trade or simply chemistry finally building between Kessel and someone else already on the team; it's got to be the first thing on the to-do list of Burke.

The struggles of the Leafs this season may not be such a massive issue as we may have thought, or at least Burke and Co. hope. But the answer may be as simple as watching the team across from them on Tuesday night in Tampa, and finding one more piece to the add to the puzzle.

Find Kessel a center man, you may just find the key to scoring success in Toronto.

Sounds so simple.



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