Toronto Maple Leafs: Balanced Offensive Attack Proving to Be More Effective

Jon Neely@@iamjonneelyAnalyst IDecember 18, 2010

TORONTO, CANADA - DECEMBER 9: Mikhail Grabovski #84 of the Toronto Maple Leafs shoots into the feet of Chris Pronger #20 of the Philadelphia Flyers during game action at the Air Canada Centre December 9, 2010 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)
Abelimages/Getty Images

Okay, attack might be a stretch when describing the Toronto Maple Leafs' offense.

Phil Kessel finished last season with 30 goals for the Leafs. A solid number to be sure, but the fact that the next closest scorer on the team was Nikolai Kulemin with 16 goals meant that there wasn't much of it going on. 

And when you don't score in the NHL, you usually don't win. 

The only other current Leaf player who was on the team last season who hit double digits in goals was Mikhail Grabovski, who had 10. 

The rest of the not-so-offensively-gifted players had a whole lot of nothing, which could be a slight indication to why the Leafs find themselves with just 71 goals through their first 31 games this season, better than only two teams in the NHL (New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders).

To help with their weak scoring punch, the Leafs made some offseason moves and added Clarke MacArthur, who had 16 goals last season (and currently leads the team in points with 24), and Kris Versteeg, who potted 20 with the Stanley Cup-winning Chicago Blackhawks

But that's pretty much it. 

They were expected to come into 2010-11 with a lack of scoring touch and rank among the league's worst when it came to goals scored. We knew this, but what we thought would happen was Kessel would, by now, be far ahead of the rest of his boys in blue and white in the scoring department. 

People floated the 40-goal mark around before the season began, a mark that no other player on the team will ever have a sniff at during their careers, but one that he might just be able to reach if everything falls into place. 

But that hasn't been the case this season. Kessel does lead the team in goals, but he's not running well ahead of the rest of the pack. It's been a balanced attack so far when it comes to the current top five scorers on the team. So balanced, in fact, the Leafs almost have a five-way tie for the team lead.

Kessel has 12, Grabovski, Versteeg, and Kulemin have 10 and MacArthur has nine. 

The next highest scorer on the team is Tyler Bozak with a whopping four goals.

That means that of the 71 goals the club has scored this season, the top five on the team have 51 of them. That's 72 percent.

And that's a good thing.

If each player stays on their current pace, the Leafs will have five guys in the 20-plus goals club at the end of the year. That hasn't happened since 2006-07, when the Leafs went 40-31-11 and missed the playoffs by one point. 

It's not a guaranteed recipe for success, clearly, but it sure is a saving grace when your top scorer goes down with injury and the other players have to step up and hold the fort. 

That's not as hard to accomplish when there's four other guys on the team lighting the lamp on occasion too. 

Think of the Pittsburgh Penguins, a certified Stanley Cup contender, and one of the favourites to win the Eastern Conference this season. Their leading scorer, (you may have heard of him) Sidney Crosby, leads the NHL with 26 goals. 

He is the reason they're doing so well this season, but if he were to go down with an injury the club isn't left with much. The next three players after Crosby have a combined 26 goals. 

That isn't to say they would immediately fall out of contention and lose their season, but they're much, much better off with their leading scorer playing at the top of their game. 

The Philadelphia Flyers, on the other hand, who have been a shining example of a balanced attack for years now, have five players with 11 goals or more this season. And they find themselves sitting at the top of the NHL standings. 

Proof that each way can work, though the Flyers are taking the less risky route. 

And that's the route that just might work for the Leafs, not only this season, but for years to come. 

There is no Crosby coming to Toronto. Kessel is as close as this team is going to get to a 50-goal scorer for a long time. So maybe we should all stop thinking Kessel, Kessel, Kessel, and embrace the fact that this team is learning how to score from more than one stick. 

In the past five games Grabovski has four goals; Kessel and Versteeg have two. 

Each player seems to be finding their touch again, and at the perfect time. The Leafs have won four of their past seven games. 

So for now, this balanced attack is working. Well, at least working better than when nobody was scoring. 

The Leafs aren't the kind of team that can rely on one player, Kessel, to score 50 while everyone else chips in with 10. They don't have the defense or goaltending to get away with that. 

But when five guys can get 20-plus, and it's more than one line putting the puck in the net, then that's where this team can be effective and has been in the past two weeks. 

Maybe this scoring thing isn't as hard as everyone made it out to be. 

And I stress the maybe. 



Twitter: @therealjonneely


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