During the preseason, the Leafs were expected to be a low scoring team, but also, a team that would be tough to score against. With Ron Wilson's defense-first coaching, a plethora of pretty solid defensemen, a top-notch goalie, a lack of a proven top line, heck top two lines, and you can see why those predictions made sense. But, here we are 15 games into the campaign, and the Leafs are tied with the New York Rangers for the most goals for in the East, with 47, and second only to the Thrashers in goals against, with a hefty 54.
The Leafs started out the season as expected. Over the first 9 games they scored at a paltry 2.22 goals per game clip and gave up a petty stingy 2.55 a game to emerge with 3 wins, 2 losses and 3 over-time losses. They competed in almost every game and gave their die-hard fans something to cheer about. Here was a fast, hard-working team, and win or lose, they didn't give up.
Over the past 6 games, however, the goals have come in buckets, both for and against. Their goals for over those games shot up to an astounding 4.5 per. Over that span the Leafs are a respectable 3-2-1, against some tough customers, including the Devils, Rangers, and Canadiens.
Since that 6-5 win against New Jersey, the Leafs have have played with increased offensive confidence. They have outshot their opponents consistently in that time period and the goals are starting to come, especially for what appear to be the leafs top two lines: Hagman - Grabovski - Kulemin, and Antropov - Stajan - Ponikarovski. Grabovski has emerged as a bonafide scorer with 6 goals and 8 points in his last 4 games, while Hagman has 7 of his 12 points in that time frame. Antropov and Ponikarovski have continue to show some solid play, while Stajan has shown some real spark with 2 goals and 6 assists since the Jersey game as well.
While the offensive production has been fun to watch, the Leafs also started giving up way more goals against. From 2.55 in the first 9 games to an unimpressive 4.33 over the last six. As well, they began a disturbing trend of falling behind early and having to play catch up for the remainder of the game. At times it has worked out, for example, they roared back against the Rangers with 5 goals in just over 5 minutes, however, they reversed that showing by allowing Carolina to score 4 in 4 minutes their next game out. Their defensive stats over the last six games are not something a Ron Wilson team should be proud of.
Despite the bloated goals against, the Leafs are proving to be a fun team to watch. They are fast, aggressive, and they never seem to give up. They've beaten some exceptional teams. They usually outwork their opponents 5 on 5, and thankfully don't take a lot of penalties, given that their penalty kill is dead last in the league at 72%. You have to think that an improvement on the PK would push more games into the win column for the team, now that the scorers are scoring.
The next goal is something no one should really even be talking about yet. Yes, it is the dreaded "P " word. I'm not even going to write it. The Leafs will have to keep playing well for another few months and shore up defensively before that word should even enter our vocabulary. If we can realistically start discussing that topic - say in February or March - well, that will be the most unexpected goal of all.
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