Toronto Maple Leafs: 5 Early Causes for Concern
It's time to panic, everyone!
Despite getting seven out of eight possible points so far, the Toronto Maple Leafs have not, for the most part, been very impressive.
Phil Kessel, of course, has been doing pretty well. James Reimer can be counted on to give the Leafs a chance to win in every game he plays. Plus, a few role players have been performing their duties admirably.
The rest of the team has not been as impressive.
The Leafs were lucky to start this season with five home games, but they have a tough four-game road trip beginning Thursday.
They are also lucky to have done as well as they have so far; all four games could have easily turned out differently.
Anyway, here is a list of five things the Leafs should be concerned about right now.
Entirely Predictable Power Play
Last season, the Leafs' power play went like this: Tomas Kaberle would dump the puck in for the forwards to chase down, the forwards would be either too slow or too sloppy to get to the puck first, the puck would be iced by the opposing team and the Leafs would have to try again.
This season, the power play looks completely different, but the result is pretty much the same.
The Leafs have got this clever play where the puck carrier drops the puck for a teammate who is supposed to blow past stationary defenders at the blue line.
Works great and looks cool in theory, but so far, it hasn't worked.
They have done this little play almost every time they've been on the power play to no avail.
Half the time it doesn't work because their drop pass misses the intended target.
The other half of the time the defenders are able to see what's coming because the play is so predictable.
But let's pretend the Leafs are able to get their power play set up.
They never set up enough traffic in front of the other team's goalie, so most of their shots, what few they actually manage, are tracked all the way.
Out of all the Leafs' D-men, Cody Franson and Dion Phaneuf are the only ones who like to shoot a lot. Franson has not had an opportunity to shoot that much so far because the Flames and Avs did a good job of taking the Leafs' space away during the PP.
When Phaneuf is on the PP, his partner is John-Michael Liles, who prefers passing over shooting.
Sure, the PP so far this year doesn't look as bad as the PP from last year, but it hasn't worked out, so maybe a couple things will need to change.
More shooting from everyone, keep their feet moving, better puck movement and better set plays, perhaps?
Terrible 1st-Period Play
The game against the Senators was a bit of an anomaly for a number of reasons, so I won't talk about that one.
However, the other three games the Leafs have played so far have shown what the Leafs are "capable" of in first periods.
In the Montreal and Colorado games, nobody was able to score in the first period. This wasn't the result of good defensive play as much as it was the product of sloppiness by both sides.
The Leafs won against Montreal because the Canadiens had a terrible game.
The Leafs made it to overtime against the Avalanche because they got two big goals from Phil Kessel and Nikolai Kulemin, despite being outplayed for much of the game.
During the first period in the game against the Flames, they let in two goals. The Leafs would go on to win because of some solid play in the other two periods.
I don't know what the source of this problem is, but I do know that you cannot expect to consistently win games when you consistently fail to show up in the first period.
Grabovski Hasn't Been Shooting, Linemates Have Been Average
I don't know why, but it seems like Mikhail Grabovski has been reluctant to shoot the puck so far this season.
He's had a few glorious scoring chances, but each time he chose to make a pass instead.
You might say it's still early in the season, but after the game against the Jets tonight, the season will be six percent finished.
This time next week, the season will be almost 10 percent over.
We might as well start worrying now, right?
To be fair, Grabovski and his linemates haven't been bad on the ice. They simply haven't been as magical as they were last year. Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur are even in terms of plus-minus, while Kulemin is a minus-one.
Phaneuf, with his one goal and four assists, has more points than the entire MGK line combined (2 G, 2 A, 4 P). I expect that to change relatively soon, but I'm concerned that, four games into this season, that line still hasn't been able to do much of anything.
If Grabovski and his linemates take too long to get their heads back into the game, the Leafs are going to drop some winnable games.
Sloppiness, Especially in Defensive Zone
For me, watching the Leafs' power play is almost as bad as watching the Leafs trying to exit their own zone.
It's supposed to be easy: tag up around your net, make a couple short passes and you're off to the races.
But no, the Leafs like to make long passes while stationary, reverse the puck despite the presence of aggressive forecheckers, chip the puck to nobody in particular and pass the puck right up the middle where it will usually get picked off.
You add to that poor stick work and weak play against the boards and you've got some pucks in your net.
Of course, the Leafs haven't been bad only in the defensive zone.
They've been pretty bad in the neutral zone as well, what with all the bad passing and turnovers.
But hey, if the Leafs can learn lessons and get points at the same time, maybe I'll be able to worry less.
Komisarek Has Been the Leafs' Best D-Man so Far
I realize this claim is entirely debatable, but I think that Mike Komisarek has been the Leafs' best defenseman so far.
He has committed a few turnovers, I think, but not too many.
He's been taking the body and has been pretty aggressive. He's been pretty good at chirping and ruffling feathers as well, such as during the game against Calgary when he gave Jarome Iginla a shove, causing a little skirmish which ended with Iginla in the box for roughing.
Phaneuf, Liles and Franson have been average.
Carl Gunnarsson has been invisible while Jake Gardiner has watched the last couple games from upstairs.
Luke Schenn has simply been terrible. He's soft on the puck and can't seem to buy a few seconds of puck possession time.
It's cause for concern when Mike Komisarek is your team's best D-man, especially when he was expected to be the worst.