Toronto Maple Leafs: 2011-12 Early Season Report Card

Curtis NgContributor IIIOctober 30, 2011

Toronto Maple Leafs: 2011-12 Early Season Report Card

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    Just over three weeks into the 2011-12 season, the Toronto Maple Leafs have compiled an impressive 7-2-1 record, good enough for top spot in the Northeast Division.

    This is only one of the numerous surprises in the NHL right now, such as Edmonton topping the Northwestern Division or Boston dwelling in the Eastern Conference basement.

    Leaf fans have a lot to be pleasantly surprised about at the moment, but there are also things, good and bad, that aren't surprising at all.

    Some of these things will be covered in the following slides.

    Here is my take on how the Toronto Maple Leafs are doing so far this school year.

Top-Six Forwards

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    Grade: A-

    Mikhail Grabovski's line hasn't been spectacular, but they sure have been exciting to watch. Grabovski himself has impressed with his great speed and work ethic.

    Clarke MacArthur was a bit slow coming out of the gate following his suspension but seems to have gotten his confidence after having scored a couple goals.

    Nikolai Kulemin, though he has only found the net a couple times so far, has been a reliable two-way player for the Leafs and is expected to continue improving.

    And how about the Leafs' top line?

    There's no longer the 1A or the 1B line because the Phil Kessel line has clearly shown itself to be the Leafs' top line.

    Kessel continues to lead the NHL in goals and points. In addition to this, he's been pretty good defensively as well. Two great surprises for Leaf fans.

    Not much to say about Tim Connolly, only because he has played just a couple of games so far this season, but he picked up a goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins yesterday and looked pretty good.

    Joffrey Lupul is a point-per-game player at the moment. He's a player who is out to prove that Anaheim may have given up on him too soon and so far, that looks to be the case.

    The top line will likely cool off a bit while the second line will probably heat up a little, but right now, the top-six corps is generating a lot of quality scoring chances while being defensively responsible as well.

    They don't need to continue scoring at the same pace, but if they can continue playing the way they have been for the rest of the year, the Leafs will be in great shape next spring.

Bottom-Six Forwards

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    Grade: A-

    Chuck Norris tells Mike Brown jokes. That's all I need to say about Brown.

    David Steckel has been brilliant on faceoffs and has been pretty decent in general. He had a nice three-game goal scoring streak, which is pretty great considering the fact that he wasn't brought in for offense.

    Personally, I'm hoping Philippe Dupuis sticks around on the fourth line. He's a good penalty killer, he's tough, can skate and though he has no points so far, can help generate offensive chances as well.

    Jay Rosehill and Colton Orr can fight well, but I'd prefer guys who are tough to be on the fourth line as opposed to mere tough guys.

    Matt Frattin, despite only having one point (an assist) this season, has skated well, he's been physical and has had a number of quality scoring chances.

    Matthew Lombardi and Tyler Bozak have both been impressive. They've used their speed to their advantage and look great in their third-line roles.


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    Grade: B+

    Could Dion Phaneuf be a Norris contender this year? Wouldn't that be exciting. In the very first article I wrote for B/R, published a little over two months ago, I predicted that Phaneuf and Kessel would make this year's All-Star Game. I thought it was a bold prediction back then, but it's not looking so bold anymore because it could realistically happen.

    Phaneuf is the Leafs' best defensemen and Mike Komisarek has been their worst. However, that's not to say Komisarek has been terrible. To be fair, he's been bad at times and good at times. He'll make some boneheaded plays but he'll also block shots and make a few good defensive plays. If he can stay disciplined and smarten up a bit, he'll be a solid bottom-pairing guy.

    Luke Schenn and Carl Gunnarsson have been largely invisible, at least to me, but maybe that's a good thing because they're not getting hung out to dry too often or attracting any negative attention. I'm not too impressed with their play, but if they can stay in the plus column, I won't complain.

    As for Jake Gardiner, wow, is this kid ever smart. And a great skater, and poised and confident. Top marks for Gardiner.

    And how about John-Michael Liles? He's quietly accumulated seven points (all assists) in 10 games so far with the Leafs. He doesn't really stand out, at least not to me, when he's on the ice, but manages to contribute offensively, especially on rushes and on the power play.

    Did I miss anybody? Ah yes, Cody Franson. Could he be packing his bags before November's done?


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    Grade: B-

    Here's an interesting fact about the Leafs: they've scored more goals (34) than any team in the Western Conference.

    Here's another (not so) interesting fact about them: they've let in more goals (32) than any team in the Western Conference save Vancouver (33) and Columbus (39).

    The Leafs' goaltending was tough for me to grade, so be nice if you completely disagree with my choice.

    James Reimer has been good for the Leafs so far, but hasn't been amazing.

    He's 4-0-1-1, has a 2.58 GAA and a 0.912 save percentage.

    Jonas Gustavsson has been criticized as of late, but to me, he's performed admirably, especially in the absence of Reimer.

    He does let in a lot of goals, including a few softies, but he often doesn't get enough support from his D. I feel his critics have been a little too harsh on him but that's a debate for another time.

    He's 3-2-0-0, has a 3.86 GAA and an 0.886 save percentage.

    His stats look awful, but if you've seen him play, you'll know that he's made a lot of big saves.

    He's extremely frustrating to watch, though. One moment he'll make a huge save, and the next, he'll let in a wrister from the top of the circle.

Power Play

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    Grade: B

    The Leafs' power play is painful to watch at times yet exciting at other times. It can be utterly predictable, or it can be very effective, like it was in Pittsburgh last night.

    The Leafs went two for two on the man advantage against the Penguins, which is especially impressive because the Pens' penalty killing unit was operating at about 97 percent efficiency up until that point.

    Overall, the Leafs' PP is clicking at 17.78 percent, good for 13th in the league.

    Not too shabby, but there is room for improvement.

    The first key to a good power play is, of course, faceoff wins. The Leafs are doing pretty well on the dots.

    What the Leafs need to work on is their entry into the attacking zone, puck movement and getting traffic in front of the net.

Penalty Kill

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    Grade: C-

    I'm not sure if I'm being generous or somehow unfair with this mark. 

    Right now, the Leafs sit 27th in penalty killing with a 74.42 percent success rate.

    That surely deserves a 'D,' but I am seeing things that I like about the Leafs' PK.

    For one, they're more aggressive, but not recklessly so. They're pressuring the puck-carrier and forcing bad passes or perimeter shots. They're also forcing turnovers which have led to easy clears and even the odd shorthanded scoring chance.

    The penalty killers are blocking a lot of shots as well, which is something the Leafs have been bad at for a long time.

    Yet, despite these good things, the Leafs are still letting in a ton of goals while shorthanded.

    I'm not sure why that is, but all I know is that their PK will need to drastically improve if they want to make the playoffs.