We're about a third of the way through the 2011-12 season and the Leafs managed to get 33 points. Again its early yet, but the club is on pace for about 96 points which should put them in a position they haven't been in since the lockout. That position of course is the playoffs.
With some success in the standings this year, most of that success can be attributed to one line for the Leafs: their top line. When they go off, so go the Leafs. When they're kept in check, the entire Leafs team is held in check.
Case in point, the Leafs' struggles this year with the Boston Bruins. The Leafs this season have been outscored 23-5 this season against the Bruins. The Bruins shut down the line of Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak and Joffrey Lupul, and all three of them are a combined -24 against the Bruins and Zdeno Chara.
However, that line has generally been very explosive and is of the top five lines in the entire league.
For the Leafs to survive all these injuries, the Leafs needed depth this year, and so far, they've received some pretty good performances out of most players on their roster. We will now begin to break down each player with an early progress report.
2011 Stats: 28 GP 17 G 18 A 35 P +1 8 PIM
Phil Kessel has so far been Toronto's MVP. Scoring clutch goals, using his blazing speed to open up the entire ice for his teammates, and helping by focusing all the opposition's game plan on him helps his teammates get more ice to work with.
Kessel has had stretches where he's been invisible, but that's mostly during games against the Bruins. For his struggles against the Bruins, his grade falls a bit.
2011 Stats: 28 GP 13 G 19 A 32 P +3 30 PIM
Lupul has arguably been Toronto's best and most consistent forward this season. Lupul has finally returned back to the form that got him drafted seventh overall in 2002 by the Ducks, and has come a long way after recovering from a back injury that caused a debilitating infection keeping him off the ice for over a year.
2011 Stats: 26 GP 6 G 11 A 17 P +1 16 PIM
Tyler Bozak has enjoyed some success this year because he's fit in best with linemates Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul. Bozak was originally slated to be the team's third-line center behind Tim Connolly and Mikhail Grabovski; however, injuries and consistent play led to Bozak's promotion. This promotion looks to be permanent as Bozak hasn't looked back as he's scored 12 points in his last 13 games.
2011 Stats: 16 GP 4 G 9 A 13 P +2 10 PIM
Connolly has been pretty consistent with the Leafs despite playing with quite literally the entire roster this season in only 16 games. After missing 12 games with upper-body injuries, the free agent from the Buffalo Sabres has finally had some time to produce with the Leafs.
Connolly has been a very good three-zone player for the club, as he's been very responsible defensively with the team and has also helped kill penalties. He is a definite contributing factor as to why the Leafs are currently second in the NHL on power plays.
2011 Stats: 22 GP 7 G 6 A 13 P +/- 0 8 PIM
Mikhail Grabovski's second line has really been a shell of its former self. After a year in which the line accounted for over 40% of the team's goal scoring, the same line has now accounted for only about 20% of the team's goal output. Pretty grim indeed. Grabovski has missed 6 games this season, but it still doesn't hide the fact the entire line has struggled this season.
2011 Stats: 21 GP 9 G 3 A 12 P -1 14 PIM
After beginning the season serving a two-game suspension for his phantom hit to the head on Justin Abdelkader, MacArthur really struggled to find his timing and feel when he came back. His struggles didn't help get his linemates out of the blues either.
MacArthur has been finishing pretty nicely, but oddly enough, he's missed plenty of chances too as he could easily have 13-15 goals this season if he just potted some easy shots in the back of the net.
With some injuries plaguing him as well, MacArthur hasn't really had the year we were all hoping he would after he re-signed in Toronto for $3.25 million.
2011 Stats: 28 GP 2 G 9 A 11 P +1 4 PIM
Kulemin has really struggled to score this season. The former 30-goal scorer from last season has found scoring in the NHL this season quite hard and has been pressing to get back on track. As a result, he's lost some playing time this season and might be getting into Ron Wilson's doghouse. Ask Cody Franson about being in that doghouse—you'll never know when he'll open the door and let you run free again.
To his credit, Kulemin has played well defensively and is always trying, but I was very close to failing him.
2011 Stats: 17 GP 5 G 3 A 8 P -1 11 PIM
Crabb this season has been one of the only Leafs to stand in front of the opposition's net and go to the dirty areas. After an electric opening with the Marlies, Crabb was given the call after injuries to Colby Armstrong and Mike Brown and really hasn't looked back.
Crabb's also been pretty effective as a penalty killer for the Leafs. Playing alongside Tim Connolly, Crabb has been a decent penalty-killing option for the club.
Grade: B+ (For his play in both zones and his start with the Marlies)
2011 Stats: 25 GP 3 G 4 A 7 P even 12 PIM
Frattin has been pretty inconsistent this year. After going through a long stretch of not being able to score his first NHL goal, he finally got it in his 17th game, scoring against Tomas Vokoun and the Washington Capitals on what many believed to be a very soft goal.
Needless to say, I'm in the camp who thinks he needed a year of seasoning in the AHL. With Nazem Kadri dominating the AHL currently, I'm beginning to wonder if or when Frattin will ever get sent down.
2011 Stats: 19 GP 2 G 4 A 6 P -7 2 PIM
Lombardi is (you guessed it) injured again, and really nobody has noticed he's been gone.
Brought in as a salary throw-in in the Brett Lebda trade for Cody Franson, Lombardi has sort of been invisible this season with the Leafs. Quite possibly one of the fastest skaters in the league, Lombardi really hasn't used his speed consistently yet this season. After being off for a year though, you can still tell he's trying to kick the rust off the underside of his vehicle, if you know what I mean.
Lombardi has been a decent penalty killer this year along with David Steckel, but the fact still remains: How well are they doing when their kill is still one of the worst in the league?
2011 Stats: 27 GP 5 G 0 A -3 6 PIM
Steckel's been one of the most efficient Leafs players this year, and their best faceoff man. His presence was supposed to help out the penalty kill, but in reality the Leafs still stink in that department.
You begin to think that the Leafs have had a different crew of penalty killers every year, but still remain in the bottom third of the NHL for penalty killing percentage. I'm left looking not at the players, but rather the system and the coach that is coaching them. How many years of a stagnant penalty kill will it take before Wilson gets the message?
2011 Stats: 1 G 2 A 3 P even 31 PIM
Mike Brown isn't necessarily an offensive threat, but his speed, tenacity and forecheck is infectious and his presence on the ice makes his entire team play better. His ability block a key shot during penalty kills and really giving it his all when taking on all comers makes Brown a critical part of the team despite not putting up points in bunches.
2011 Stats: 9 GP 1 G 3 A 4 P +1 2 PIM
Colborne began the season with the Toronto Marlies this year, and after 12 games and 19 points, Colborne was called up to replace Tim Connolly. However, when Connolly returned, Colborne stayed with the big club. Colborne has struggled against bigger and stronger players, but his responsible play in both ends has earned him a spot still with the club.
When all the injured forwards get back though, I doubt Colborne will last in the Leafs lineup.
2011 Stats: 5 GP 0 G 0 A 0 P -3 2 PIM
Armstrong's veteran presence is definitely missed both on the ice and in the dressing room. Always a character, Armstrong is the Leafs' glue-guy who often throws the big hit, makes the big play, or gets under the opposition's skin. However, without Armstrong in the lineup, the Leafs have managed quite well.
Out with a high ankle sprain, Armstrong has missed the last 23 games with the injury. Reports indicate that he may be targeting the home date against the Capitals this Friday as a possible return date.
2011 Stats Orr: 4 GP 1 G 5 PIM
2011 Stats Rosehill: 14 GP 0 P 16 PIM
I'll just leave these guys until the end. They really don't serve a purpose, they only play five minutes a night and likely spend more time in the box than actually playing hockey. It's too bad.
2011 Stats: 25 GP 0 G 0 A 0 P -2 14 PIM
Oh, sorry Dupuis Fans, I nearly forgot about him. Yeah, that's pretty much all I can say about him. Completely invisible, no real offensive ability, and defensively overrated. How he managed to only be a healthy scratch in three games this season when guys like Nazem Kadri, Marcel Mueller, and Mike Zigomanis ride the bus in the AHL is beyond me.
Grade: F (my first and only failing player)
2011 Stats: 28 GP 3 G 15 A 18 P -1 20 PIM
Dion has sort of had a rebirth this season with the Leafs. On pace for over 50 points this season, Phaneuf has nearly returned to his early Calgary form when he scored nearly 20 goals a season and managed over 60 points in his sophomore season.
His play in his own end still needs some work as he's prone to a give away a few, but generally this season for Dion has been a marked improvement.
2011 Stats: 28 GP 3 G 14 A 17 -1 8 PIM
Liles has been pretty much a rock for the Leafs. His presence has not only improved the game of Mike Komisarek and Cody Franson, but he's also made the Leafs much more dangerous on the power play as the team has risen to second in the NHL in power-play efficiency.
He is quite a bit smaller than pretty much every other Leafs defenseman, but he still manages to nearly lead the team in blocked shots, which says something about this veteran.
2011 Stats: 27 GP 0 G 7 A 7 P -4 12 PIM
Gunnarsson is a very quiet defenceman; you really don't notice him that much. At times, that can be a detriment, but most of the time, it's a compliment. His solid, steady play has allowed captain Dion Phaneuf to freewheel offensively and pinch more. Sometimes the result is a goal against, but most of the time the Leafs score or get a quality scoring chance.
2011 Stats: 28 GP 0 G 8 A 8 P even 14 PIM
Gardiner has easily been the most pleasant surprise this season for the Leafs. His steady play and his ability to not panic at such a young age has given him the opportunity to play big minutes with the team and quietly work towards a possible Calder Trophy nomination. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will likely have something to say about that though.
Acquired from the Ducks with Joffrey Lupul in exchange for Francois Beauchemin, the trade has easily been an early win for the Leafs.
2011 Stats: 28 GP 1 G 9 A 10 P +3 24 PIM
Schenn's play recently has been much stronger, oddly enough, once he got paired with youngster Jake Gardiner. Schenn has been trying to simplify his game more and get back to what he does best, and that's erased players along the boards. Currently sitting second overall in the NHL in hits, Schenn has been back to receiving his 20-plus minutes of ice time a night, so it likely won't be long before Schenn is leading the league.
His recent offensive outburst has helped him become the third leading scorer among Leafs defencemen.
2011 Stats: 18 GP 1 G 3 A 4 P +3 26 PIM
Before Komisarek went down for eight weeks due to a broken arm, he was arguably Toronto's best defensive defenceman when he left. He was clearing the front of the net, hitting people, and playing a simplified game. He was starting to look an awful lot like the player who was the partner to Andrei Markov back in Montreal, and a player worthy of such a large contract.
If anything, he probably increased his trade value and I'd look for the Leafs to possibly move him along with another player for a big name forward that could give Toronto two lines that can consistently score.
With the new division realignment, now more than ever the Leafs will need to prove they can win against their own division. So far this season, its been a struggle, so look for the Leafs to improve their squad either at the deadline or in the offseason.
2011 Stats: 13 GP 2 G 4 A 6 P -2 4 PIM
So far this year, Franson has hit the Ron Wilson doghouse, and for what reason I don't know. Franson can score (evident by his 40 point pace he's setting), but he's been a bit careless in his own end, which hasn't lent himself to Wilson's good graces.
After Franson complained to the media about sitting out, Wilson eventually gave him a game to prove himself. After Franson apparently failed, he was banished to the press box again until Mike Komisarek went down with the injured arm.
Franson since has been pretty solid and a good point presence on the Leafs second unit power play.
2011 Stats: 2-4-1 2.96 GAA.900 SV%
Scrivens played a fairly solid game for the Leafs, although like most of the team, he played much better on the road as opposed to at home.
Scrivens has since been sent to the Marlies where he'll become their number one netminder, and Mark Owuya will be sent to Reading (ECHL).
2011 Stats: 4-1-2 2.81 GAA .900 SV%
Reimer has struggled this season with a concussion-like injury and has only seen seven games of action. In the games he's been in, he's been solid but is prone to giving up a soft goal here and there.
He's the Leafs' number one goalie, and I don't expect that to change. However, if he keeps this up and the Leafs keep getting solid play out of the Monster, who's to say the Monster doesn't become the team's top goalie?
2011 Stats: 9-5-0 3.13 GAA .900 SV%
The Monster has so far been playing like a number one goalie this year following a very slow start.
If you take away the games he hasn't played a full 60 minutes (mostly because he came in relief), Gustavsson has been pretty impressive.
Could there be a goalie debate on the horizon? Only time will tell. Because of Gustavsson's strong play, the Leafs really haven't missed a beat with Reimer out. They're still in the top six of the Eastern Conference and are well on their way towards playoff hockey. Now if they can only finish out the season strong and cement themselves a spot...