Oh the highs and lows of another Toronto Maple Leafs season.
Only this time, they’ve all come 10 games before we even reach the halfway mark of the 2013-14 season.
From a 10-4-0 start that had them first in the Eastern Conference at the end of October to a 17-game stretch ever since where they’ve won six games (and only two in regulation), it has already been a wild and weird year for the Leafs.
With a two-day break until Toronto has to face two of the top teams in the league (Los Angeles and St. Louis) in a difficult back-to-back, what follows is an examination of the good, bad and ugly from their first 31 games of the season:
The power play: It has been firing along at better than 20 per cent all season, and where would Toronto’s offence be without it? Defenceman Cody Franson is tied for third in the NHL among blueliners in power play points (11) and Nazem Kadri, Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk have all been almost as effective on the man advantage with eight-plus points each.
James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier: Their numbers have slipped (from a .937 save percentage in the first month to .917 in the last 17 games) but the two young netminders remain the Leafs co-MVPs. They have combined to give Toronto the best even strength save percentage in the NHL at .944.
The East is least: Entering Monday’s games, the Carolina Hurricanes were in a playoff spot while on pace for just 85 points. The bar to make the postseason in the East is going to be a low one, which means the Leafs still have plenty of time to turn things around and hang onto their spot.
The injuries: Centre Dave Bolland was a pleasant surprise as Toronto’s best skater through the first month of the season, and his absence due to a cut tendon in his ankle has been difficult for a team short on two-way talent to cope with. While the Leafs are only 13th in the league with 84 man-games lost, it feels much worse given all of the losses have been to their forwards, including Joffrey Lupul and Tyler Bozak of late.
Even strength scoring: The Leafs were one of the NHL’s top five teams at even strength last season with 2.25 goals a game there last season. But that’s down 24 per cent so far this year in large part due to the fact they have scored only 23 times at 5-on-5 in their current 17-game slump. It’s not quite Buffalo Sabres territory, but it’s pretty alarming.
The coaching calls: A team that can’t score leaves skill in the press box (or on the bench) and puts enforcers and defensive specialists on the ice. A team that gets the first goal in games more than almost any other, sits back so much that it gives up far too many of those leads. And why was Jake Gardiner in the press box again?
The penalty kill: Another area where the Leafs have gone from the top to the bottom. Toronto killed off a terrific 88 per cent of its penalties last season but is down to 26th place (77 per cent) this year after a brutal recent stretch. What’s changed is a head scratcher, as Carlyle continues to use the same system and much of the same personnel.
The defence: The Leafs struggled defensively last season in allowing 32.3 shots per game, but that figure has ballooned to more than 37 a game so far this year and the woes of the Toronto blueline are a big reason why. Mark Fraser and Paul Ranger have looked slow and out of sorts, while Franson has had a hard time with increased minutes. Even the top pair of Dion Phaneuf and Carl Gunnarsson is labouring to stop the barrage.
David Clarkson’s contract: Seven years at $5.25-million a season. Two goals and six points in 21 games.
Statistics, per game
5-on-5 play (first month)
5-on-5 play (last 17 games)
Special teams (first month)
Special teams (last 17)**
All situations (first month)
All situations (last 17)
**- special teams includes all non-5-on-5 play
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