There are some good numbers, and then there are some not so good numbers.
For several members of the Toronto Maple Leafs this is the conundrum and likely the primary reason the NHL club finds itself in a bit of a tailspin early in the season.
Take Dion Phaneuf and rookie Mike Kostka for instance.
The pair have been defence partners for all five of Toronto’s games this season.
And the way Randy Carlyle has been doling out ice time for the tandem you’d almost have to think the players must have some compromising pictures of the Leafs coach stashed away somewhere.
Phaneuf is currently logging an average of 27 minutes, 56 seconds of ice time on the year, the second highest total in the NHL. That includes 32:38 minutes of ice time – over half the game – during Saturday’s 5-2 loss to the New York Rangers.
Kostka, his defence partner, is averaging 25:44 minutes on the year, some pretty heady numbers for an American Hockey League journeyman cutting his teeth for the first time at the NHL level.
That rates Kostka ahead of the likes of Zdeno Chara, the Boston Bruins blueline stalwart who only has a Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenceman sitting in his trophy case.
While Phaneuf and Kostka are enjoying the ice time and the confidence the Leafs coach obviously has in them, there are two other numbers that stand out.
At this point in the season, Phaneuf has a plus-minus rating of minus 8, the worst ranking in the NHL. Kostka is a minus 7, the league’s second-worst rating.
Carlyle said in retrospect, the heavy workload – especially in the case of Phaneuf – this early in the season is perhaps expecting too much.
“I think the one thing that we were guilty of as coaches, we played him too much,” Carlyle said following practice on Monday. “I don’t think Dion’s ready to play 30-plus minutes, and he played 32 in New York. So we have to take responsibility for that as a coaching staff.”
Carlyle said the problem in the New York game, where the Leafs blew an early lead for the second consecutive outing for the loss, he wanted Phaneuf on the ice for every defensive-end faceoff.
And with the Leafs failing to execute on many of those faceoffs, Phaneuf was trapped in his own end and unable to race to the bench for a replacement. And his ice-time soared as a result.
The Leafs, 2-3 on the year, will play in Buffalo Tuesday night against the Sabres, where they will probably have to make do without the services of Clarke MacArthur, their top-line winger who suffered a lacerated pinky finger in the New York game.
MacArthur has lost the fingernail and Carlyle said it is unlikely he will be able to play.
“Obviously it’s very painful,” Carlyle said. “Anybody who’s ever had their nail removed, clawed off of your finger, it’s not a pretty sight.”
In anticipation of MacArthur’s absence, winger James van Riemsdyk was skating with the top line at practice, alongside Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak.
After the Buffalo game, the Leafs will return to Toronto to play a three-game home set, beginning Thursday against the Washington Capitals at the Air Canada Centre. After that the Leafs will host the Bruins on Saturday and then the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday.
Phaneuf said the big workload he has carried so far this season has not affected his play. As for the plus-minus rating, that can often be a bit misleading playing for a team that is 2-3 on the year.
“It’s not something you’re happy about, as a player, as an individual or as a team,” Phaneuf said. “I take responsibility for getting that number and I’ve got to be better to help our team get better.”
The Leafs are also hoping that van Riemsdyk’s arrival on the top line might help jump-start Kessel, who is still searching for his first goal of the season.
“I think it’s a matter for a goal scorer like him, once you get that first one off your back the net seems like it’s a soccer net out there,” van Riemsdyk said. “It’s just a matter of popping that first one in and you get that confidence going. You’ve seen what he’s done in the past.”