Morning Mashup: Preview of the Coming Season?


So, the Leafs have improved to 3 – 3 in preseason with last night’s victory over the Senators.  Making it all the more memorable was the fact that this Leafs squad managed to rally back after being down two goals in the first.  While the points mean nothing, and the record of the Leafs preseason will be forgotten from collective consciousness by game 2 of the regular season, the story lines of the Leafs season are already taking shape.  Ron Wilson will be on the hot seat this coming season, his 4th attempt as the Buds bench boss to make good on playoff promises past.  There are some trends, both disturbing and positive, becoming visible in Leaf land.

Often, writers try to analyze some of the more in depth statistics to glean hidden truths about a team.  For today’s purposes, we’re going to throw that idea of ‘research’ out the window and look at some basic truths from the past 6 games.

-          The leafs have given up the first goal of the game 4 times, losing 3 of those games.

-          In 4 games, the Leafs gave up at least 1 power play goal.  They lost 3 of those games.

-          In 2 games, the Leafs have scored at least 1 power play goal.  They won both games.

Admittedly, the sample size isn’t particularly large so the numbers will look skewed.  But for anyone following the club during the Ron Wilson era (e.g. you!), the Achilles heels of this franchise has been slow starts and poor special teams play.  And Vesa Toskala.  So what can we extrapolate from this rough data?

It appears that the Leafs might have to become a better counter punching team, or come out with a bang to start games.  The former was accomplished last night by James Reimer, who looked human through 20 and divine at the end of 60.  But clawing back in games is a fool’s venture.  The stats don’t lie: even against weaker competition (Preseason or Senators’ rosters), giving up the first goal can be deadly.  From a macro perspective, the Leafs need a better start to their year, before the attritional injuries can really test a team’s mettle down the stretch.  Coming out of a hole opening night is no way to do it.

As far as the PK is concerned, it could be another long year.  If there’s one thing that could be said about the Leafs 4 man unit is that they cover more ice than ever before.  Their efficacy remains to be seen.  While Grabovski’s shorthanded goal was terrific, it came after the Senators had already capitalized on the man advantage.  For the Leafs to really improve in the standings, fans everywhere will need to hear about shorthanded dominance for games at a time.  2/6 won’t cut it.  The returns of the injured Connolly, Lombardi and Brown should help solidify the unit, but the Leafs inability to kill a penalty come October would be the first nail in the coffin.

The obvious positive is the Power play, insofar as there seems to be a direct correlation between its success and the team’s overall success.  Now, if only it could click more often.  The greatest boon to the Leafs PP chances could well be John Michael Liles, whose smooth passes, accurate shot, and lateral mobility make him as dangerous on the point as Phaneuf.  Over the past 6 games, one common trait was the PP looked more dangerous when there was lots of movement and puck control at the point.  When it becomes the Phil Kessel half boards keep away show, it seems pretty harmless.  Moving forward, Ron Wilson needs to tell Phaneuf to wait for traffic before shooting, as his 60 foot shots crest high aren’t going to go in.

Modern narrative is commonly constructed in such a fashion that it is the unforeseen or unknown which presents the greatest challenge to a character.  The injury to a star player, the major trade that backfires.  It’s Hollywood, and it’s entertaining, but it isn’t necessarily the hidden and unseen that will make or break the Toronto Maple Leafs.  How they can respond to the above is their challenge.  It’s been visible in preseason; it’s been visible the last three seasons.

Can they finally rewrite history?  It’d make great fodder for a Cinderella story if they do.

On to the links:

Don’t forget to read Mislav’s excellent recap of last night’s victory.

Jonas Siegel with an interesting piece on Marlies number 1 goaltender, Ben Scrivens.

Chemmy absolutely puts Stephen Marche (who?) on blast.

More counterpoints to superfan Stephen Marche (no, seriously, who? Wait, he wrote a book on Shakespeare? C’mon)

This link is for all the MLHS readers who just woke up from a coma this very morning.  Jake Gardiner plays hockey well, and somehow this is a problem.

Dave Shoalts on Wayne Simmonds, the use of pejoratives, and homophobia in professional sport.

Leafs HQ with 10 thoughts around the league.

A look at the Leafs bizarrely sparse October schedule.

2011 just needs to end for Hockey’s sake.  Another hockey related death.

Down Goes Brown gives you the real insider fantasy hockey tips.  A must read for the last paragraph alone.