LEAFS' BIG GUNS HAVE GONE MIA

Steve Lansky
March 22 2011 11:23AM

Whether or not you believe the Toronto Maple Leafs can make the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, it is a fact that they have no more wiggle room left. With nine games remaining, they would have to pass both Carolina (two points ahead, one game in hand) and Buffalo (five points ahead, one game in hand). The Leafs have 74 points. If they win out, they would finish with 92...probably barely enough to make. Tonight, in Minnesota, it truly is back-up-against-the-wall time.

Toronto's good fortune is that, in Minnesota, the Wild are not in playoff contention in the west. Their hopes have faded. They won't make it. There's no fight left in that dog. And that opens the door for Luke "Bobby Orr" Schenn and Dion Phaneuf to again put their defensive greatness on display. Let's face it, other than Phaneuf putting the puck into his own net v. Boston, the pair have been good as gold in this stretch run. Add James Reimer into the mix, and preventing goals really have not been an issue.

Frankly, what's surprised me over the past month-and-a-half is the Leafs' lack of offence. Phil Kessel - non-existent. Two goals in March. Mikhail Grabovski - non-existent. Completely pointless in his last four games. Three goals in March. One off his head. Dion Phaneuf has more goals this month than both those guys. That is plainly not right. Nik Kulemin's done his job. But the rest of the big guns have not. Ultimately, if the Leafs fail to achieve their long-shot postseason goal, all fingers will point to the guys up front.

Tyler Bozak continues to confound. Tons of ice time. No scoring whatsoever. Maybe the worst Leafs' forward sophomore jinx ever. The secondary scoring was in full force against the Bruins on Saturday, but that's not a reliable solution. And it's certainly not a solution that sees the Leafs racking up wins down the stretch.

Oh, make no mistake, the last twenty games have been a blast. Lots of fun to watch and providing renewed hope across the Leafs Nation. But if Kessel and Grabovski don't start scoring - like, now - any hope the Leafs have ends in St. Paul.

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Steve Lansky's first exposure to the game was at storied Maple Leaf Gardens, running downstairs at the end of every period just to watch the great Dave Keon walk off the ice to the room. A decade later, while he was still in high school, Oilers' head coach Glen Sather asked Lansky, "Hey, how'd you like to be our team statistician?" In 1983, at the age of 22, Lansky became the youngest producer in the history of CBC's Hockey Night in Canada, giving him a front-row seat to the Edmonton Oilers' dynasty. Lansky also helped launch Rogers Sportsnet's fledgling hockey coverage when the network made its début in 1998. You can follow him at bigmouthsports.com and at twitter.com/bigmouthsports
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#1 Rexall Robots
March 22 2011, 01:11PM
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To sum it all up, the Leafs have a second line masquerading as a first line. In the Leafs last 10 games, Dion Phaneuf leads the team in scoring with eight points. Grabo and Phil each have seven while Kulemin has six. If the Leafs are going to make the playoffs, or even extend the faint hope of them, someone needs to get hot besides Reimer. A player needs to go on a run where they score six or seven goals and chip in the same number of assists in the last nine games.

Of course, these players are named Toews, Marleau, Callahan, and even Benn. Unfortunately none of those guys play for the Leafs.

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#2 Pension Plan Puppets
March 22 2011, 02:16PM
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In the last 10 games Kessel and Grabovski have been scoring .7 points per game and Kulemin .6 points per game. That's an 82 game pace of 57 and 49 points. Let's string them up!

A player needs to go on a run where they score six or seven goals and chip in the same number of assists in the last nine games.

Callahan has 7 goals in his last 10 games. Of course, 4 came in one game. He does have 7 assists but over the season he has fewer points than the three Leafs named.

Jamie Benn's on a good run. 8 goals and 6 assists in his last 10. On the season, fewer points than all three Leafs named.

Patrick Marleau has 5 goals and 7 assists over his past 10. Marleau's got more points than the players named but then again you'd expect him to.

Same with Toews. He's in another class.

What you're seeing, aside from Toews, is that goals especially do not get scored at a uniform rate. It's the same chicken little BS that was going on during Kessel's scoring drought. All three players are getting chances but they just aren't going in as often as they were at other points in the season. Fingers will point but they'll mostly be from people that don't have an understanding of the reality of scoring in the NHL.

The only reason the Leafs are anywhere close to a playoff spot is because the great play of James Reimer and the offense these three that provided all year. Playoff teams have secondary players step up their production when the primary players are 'struggling'. If the Leafs don't make the playoffs it's because they just aren't that good.

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#4 Rexall Robots
March 23 2011, 09:49AM
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@ PPP

Didn't mention anything about stringing them up, or even that I thought those players were performing poorly. The players I mentioned have all elevated their games when the playoffs are on the line. It's not that they are better or worse, but have come through in pressure games. All were top line players on their teams during this stretch.

Kessel, as an example, is able to elevate himself as well, but hasn't in the big games with the playoffs on the line. From February 10th to March 2nd, he had a great run where he notched 14 points in 10 games. The Leafs were making a run up the standings, but real push for the playoffs had yet to start. In that stretch he had four multi-point games and only two where he was help pointless. In his last ten games, when it's become do or die for the Buds, he has had one multi-point game and five where he was held pointless.

Hate to be cliche about it, but when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Right now, the Leafs really need some mental fortitude from their top players.

As for scoring in the NHL, I can't say I have any first hand experience, but by all means, share if you have some. I understand it is difficult to accomplish on a consistent basis, but top line players in the league find ways to do it, especially when their team needs it.

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#5 positivebrontefan
March 23 2011, 01:34PM
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EPIC picture...that is all.

Oh and good luck to the Leafs, they'll need it.

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#6 BCapp
March 27 2011, 11:50AM
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@Rexall Roberts

This is just silly and false:

"To sum it all up, the Leafs have a second line masquerading as a first line. "

The leafs have 3 players in the top 30 in goals scored (Kessel, Kulemin, Grabovski) 2 of which are on that "second line" and 4 players in the top 60 in points (Kessel, Kulemin, Grabovski, and MacArthur) which includes that entire "second line".

That means that that "second line" has 2 players that would be the BEST goal scorer on more than one team in the NHL and all three of them would be one of the TOP TWO point scorers on multiple teams in the NHL.

To be a top 3 player you would be in the top 90 in a statistical category. That line is MUCH better than that.

The problem is that there is no scoring depth behind those 4 players. Maybe a full year of Lupul would have given us a 5th top 6 guy...but thats it...

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