Jeff Veillette (Jeffler)
February 06 2013 02:34PM
Ah, the ever so trusty ten game mark. The best time possible for talking points, in the sense that it's a decent chunk of games to get a feel for a team's players, yet not enough to get into a panic about the rest of the season. This year, however, could be an exception to the rule - what was once seven do-overs is now four, meaning the effects of the first ten games will resonate with the end result far more than the norm. So, with that said, is it time to panic? Time to panic... more? I'm not quite sure, so here's ten thoughts to celebrate ten games down.
1 - I'm not quite sure what reasoning I'd give for Nazem Kadri's team leading 8 points. The pessimist in me feels like it's merely a hot streak and nothing to to write home about. The optimist in me, who's been watching him closely, recognizes that the production is coming from the same plays he's been known for long term. There's also a third angle - that his AHL ice time made him better conditioned out of the gate than many of his teammates and opponents, leading to inflated results. This is an interesting one, especially when you consider that conditioning was a concern going into October. It's likely the strongest theory of the three, though Randy Carlyle's willingness to put Kadri in a position ot succeed is no doubt helping him grow into the player many were hoping for.
2 - Though Flyers fans will tell you they're very happy with Luke Schenn (whether or not this is due to him being good, or less bad than his struggling peers remains to be seen), here's a fun stat to flaunt - James van Riemsdyk currently has more goals than Claude Giroux, both Schenn Brothers, Max Talbot, Scott Hartnell, and Andrej Meszaros combined. To equalize the two sides, you can add Danny Briere's single tally.
3 - Speaking of goals and lackthereof, I know you're all very sick and tired of hearing about Phil Kessel. But here's a quick thought - shooting percentage comes and goes. As much as scoring is a talent, it's also generally consistent in those who do or don't have said talent, and you typically won't see long term spikes or falls. Whether you're Phil Kessel, or some kid on the street wearing a Phil Kessel shirt, you're going to go through ups and downs that ultimately end in a typical number. Granted, Kessel has the unfortunate pressure of trying to snap out of this while being "the guy" in hockey's biggest market, but unless his actual play begins to fall apart, you can only wait for the stats to come. As it stands, Kessel is taking 4.2 shots a game, up from 3.6 last year. His 6 assists would pace out to 49 over 82 games, 4 more than last year, which was 13 above his previous career high. He's playing in a similar way to last year, and if anything, producing better results in ways beyond the goal column. Not stressed about it.
4 - Similarly, while it's been very exciting to see Matt Frattin put pucks in the net, something he had a distinct problem with last season, there's absolutely no way this production rate is going to last. Unless he starts shooting about three or four times as often, that is. He's shooting at 45.5% - if Steven Stamkos did that last season, that already absurd 60 goal total would balloon to 137. Actually, even better - if Phil Kessel was finishing at that rate this year, he'd have 19 goals in 10 games.
5 - As much as I was practically leading the Roberto Luongo acquisition bandwagon during the offseason, and as much as I still see it in the Leafs benefit to go after a top end goaltender, James Reimer's play as of late is suitable. A save percentage of 0.917 isn't going to win anybody the Vezina trophy in this era, but at 12th amongst the 33 goalies who have played five or more games, it's above average, something the Leafs would've been happy with most of the past several years.
6 - Leo Komarov is exactly what we thought he was - a total pain to play against, that sucks up penalties against like a vacuum, and yet still effective at actually playing hockey. After years of being unsure if we would ever see him wear the Blue and White, and the back and forth he did with the Marlies to start the year, it's good to see that he's got NHL ability in him after all. Then again, even if he didn't, I'd keep him just for the ability to chirp in five different languages. But that's just me.
7 - Being fourth in the Northeast Division seems a bit disappointing, until you realize how strong this division has been compared to the rest. Stats have obviously changed since (and I haven't done the math yet), but just a week ago, the Northeast was strongest in Wins Per Game, Points Per Game, Goals Per Game, GAA, Goal Differential Per Game, Points Percentage, and Average Standings Spot. That said, the Leafs' 10 points would place them in second in the Southeast and Northwest, and third in every division except for the Central, so the Northeast's strength is still apparent.
8 - What isn't strong, however, is Toronto's special teams. Both the powerplay and penalty kill rank at 27th in the NHL, and are putting up dismal specific numbers while doing so. The powerplay is clicking just 12% of the time, just more than half of 11th place Winnipeg. If you added that 12% to the 71.9% penalty kill (don't ask why, just run with it), you'd still just barely squeak into the top half of the league while shorthanded. Other than the Detroit Red Wings, who are clearly trying to figure out the post-Lidstrom era, Toronto may have the worst overall special teams in the entire league.
9 - Often prevalent on those special teams - Mike Kostka. In fact, prevalent anywhere - Mike Kostka. The rookie but too old to be rookie defenceman is near the top of the Leafs penalty kill minutes, 12th in powerplay minutes per game amongst D in the league, and 15th in overall per game ice time. I don't understand it at this point. I was singing Kostka's praises as an NHL capable defenceman before the Leafs signed him, seeing him with Norfolk, and still believe that he's a regular NHLer and more than deserving in sticking with the Leafs roster. But if the powerplay isn't clicking, why is a guy with 4 career NHL points getting as many minutes with the man advantage as Kris Letang?
10 - With all of this said, I'm not sure quite which way to yell in the grand scheme of things. The Leafs are a decidedly average 5-5-0. If the season ended right now, they'd be facing the Boston Bruins (sigh) in the first round of the playoffs. 14th in the NHL isn't mindblowing, but it isn't 30th. And yet most confusingly - this season didn't start with a sprint or a faceplant. Rather, consistent winning and losing. Maybe the Leafs are, and I know this is a crazy concept, just an average team on pace for average results? Well, only one way to find out...
(Photo credit Zimbio)