March 25 2013 04:56AM
A few thoughts to kick off your week, and previewing the things we'll look at on this blog in Toronto Maple Leafs analysis…
No. 1 - John-Michael Liles is out, Joffrey Lupul is in
The defence will again see some changes as John-Michael Liles went down awkwardly on Saturday and limped off the ice. We didn't see the extent of the collision, but it sounds like it's a little less worrisome than we initially thought. I thought on the play there was a chance that perhaps Liles' calve had been sliced by Danny Paille's skate:
Now there was no blood, but had Liles' leg been sliced, we probably wouldn't have seen a trail of blood on the ice. I've seen that happen to Cam Ward and Kevin Bieksa and neither injury was bloody. We also didn't see blood because it turns out it's just a sprained ankle, which takes significantly less time to heal than a leg laceration. Liles has been playing well since coming back into the lineup, but this is a golden opportunity for us to see the Jake Gardiner-Mike Kostka pairing at the NHL-level. The Leafs are now carrying just six healthy defencemen for the first time all year.
Joffrey Lupul meanwhile, has served his suspension and will be back in the lineup. He's certainly had an eventful return to the lineup. Hopefully this means Ryan Hamilton stays in the lineup ahead of Frazer McLaren or Colton Orr. I recognize that those two had one good shift against Boston, but Hamilton had three and can simply do more.
No. 2 - Be cautious about Nazem Kadri:
With Nazem Kadri on the ice, the Toronto Maple Leafs have scored goals on 15.14% of their shots. To the casual eye, the thought there is "wow, the Leafs are taking some real good shots with Kadri out there. He's setting up and finishing on some wonderful opportunities".
Now, while that is true, what's not clear is whether the ability to repeatedly generate those super high-quality scoring chances is something players can do night-in and night-out. I generated a list of all the players who had finished a full season playing regular minutes with an on-ice shooting rate of over 12%. It can be found here.
There are only 22 names on that list, and while there are lots of stars, there's also the odd Chris Stewart, Jeff Schultz, Nic Havelid or Todd White kicking around. In fact, Ilya Kovalchuk is the only guy on that list that appears twice, and that was three full seasons ago.
How does this relate to Kadri? Well, he's having a great season, but he's getting an absurd amount of puck-luck. Every goal he's scoring now counts, which is good, but temper the expectations somewhat. He won't keep scoring at this rate forever, so if he hits a cold snap, hold back on the criticism.
No. 3 - What's happened to James van Riemsdyk?
James van Riemsdyk hasn't scored in six games, but more worrisome, his shot rate has dipped substantially since the Leafs' visit to Philadelphia. I doubt that's related in any way whatsoever between a dip in performance and JvR reconnecting in his old town, but it is worth noting that van Riemsdyk was averaging a near-elite 3.63 shots per game until that point:
His cold snap doesn't seem to have as much to do with shooting percentage as it does with the fact he's firing a real average 2.08 shots per game at the net over the last 11 games. Nothing related to ice-time. I don't it's been just me that's noted JvR has been a tad AWOL lately—Tyler Bozak seems to be the recipient of Phil Kessel's passes lately. Perhaps JvR wants to tidy up his own defensive play.
At the start of the year, JvR was usually good for one or two really good shots at the net.
No. 4 - Could the Leafs please stop blocking shots?
Interesting piece from Jonas Siegel about the Leafs and blocking shots. This is a quote from Mark Fraser:
"To be honest, it's something that's incredibly overlooked as far as what it means to the outcome of a game or what it means to a level of team commitment," said Fraser, who tied for a team-high five blocks against the Bruins, now with 64 on the year. "I'm very proud to be on a team that carries that stat because again it's just guys showing their willingness, not just for the goalie but for one another. And to be honest, I think we could still even do a better job of it."
Hmm… which teams are the most willing to block shots? Here are the top ten teams in blocked shots last year:
1 - NY Islanders
2 - Minnesota
3 - Montreal
4 - NY Rangers
5 - San Jose
6 - Washington
7 - Tampa Bay
8 - Dallas
9 - Carolina
10 - Edmonton
Here are the bottom ten teams in blocked shots last year:
30 - New Jersey
29 - Los Angeles
28 - Detroit
27 - Vancouver
26 - Chicago
25 - Florida
24 - Columbus
23 - Boston
22 - Pittsburgh
21 - Phoenix
I took the liberties of bolding the playoff teams. The least willing teams seem to be doing much better than the most willing teams.
The game against the Bruins was crazy because Boston had so many shot attempts towards the horn as they pressed for the tie that it skewed some of the totals, but the Leafs' major problem this season is that they're spending too much time in their own end, by which they get a lot of chances to block shots. I'm worried if there's some sort of reward for blocking shots offered up by Randy Carlyle that perhaps prevents players from playing point-men aggressively, and instead collapsing in front of the net in ideal shot block territory.
No. 5 - Scribbles Appreciation
We're big fans of Ben Scrivens over at the Leafs Nation, not just as a goaltender, but he's a remarkably sharp dude who says one or two interesting things every interview. I wish some guys would try to pick at his brain a little more when talking to him.
Anyway, a lot of hockey players have come out in favour of You Can Play and filmed PSA spots. Few seem to respond to the ugly online banter that can be both homophobic and misogynist:
Of course, Scrivens didn't want to single out the one fan:
1/2: I imagine that original tweet was more facetious than malicious, but that is the exact problem that needs to be overcome.— Ben Scrivens (@scrivens_30) March 25, 2013
2/2: My apologies to @jclark1817 for labeling him. I should've attacked the action, not the person.— Ben Scrivens (@scrivens_30) March 25, 2013
I think when athletes really start taking this approach and calling out fans who use lazy word choices in insults, people may start to think a little. It's not that there are one or two guys who are using slurs online, and Patrick Burke of You Can Play preaches education. Twitter shouldn't be used as a medium to prove you're less ignorant than somebody else. If you're on Twitter and aren't following Scrivens, shoot him a follow. He's remarkably perceptive and comes across as a sharp, educated guy.