October 23 2013 10:32AM
Phil Kessel & JVR look mighty good together! I'm pretty sure the Leafs' strategy is a Vine video.
October 22 2013 08:35PM
It's taken Phil Kessel a little bit to get going this season. He's been the same guy. He's taken four shots per game, is by far the most active Maple Leaf in the neutral zone and, despite just two goals on the year coming in Tuesday's game, had eight points. Six assists, and his 2.01 points per 60 minutes were behind just James van Riemsdyk on the Leafs.
The goals weren't there. The shots were, and when shots happen, it means goals will come. Kessel wasn't going to shoot 5.6% for the whole season. Sometimes it takes a little bit of luck to get going, sometimes it takes an insane, blind, whiplike pass from your linemate. Kessel scored a hat-trick in the Leafs 4-2 win Tuesday over Anaheim, and the Leafs came back from an early 2-0 deficit.
October 22 2013 03:13PM
One of the reasons the Leafs have a good record to start the season is their special teams play. Against Anaheim, they'll be running into a team that has been getting rat turd-like results on special teams but have curiously been one of the most dominant squads at even strenght.
Randy Carlyle gets to play against his old team, a team he won a Stanley Cup with and spent full six seasons, making the playoffs five times although his team's poor start in his seventh season ensured the Ducks would miss despite a very strong second half pace. Anaheim is consistently a team that's tough to figure out, a team that has fluctuated between 'elite' and 'terrible' over the last ten years or so. While the Leafs defied mathematicians last season and made the playoffs with a low puck-possession rate, so did the Anaheim Ducks, winning 30 games in the short season, although they backed into the postseason and were exposed by the Detroit Red Wings and were upset in the first round.
October 22 2013 12:00PM
Or, perhaps "struggles" is an unnecessarily polarizing word. "Concerns" could be more appropriate. The Leafs do have the 7th best penalty kill in the NHL, via traditional measures. Clicking at 85.3%, the Leafs are hanging around where they were last season at 87.9% when they were second in the league.
The noticeable difference between the Leafs 2013 penalty kill and the Leafs 2014 penalty kill is the amount of shots they've given up when down a man. At 4-on-5 last season the Leafs allowed 41.9 shots against them per 60 minutes. They were 5th in the league in that regard. This season, Toronto has given up 68.5 shots against per 60 while on the PK, down to 27th in the league and scrunched between Edmonton and Buffalo.
October 21 2013 11:36AM
A lot of writers have picked up on the Leafs problems at 5-on-5. It's been obvious there's a deficiency there. James Mirtle in the Globe and Lance Hornby in the Sun took different approaches in looking at where the Leafs need an added boost. The quotes from Hornby's piece seem to indicate the team thinks they can do better. I'd agree, but not because I think the Leafs have an inherent ability to out-work opposing teams 5-on-5, I believe they have a lot more skill in the lineup and that's going unused. A focus on getting pucks in and getting pucks out takes away from all the forward skill in the lineup (In this Steve Buffery piece, Carlyle explicitly suggested "skill plays" were to blame for Leaf turnovers).
But there's still not a tonne of reasons to be concerned at five-on-five. Hockey Analyis says that the team has scored 15 and allowed 15 in that situation, but it's not like they were totally dominant in goal differential there a year ago. The Leafs were +8 in goal-differential at 5-on-5, with a 52% goals for rate. It was 9th in the league. Good, but not crazy good. The Leafs benefit from being an above-average powerplay team and they had the second best penalty kill in the league, allowing just 4.1 goals per 60 minutes at 4-on-5, and 41.7 shots against (5th).