About twenty games into any NHL season, there are always aspects of any team that very few saw coming. Steven Stamkos’ torrid goal-scoring start in Tampa Bay falls into that category. So do the struggles of the New Jersey Devils. What about the Toronto Maple Leafs’ start surprises you? Is it Luke Schenn’s defensive prowess? Maybe it’s Nazem Kadri’s return from AHL exile to provide a much-needed offensive spark. Here are the three biggest Leafs’ shockers, to me, twenty games into this 2010-11 NHL season.
1. Goaltending from Jean-Sébastien Giguère and Jonas Gustavsson. Let’s face it, when Jiggy arrived from Anaheim you thought, just like I did, that he’d be better than Vesa ‘The-Human-Sieve’ Toskala. But not much better. This season, Jiggy often looks like the Giguère of old. His reflexes have slowed a little, and he’s not nearly as mobile as he used to be. But he’s been solid. His 2.78 GAA rank him 22nd in the NHL. In save percentage, he sits in 36th spot. But Giguère has made some big saves when they’ve been required. And that single component alone is something the Leafs haven’t had in goal in forever. But Jonas Gustavsson has been the real shocker. His goals-against of 2.30 ranks him 10th. His .922 sv pct also puts him 10th. Who the hell saw that coming. He is very quiet in goal. Very, very little extraneous movement. Always in the right place at the right time. Giguère’s injury may, in a backward way, be a boon for the Leafs.
2. Phil Kessel’s inconsistency. In the Leafs’ first five games, Kessel scored five goals. Great start. Exactly what fans and management expect from 81. He even threw in a couple of assists. Then, and I think I speak for all Leafs’ fans when I ask, “What the (bleep) happened, Phil?” You’re supposed to be the Leafs’ gunner! Two goals over the next ten games is not acceptable. Then, just as quickly, another switch got thrown and Kessel racked up four points in three games. The last two games? Nothin’. In fact, Phil saw a little bench on Monday against Dallas. Here’s a good idea, Phil. How about you play like you’re paid to play…consistently!
3. Mikhail Grabovski’s offensive numbers. For my money, Grabo has always been a guy who skates miles, and does very, very little. Looks flashy, zipping around the ice. Walks away with no points and a -1 rating. So far this season, he’s been the exact opposite. Montreal tired of the Grabo act only 27 games into his NHL career, shipping him to the Leafs in the summer of 2008. His first season here, he scored twenty times. But, this month, he’s exploded. Through October, Grabovski had only four assists – three of those coming in the first three games. In November, he’s gone wild! He’s only been held pointless twice and has had four multiple-point games. His work with Clarke MacArthur has seen that duo score 22 points in ten games in November. That’s the kind of scoring the Leafs need.
And, in case you are wondering, Steven Stamkos will not score 50 goals in 50 games. And the New Jersey Devils will not reach the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs.