So, Mikhail Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur were both banged up last night against the Phoenix Coyotes.
News broke out today that Grabovski will miss at least two weeks. Since November games are so important, Ron Wilson was in full playoff mode and qualified the injury strictly as “lower body”. Meanwhile, MacArthur left late in the second period after playing just ten shifts in the game, and Wilson wasn’t discussing much about his status.
With these two players out, the Leafs have now lost two-thirds of “the best second line in hockey” with only Nikolai Kulemin remaining. After getting out of last season relatively un-scathed, Toronto now face some pretty significant injury concerns and their depth will be tested.
But to what extent?
Readers of this blog are probably aware and don’t need to be reminded that Mikhail Grabovski led the entire National Hockey League in relative Corsi last season. For those unawares, relative Corsi is an advanced hockey statistic that measures just how good you were at controlling the flow of play compared to your teammates. When Grabovski was on the ice last season was when the Leafs did their best at directing shots to the opponents’ net.
Toronto, this season, has see Dion Phaneuf really step up and control the flow of play, as well as newcomer Dave Steckel and now full-timer Mike Brown, so the Leafs have had, thus far, more than one line that can actually play hockey at both ends. The problem is that, with Grabovski out for at least two weeks (and I agree with James Mirtle that it could be longer than that) now the Leafs are down to just a handful of players who can both take shots and prevent shots at an equal rate, and they’re nowhere near as good.
This is an injury that really tests Toronto’s depth. It’s just not just about the 11 goals that MacArthur and Grabovski have combined for, but the countless (literally, they’re impossible to count) goals that have been prevented at the other end. For all Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul’s offensive successes, they’re still minus-players at even strength according to Corsi.
It’s a test for Dave Steckel. To my eye he’s been quite good this season. When he’s out for a faceoff, the Leafs usually start with the puck and don’t give it up all that often, although they haven’t really been able to turn those possessions into chances or goals. He’s been a minus-4, but he’s a plus-Corsi player and I think he may even see a bit of time back up with Kessel and Lupul before this is all over.
It’s a test for Mike Brown and Philippe Dupuis, who may have to see a few more minutes in the stretch. Brown has so far been pretty good at keeping the puck in the right end of the ice given limited minutes and Dupuis has fit in admirably as a defensive centre. So far, their advanced numbers are pretty strong (Dupuis’s Corsi is +0.4, but he’s had a 41.8% offensive zone start rate and a .509 Corsi Rel QoC. Dupuis has been on the ice for just 20 shots against per 60 minutes of play)
It’s a test on Tim Connolly, who can hopefully stay healthy for the next while, who will make a cameo appearance in the Leafs lineup for the first time in five games Thursday in Nashville. It’s yet another for Nik Kulemin, who can prove that his 30-goal outburst last season was generated by his own individual offensive ability and not because he coasted on the ability of Grabovski. He has been, thus far compared to his last, underwhelming, scoring just twice and has just 27 shots through 18 games, 50 shots off last season’s pace of 173.
We sort of knew that, despite the fast start, Toronto would eventually run into adversity. Perhaps it’s a blessing that injuries to the team’s starting goaltender and their top two-way centre occured at the same time, which means that there’s a better chance they’ll be healthy at the right time, and that the team will learn how to deal with rough stretches in November rather than later on the NHL calendar.