Monday, November 01, 2010

Leafs at the 10 game mark

When Cliff Fletcher first joined the Leafs (Gah, nearly 20 years ago!) he often spoke about evaluating a team's performance every 10 games. I imagine it was a large enough sample to see some trends and a short-enough time frame that GMs and coaches could make the requisite changes.

On the eve of the 2010-11 NHL season, I posted a series of questions about the state of the Leafs line-up.

In the spirit of Cliff Fletcher, and with the Leafs hitting the 10 game mark, I thought I'd look back at my early season questions to see if any answers or patterns have emerged...

Have the Leafs finally fixed their goaltending situation?
It looks like the tandem of Giguere and Gustavsson might have what it takes to give the Leafs their first batch of league average goaltending since the lockout. While both have looked spotty at times, they've also put up some timely saves and have held the Leafs in pretty much every game.

Will the special teams finally be special?
The Leafs' PK is clicking along quite nicely. With an 84.8% success rate, the Leafs are in 13th place and just 0.2% out of being in the NHL's top 10.

The Leafs' PP continues to be short-bus special. The Leafs are 24th in the NHL will a success rate of just 11.9%. With goal scoring at an absolute premium, this is one aspect of the game the club and the coaches need to master if the Leafs are to have any shot at success this season.

Will the Leafs D actually play D?
Turns out the answer is yes (so far). The Leafs have done a great job limiting shots - they are 2nd in the league in shots against and 6th in the League in goals against. This is a massive improvement over last season and further evidence of Toskala's incompetence. Given the lack of goal scoring punch on this team it's going to be increasingly important for the Leafs to continue to play outstanding D.

What about offence?
Based on a Pythagorean wins formula, the Leafs are going to need about 215+ goals to have a shot at 8th place in the East. That's a target that's looking a little out of reach for this team. The club is on pace to score just 189 goals*, which would be lowest total since Carolina put up 172 in 2003-2004. (*Yes, the foretasted total is low as the Leafs are coming off back-to-back shutouts, but the main point remains: this club needs offence badly and the current line-up doesn't look like they have the means to generate it).

Is Tyler Bozak a legit option as the number one centre?
Here's what I wrote a month ago:
Bozak looked tremendous in the final half of last season, but how plausible is it that an undrafted kid with 37 NHL games experience will succeed as a #1 Centre in the NHL?
After 10 games, Bozak sure isn't looking comfortable or productive in the #1 slot. Unless Bozak miraculously finds his a-game, landing a top centre, or more top 3 offensive talent, will be Burke's biggest challenge.

Has Burke misread the tea leaves again?
I thought so leading into this season, as I wrote a few weeks back:
This past off-season, Burke looked at the team and thought a scoring winger, preferably with size, was the team’s most pressing need. Yet, out of the four centres on the club, none seem prepared to handle the tough minutes. Grabovski is a serviceable #2, but there a plenty of questions of size, strength stamina (and sanity) surrounding Grabbo. In the #3 and #4 slots, the Leafs are going with John Mitchell and two AHL cast-offs. This does not seem like a recipe for success.
And it hasn't been a recipe for success. Bozak has struggled as the top pivot, Grabovski is without a single goal 10 games in and Zigomanis has been demoted to the Marlies. It's clear the Leafs need big help up the middle.

How will the kids develop on the Marlies?
I have no idea.

Hanson and Caputi are back up with the Leafs; Gunnarsson looks like he should be sent down. Kadri is improving but has been held pointless in too many games. Oscar Mueller has been benched and called invisible...something to keep an eye on when we check back in at game 20.

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