Toronto Maple Leafs: At The Ten Game Mark

October 23rd, 2013 No Comments

1aleafsIf you are a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs you have to be happy with the Blue and White’s 7-3 record after ten games.

Sure, the Leafs may have been outplayed by the opposition on occasion and the Buds inability to keep opposing shooters at bay is alarming, but all-in-all, a 7-3 record, no matter how the Buds got there, is impressive.

Toronto’s first ten games included a six-game winning streak, a win against the Anaheim Ducks, a tough loss to the Colorado Avalanche and a predictable loss against the Chicago Blackhawks.

When you consider the overall stats, the Leafs have been nothing short of impressive. Toronto currently ranks fifth overall in goals per game (3.30), tenth overall in goals against per game (2.40), second overall on the power play (28.2% success rate), fifth overall on the penalty kill (86.8% success rate) and sit sixth overall in the standings— second overall in the East and first overall in the Atlantic Division.

Toronto’s trio of Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul and James van Riemsdyk are amongst the leagues best, Nazem Kadri is holding his own, David Bolland has been an early season difference maker and Mason Raymond has been a nice surprise as well.

On the backend, Cody Franson’s eight assists rank him eighth overall, Captain Dion Phaneuf’s plus-5 rating leads the team while goaltender Jonathan Bernier owns the ninth best save percentage (.936) and the 13th best goals against average (2.12)— proving he is the undisputed starter in Toronto.

In the hitting department, Captain Dion Phaneuf leads the way with 32, with Cody Franson (30) and Paul Ranger (26) just behind him. Carl Gunnarsson leads the team with 28 blocked shots, with Franson (20) and Phaneuf (20) close behind. Rookie defenseman Morgan Rielly sits a distant fourth with 13 blocked shots on the season.

Toronto’s three stars thus far have to be goaltender Jonathan Bernier, forward Joffrey Lupul and defender Cody Franson.

Bernier’s numbers (see above) have been amongst the leagues best thus far, while Lupul’s six goals ranks him seventh overall and ten points rank him 17th overall. Franson has been Toronto’s best defenseman thus far, getting it done in all areas of the ice and netting eight assists— good enough for eighth overall in the league.

As great as the numbers seem, there are a few areas in which the Maple Leafs need some work.

First and foremost, the Blue and White are giving up an alarming 34.5 shots per game. That’s more than 13 shots per game more than the league-leading Minnesota Wild who are giving up a paltry 21.2 shots per game.

The Maple Leafs are also struggling to get shots on goal, currently ranked 26th overall at just 26.8 shots per game. That’s 12 less per game than the San Jose Sharks, who lead the league with 38.8 shots per game.

Toronto is also struggling in the faceoff circle, winning just 44.7 percent of their draws, ranking the Buds 27th overall. The Maple Leafs’ poor performance in the dot is one of the cogs in the Blue and White’s inability to keep shots down as the opposition is often in possession of the puck, which often leads to an increase in shots and scoring chances.

Nazem Kadri and Tyler Bozak lead the Leafs, winning 47.4 percent of their faceoffs, while Jay McClement and David Bolland sit close behind at 45.4 percent and 42.5 percent, respectively.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Philadelphia FlyersKadri’s numbers on faceoffs represent an improvement from last season where he averaged 44.2 percent, while Bozak’s numbers represent a big fall from his 52.6 percent average last season. McClement is also down (51.6 percent last season), while Bolland is also down from his 46.1 percent success rate from last season.

All four will have to be better if the Leafs are going to continue to win at their current clip. All four will have to be better if the Leafs are going to keep opposing forwards at bay and keep the shots against down. Puck possession is one of the keys to keeping shots down, losing faceoffs is a huge factor in giving up all of those shots per game.

Defensemen Carl Gunnarsson and Morgan Rielly and forward Phil Kessel lead the team with 15 giveaways apiece, while Cody Franson, Paul Ranger and Joffrey Lupul are not too far behind them with 13 giveaways apiece.

While there is no question that Jake Gardiner has all kinds of potential, his defense has been less than stellar at times and his offense has been anything but awesome, registering just two assists thus far. At 19:41, Gardiner averages the sixth most time on ice per game. His plus-3 rating and measly four penalty minutes means he is not hurting the Leafs. That said, with just three shots and two assists, you gotta think head coach Randy Carlyle wants more from the youngster.

Conversely, rookie defenseman Morgan Rielly has struggled to find his game as well. Averaging 18:00 per game, Rielly has four assists, a minus-3 rating, 16 shots on net and just two penalty minutes.

With Rielly’s ten-game tryout coming to an end, it appears as if he may be sent down once stay-at-home defenseman Mark Fraser comes back from injury. Should Rielly stay with the big club the Leafs would burn a year of his eligibility. Of course, there is always a chance that Rielly stays with the big club, especially if Paul Ranger continues to struggle.

Looking ahead, the Maple Leafs will finally be able to include off-season acquisition David Clarkson in their everyday lineup. Clarkson served a ten-game suspension for leaving the bench against the Buffalo Sabres in pre-season action. Clarkson should bring a measure of grit to the team and provide them with additional secondary scoring.

kules1Forwards Nikolai Kulemin (ankle) and Fraser McClaren (hand) and defenseman Mark Fraser (knee) are all expected to make their returns soon. All three players bring a defensive element to the team— an area in which the Leafs could use a shot in the arm.

With Clarkson and the trio of Kulemin, McClaren and Fraser coming back, the Maple Leafs look poised to continue their early season dominance.

Phil Kessel’s hat-trick against the Anaheim Ducks, while overdue in the minds of many fans, is a good indication that he is ready to get hot. Meanwhile, the continued good play from Kadri, JVR and Lupul should serve the team, well.

Toronto’s next ten games will be against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Pittsburgh Penguins, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks, New Jersey Devils, Boston Bruins, Minnesota Wild and back-to-back games against the lowly Buffalo Sabres.

Pittsburgh, Vancouver and Boston will be tough games for the Blue and White, but the other seven games are very winnable for Toronto, which should mean another seven wins in their next ten games.

Yeah, the first ten games haven’t been pretty, but you gotta like where the Leafs sit thus far and you have to think Toronto’s success will continue.

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