Toronto Maple Leafs Still Searching For Consistency

The Toronto Maple Leafs’ season so far has been nothing but a rollercoaster ride.

Through their first 23 games, the Maple Leafs have had three major stretches: a four-game winning streak that came in the first four games, an eight-game losing streak and a stretch in which they won three out of four games. As you can see, the Maple Leafs haven’t exactly been the most consistent team in the National Hockey League this season.

A lot of that blame can be placed on Phil Kessel. Kessel, a potential 30-40 goal scorer, has just ten goals and four assists in 24 games this season. Kessel started the season with seven goals in his first eight games, but has since tailed off.

The 23-year-old’s poor play certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed, as his lack of effort has forced him into head coach Ron Wilson’s “dog house” multiple times this season.

Kris Versteeg meanwhile, also has 14 points, but in one less game. Those statistics put him on pace for 58 points, which would be the second most total in his NHL career.

Although 48 points seems like a good season, it would be deemed a poor one for Versteeg, who is being expected to thrive off of top-six minutes, something he didn’t get in Chicago. He started slowly, but with eight points in his last 11 games, Versteeg has been playing extremely well. He too will need to become consistently good for the Maple Leafs to make any charge at the post-season.

Many would be quick to point out that the acquisition of a top-line centre to play with Kessel and Versteeg would help the two, but that cannot be used as an excuse.

But of course, not all the blame can be placed on just two players.

Dion Phaneuf, although currently injured, is off to a very slow start this season. The 6’3″, 214 pound defenseman has played in 11 games this season and has a minus-6 rating. This lack of effort and what looks like a lack of passion has been put into question by almost everyone this season.

Phaneuf, the team captain, is expected to lead the team. If he isn’t able to lead the team on the ice, he certainly can’t having an easy time leading them in the dressing room.

Despite his poor play, Phaneuf’s return to the lineup definitely won’t hurt, as he is still a very useful asset.

The 25-year-old has scored 77 goals in his NHL career, 48 of which were scored on the power play. His big shot and offensive ability should help the Maple Leafs.

Other Maple Leafs defencemen still looking to find their way this season include Francois Beauchemin and Mike Komisarek, both of whom have felt the pressure from the Toronto fans and media to do better.

Someone who has not struggled all that much, however, is Luke Schenn. The third-year defenceman is plus-1 in 24 games this season and has been one of the most stellar and consistent Maple Leafs all season long. With six points so far, Schenn is on pace to score a career-high 20 points this season.

Despite the importance of offence and defence, goaltending is one of the most important aspects of hockey, and the Maple Leafs have it. With Jonas Gustavsson and Jean-Sebastien Giguere splitting time in net, the Leafs always have an above-average goalie as their last line of defence.

In 13 appearances this season, Giguere, who just returned from a groin injury, has a goals against average of 2.90 and a save percentage of .890.

Gustavsson, meanwhile, was more than impressive during Giguere’s time away. The sophomore goalie has a record of just 3-7-2, but has a goals against average of 2.66 and a save percentage of .910. Unfortunately for Gustavsson, the Leafs haven’t been giving him very much offensive support, something that he and Giguere need in order to win games.

If the Maple Leafs can get going offensively, they should be able to find some consistency and possibly even climb into the playoff picture. However, that is easier said than done. The Leafs sit in the bottom five in the entire league when it comes to finding the back of the net and there are no signs of that changing any time soon.

**Follow Buds In Blue on Twitter @BudsInBlue for frequent blog updates. You can also follow Lukas on Twitter @SportsHazeLukas for breaking hockey news and rumors, as well as Toronto Maple Leafs game updates. You can contact him at lukas.hardonk@gmail.com.

Burke Still Looking to Trade, Could Use Goalies as Bait

Despite the recent success the Toronto Maple Leafs have been experiencing (winning three of their last four and three straight at home), general manager Brian Burke is still looking to make a trade, according to TheFourthPeriod.com (via the Toronto Sun).

The report suggests Burke still wants to add an “offensive-minded” forward, be it a centre or a winger.

The speculation has led many to wonder what Burke might use as potential trade bait, naming Mike Komisarek, Francois Beauchemin and, of course, Tomas Kaberle as options. However, with sophomore Jonas Gustavsson, the injured Jean-Sebastien Giguere and surprisingly impressive minor leaguer Jussi Rynnas all under contract, the goaltending position could be a focal point.

Gustavsson has been getting plenty of playing time during Giguere’s absence. In nine games this season, Gustavsson is 3-4-1 and has a save percentage of .922 to go along with a goals against average of 2.30. With a career record of 19-19-10, save percentage of .906 and goals against average of 2.77, Gustavsson could be in line for a much bigger role with the Maple Leafs.

Giguere, meanwhile, has also been impressive. The 35-year-old is 5-5-2, has a save percentage of .895 and has a goals against average of 2.78 in 12 games this season. Unfortunately, however, he earns $6 million this season and could be feeling the pressure from Rynnas, who has a GAA of 1.79 and a save percentage of .941 in 12 games with the Toronto Marlies this season.

The problem with trading Giguere is that he has a no-trade clause, meaning he gets to block any trade he is involved in. Any deal would be hard for the Maple Leafs to complete before Christmas, however, as Burke’s self-imposed holiday trade freeze goes into effect on December 9th.

**Follow Buds In Blue on Twitter @BudsInBlue for frequent blog updates. You can also follow Lukas on Twitter @SportsHazeLukas for breaking hockey news and rumors, as well as Toronto Maple Leafs game updates. You can contact him at lukas.hardonk@gmail.com.

Teeing It Up: Maple Leafs and Canadiens to Battle on HNIC

The Toronto Maple Leafs will visit the Montreal Canadiens tonight at the Bell Centre for what should be a spirited affair.

The Canadiens will be looking to enter the second quarter of the 2010-2011 season on a high note. The Habs are currently third in the Eastern Conference with a 12-6-1 record, good for 25 points. It won’t be an easy task for them, however, as the Maple Leafs are 4-0-1 in their last five meetings.

The Canadiens are coming off of a 3-0 loss to the Nashville Predators, the team Toronto came back against after being down 4-1 on Tuesday evening. Tomas Plekanec, Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta combined for a minus-8 rating on Thursday night.

Toronto has won two straight games. A win tonight against the Canadiens would be a huge confidence booster after losing their eighth straight a week ago today.

To win, the Maple Leafs will need to beat red hot Carey Price. Price has a goals against average of 2.11 and a save percentage of .928 this season, each of which are seventh best amongst NHL goalies.

At the other end, Jonas Gustavsson will get the start. Gustavsson is 2-3-1 this season with a goals against average of 2.55 and a save percentage of .913. He made 29 saves against the New Jersey Devils Thursday, a game that the Maple Leafs won 3-1.

Jussi Rynnas will back him up as Jean Sebastien Giguere is expected to miss another week or so with a groin injury. Giguere’s injury gives Gustavsson some time to prove that he can be a starting goalie in the NHL.

“It’s awesome, you want to play those games when the crowd is going nuts and it’s really loud,” Gustavsson said after Thursdays’ win.

Nazem Kadri will play again tonight. Kadri has three assists in as many games this season, but is still looking for his first NHL goal. Tonight will be his fifth-career NHL game.

Phil Kessel has four points in his last three games, while Kris Versteeg has five points in his last four games, including three goals.

The Canadiens will host a short pre-game ceremony tonight on the life and death of Pat Burns, who died Friday evening at the age of 58. He coached both the Maple Leafs and the Canadiens.

**Follow Buds In Blue on Twitter @BudsInBlue for frequent blog updates. You can also follow Lukas on Twitter @SportsHazeLukas for breaking hockey news and rumors, as well as Toronto Maple Leafs game updates. You can contact him at lukas.hardonk@gmail.com.

Toronto Maple Leafs Improve to 3-0: How Long Can They Keep It Up?

J-S Giguere has been more than impressive this season

The Toronto Maple Leafs improved their 2010-2011 season record to 3-0-0 on Wednesday night with a 4-3 victory over the struggling Pittsburgh Penguins. During their three game winning streak, the Leafs have also defeated their biggest Northeast Division rivals in the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators.

But with a second line made up of Nikolai Kulemin, Mikhail Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur, and a top line in which no player is over the age of 24, just how long can the Maple Leafs continue their winning streak?

Many fans are already jumping to conclusions, saying that the Maple Leafs will have a big season, make the playoffs and contend for the Stanley Cup. Although the playoffs are a possibility, the Stanley Cup is not a reality.

In order for the Maple Leafs to make the playoffs, both Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson need to remain healthy, find consistency and stay consistent. So far, Giguere has done exactly that through two games, while Jonas Gustavsson showed plenty of upside Wednesday night against Pittsburgh.

Giguere, who won the Stanley Cup with Anaheim in 2007, is the perfect goalie to play with Gustavsson. The 33-year-old is still a very good player in the NHL, and knows what it takes to play in the National Hockey League. Gustavsson, who played well in his rookie season, posting a goals against average of 2.87 and a save percentage of .880, can learn a few things from Giguere.

However, in order for the two to put up good numbers, they will also need some help in front of them, something the team has not improved on this season.

The Maple Leafs’ defence has allowed 71 shots against through three games, 13th best in the NHL. Last season, the Maple Leafs allowed 2440 shots against, also 13th in the league.

In order for the Maple Leafs to play better defensively, Dion Phaneuf will need to step up his game if the way he played Wednesday is any indication of his play in the future, while Tomas Kaberle, Francois Beauchemin and Mike Komisarek will all need to keep playing the way they are, at the very least.

If there is a bright spot when it comes to the Maple Leafs defence early in the season, it’s the penalty killing units. With a success rate of 90 percent, the Leafs are the fifth best penalty killing team in the league. Last season, the Leafs killed off just 74.6 percent of their penalties, which put them 30th in the league.

The Maple Leafs can keep playing the way they are and be successful for now, but once they start running into teams like the Washington Capitals, the defence will need to become stronger.

The Maple Leafs’ forwards, on the other hand, have been nothing short of impressive.

Clarke MacArthur has at least one goal in each of his three games as a Leaf so far with a total of four goals and five points, Phil Kessel has two goals and an assist, Nikolai Kulemin has a goal and two assists, Mikhail Grabovski has three assists and Kris Versteeg has scored one goal while adding an assist. In short, the players who are expected to put up a decent amount of points have been.

But what has gone unnoticed by a lot of fans and media members is that the Leafs have been spreading the scoring up and down the lineup.

Luke Schenn, Tim Brent and Mike Komisarek all have two points, while Colton Orr, Mike Brown, Mike Zigomanis and Tyler Bozak each have a point. Keep in mind that the season is only three games old.

Nevertheless, if the Maple Leafs’ top line is going to become their best line, Tyler Bozak will need to start producing in order for Kris Versteeg and Phil Kessel to put up big numbers.

All in all, the only area to be more than normally concerned about is the defence. As long as the forwards can keep putting up the numbers they have been, the Maple Leafs will be in good shape for another week, at least, though it is still too early to start getting excited

Now, this is not to say that it will happen, but let’s not forget, the last time the Maple Leafs started a season 3-0, in 1999, they won the division.

**Follow Buds In Blue on Twitter @BudsInBlue for frequent blog updates. You can also follow Lukas on Twitter @lukas_nhl for breaking hockey news and rumors, as well as Toronto Maple Leafs game updates. You can contact him at lukas@gacksports.com.

 

 

Maple Leafs Travel to Pittsburgh For First Road Game of 2010-2011

The Toronto Maple Leafs will hit the road for the first time this season tonight, when they visit the Pittsburgh Penguins to play at the all-new Consol Energy Centre.

The Maple Leafs, who lost all but one game against the Penguins last season, are off to a quick start this season with a 2-0-0 record, leading the Northeast Division. The last time they started the season 3-0, they won their division.

Jonas Gustavsson is expected to get the start, according to Paul Hendrick. Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who has been holding down the fort in the Maple Leafs net so far this season, has been more than impressive with a 2-0-0 record, a goals against average of 1.51 and a save percentage of .935. Unfortunately for Giguere, coach Ron Wilson plans on giving sophomore Jonas Gustavsson at least one start per week.

Gustavsson went 16-15-9 in 42 games last season, posting a goals against average of 2.87 and a save percentage of .902.

Although 82 goals are unlikely to happen, Phil Kessel, Clarke MacArthur and even Tim Brent are all scoring at an 82-goal pace with two goals in the first two games. All three will look to extended their goal scoring streak to three games.

Kris Versteeg, meanwhile, has been silently impressive this season, with two points (one goal, one assist) in two games and an even +/- rating.

As far as the opposition goes, the Penguins will be playing their fourth game of the season. Pittsburgh is 1-2-0 and owns the 19th best power play in a 30 team league. They have yet to win in three games in their new arena this season.

Pittsburgh’s seven goals have not been enough so far and they must begin producing soon if they want to avoid an early season slump.

The Penguins might have to play without Zybnek Michalek (arm) and Brooks Orpik (groin), while the Maple Leafs may have to do without veteran Brett Lebda due to a shoulder injury.

Tonight’s players to watch

Toronto – RW – Phil Kessel

Kessel has scored two goals and an assist in three games this season. Watch to see if he can continue scoring at such a high pace.

Pittsburgh – C – Sidney Crosby

Crosby has only one point, an assist, through three games. A former 50 goal man, look for Crosby to pick up his play tonight.

**Follow Buds In Blue on Twitter @BudsInBlue for frequent blog updates. You can also follow Lukas on Twitter @lukas_nhl for breaking hockey news and rumors, as well as Toronto Maple Leafs game updates. You can contact him at lukas@gacksports.com.