Toronto Maple Leafs Bottom Six is Extremely Underrated

 

Fredrik Sjostrom has been silent but good this season

So much focus has gone towards the top-six forwards on the Toronto Maple Leafs. So much, in fact, that lost in all of the commotion has been the impressive play of the third and fourth lines.

Consisting of Colby Armstrong, Fredrik Sjostrom, Mike Zigomanis, John Mitchell, Colton Orr, Mike Brown and Tim Brent, there is always an extra specialty forward to stick into the lineup.

Armstrong, 27, is used as an energy player who can put the puck in the net. In six games this season, Armstrong has one goal and is a minus-1. However, in 366-career NHL regular season games, he has scored 79 goals and 100 assists, while going plus-31. The native of Lloydminster, Saskatchewan was known as an impact player during his time in Atlanta, and was even one of the team’s assistant captains.

Sjostrom, meanwhile, is not only a good third/fourth line player, but is also a penalty killing specialist. The 27-year-old is just one point shy of 100 for his career. He is pointless in five games so far this season.

Zigomanis, who has also appeared in all six games this season, has recorded one assist so far and has won 55.9 percent of the faceoffs he’s taken. In seven NHL seasons, the 29-year-old has played for the Carolina Hurricanes, St. Louis Blues, Phoenix Coyotes, Pittsburgh Penguins and, of course, the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Mitchell just made the team out of training camp, with the coaching staff choosing him over Luca Caputi, who was more than impressive during training camp. The decision now seems to be the right one based on team success, but he has yet to play this season. Although most fans didn’t see it or think much of it, Mitchell was one of the hardest workers on the Maple Leafs last season.

Orr and Brown can be thrown into the same category as enforcers.

Orr was one of just three players to play in all 82 games for the Leafs last season, scoring a career high four goals, while going minus-4 and accumulating a total of 239 penalty minutes. The 28-year-old was nothing but valuable to the men in blue during the 2009-2010 season.

Brown was acquired from Anaheim during the 2010 NHL Entry Draft and was expected to be used as an extra who would be thrown in the lineup when facing division rivals and other threats. However, the 5’11”, 205 pound veteran hasn’t missed a game so far this season and has a plus/minus rating of plus-2. In six games, Brown also has a total of 17 penalty minutes. He’s been using his speed and toughness to impress the Maple Leafs coaching staff and fans.

Finally, Brent, 26, scored two goals in his first two games but has not scored in his last four. Brent isn’t a fighter and has managed to keep his penalty minutes low, with just two through the first six games. Brent has been used in both a shut down and energy roles and has excelled in both areas.

In six games this season, the Maple Leafs are allowing just 2.17 goals against on average. Although goalies Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson, as well as every defenceman deserve credit, the third and fourth lines deserve a large part as well.

**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@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.