Monday, November 21, 2011

Maple Leafs after 20 games

There have a few surprises so far this season. The biggest surprise has been the play of Phil Kessel who has been able to raise his game to a new level. It's still very early but Kessel is the leading candidate for the Hart Trophy and is trending toward a 60 goal season along with 100 points. In the absence of goalie James Reimer, Kessel has tried his best to carry the team.

Close behind Kessel and 3rd in the league in scoring is Joffrey Lupul who is also on the way to shattering his career best season. Kessel's season isn't nearly as surprising as Lupul's because players normally do not have career years at the age of 28.

Leafs management has clearly illustrated the danger of not having goaltending depth. The Leafs were chugging along in first place overall when James Reimer went down with a concussion. Since then the Leafs have struggled with consistency and winners in only 2 out of the past 8 games. For the most part Jonas Gustavsson has been awful and Ben Scrivens has played like a rookie.

Special teams once again is a weakness, well at least penalty killing has (27th overall). After a slow start the powerplay has begun to click and ranks 6th overall. You would expect results with the man advantage when your powerplay unit has the #1 and #3 scorers in addition to Dion and Phaneuf and John-Michael Liles on the points. The addition of David Steckel who his possesses one of the highest faceoff win percentages in the NHL provides the Leafs with an additional valuable asset.

The second line of Grabovski, Kulemin and MacArthur has been a huge disappointment this season. A rash of injuries will prevent that trio from getting on track for a while. The injury bug has hit the Leafs hard recently but outside of Reimer and Grabovski none other are lethal blows. But the loss of Reimer has exposed the Leafs biggest weakness. Also disappointing has been Luke Schenn who for parts of last season was one of the team's best defensemen.

So will can the Leafs make the playoffs based on their first 20 games? Well the fact that they sit in 5th place in the East suggests that they will compete for a playoff spot. But with only 5 points between 1st and 12th, it's far too early to predict what will happen. I calculated that you will need 11.5 points for every 10 games played to qualify for the postseason. In the first 10 games the Leafs earned 15 points. In the following 10 games they earned less that 11.5, 9 points to be precise. But 24 points after 20 games is still on pace for the 94 points needed to finish in the top 8. Should Reimer return soon we can all breathe easier.

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