Leafs Seem To Be On Familiar Path
Friday, 12.17.2010 / 4:26 PM ET / Mike Ulmer's Blog
By Mike Ulmer - Mapleleafs.com commentator
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I just don’t understand.
I go to the NHL website and look up the Leafs.
I see a team hanging on after a tough stretch in the schedule, eight points out and after Vancouver on Saturday, heading home.
After 31 games, the Leafs have 28 points. Last season, the Leafs didn’t win until their ninth try but they still had 27 points at the same juncture.
The season before, they had 29 points after 31 games.
NHL.com tells me the Leafs are 23rd in goals against. They are 28th in goals for. Their special teams figures are alarming, number 24 on the penalty kill and 29 on the power play.
None of this makes sense to me, and I am betting none of this makes sense to you.
The defense corps was considered a top 10 unit from the beginning and since that time Jonas Gustavsson has made a case that he warrants a spot in the crease indefinitely.
The Leafs are on pace to have half a dozen 20-goal scorers, Clarke MacArthur, Mikhail Grabovski, Kristopher Versteeg, Phil Kessel and Nikolai Kulemin. Last year, the team had one player over 20, Kessel, and yet by virtue of better secondary scoring, they will end up outscoring this year’s edition.
The Leafs have harvested their best prospect in Nazem Kadri and put him in the lineup. Dion Phaneuf arrived as a commanding captain with a potentially devastating presence and one of the hardest shots in the league. The upgrade of the defence was considered so complete, highly-paid rearguard Jeff Finger could be shipped to the Marlies.
Mike Komisarek, on the rebound from shoulder surgery, looked absolutely good to go. So too Tyler Bozak who turned in 27 points in just 37 games last year.
Some of the players who seemed less certain to shine have done just that. Luke Schenn has been the team’s best player. Grabovski has exceeded expectations.
Nor are there grounds to dispute the veteran leadership supplied by Colby Armstrong and the Stanley Cup shimmer brought by Versteeg.
So you tell me, how can this be?
I know. Blame the coach. But Ron Wilson had a level of success before he came here that prompted Leaf fan to genuflect. How can you blame a coach whose record dwarfs that of the franchise he was hired to correct?
I have always believed that, in the words of Dennis “they are who we thought they were” Green. You know what you have by what the standings say, by the goals against and power play and goals for.
But here’s where things get stuck. How can a team that has improved by any measurable definition not register an improvement on the ice?
There is one encouraging change. While little seems changed on top of the soil, there are profound changes underground nearly ready to take hold.
If anyone has any other ideas, I would be glad to hear them.