Well, we're past the first quarter mark of the 2009-10 NHL season and with exactly 60 games to go I thought I'd do a long-winded post where I review each player's individual performances. Please join me. In alphabetical order, 'cause that way I get to do Ian White last.
Francois Beauchemin - A team-worst, -11. Meanwhile, 7 of his 8 points have come on the powerplay. I think Beauchemin is playing well when I don't notice him. Sometimes he seems a little hesitant, like he's having 2 thoughts at once, but I think that could be said of most of the defence, who have taken longer then expected to get used to each other. Beauchemin leads the team in blocked shots with 42.
Jason Blake - I have deep concerns about Jason Blake's ability to contribute. 12 assists, 9 at even strength, is solid, but he only has 2 goals this season and both were scored on the powerplay. Blake has zero even-strength goals after 22 games. Zero. Yet somehow he's tied for third on the team in points. His shooting percentage is at .027. That means if Jason Blake took a thousand shots on goal, he'd only score 27 times. Think about that for a moment. He could take 37 shots by himself in a single game and score just one goal. If you think it's amazing that the Leafs could have 61 shots on goal and only score 3 times, consider; at Blake's shooting percentage, 3 goals could take 110 shots.
Garnet Exelby - Seems to be kind of a poor man's Jeff Finger. I like his toughness, but Finger's no slouch either. Their plus/minus is about the same; -7 after 11 games for XLB, -8 for Finger after 12. The big difference between the two is Finger's ability to contribute to the offence - 1G, 5A, all even-strength, compared with zero points for Exelby and only 2 shots on goal.
Jeff Finger - A rich man's Garnet Exelby and a poor man's Beauchemin. See above. Listed day-to-day with a lower body injury, which could open up ice-time for other players, making it difficult for Finger to get back into the line-up again.
Mikhail Grabovski - Love his hair. Seems to draw a penalty or create a chance on every shift. To be honest, I was expecting a little more crazy from Grabbo and maybe a bit more flash, but he's not off to a bad start, and last year he seemed to get better as the season went on, so there's still hope that Grabbo will have a very good season. He's almost on pace for 20 goals and 40 assists, and if he can top that I think Burke and Wilson will be pleased.
Carl Gunnarson - Has only appeared in 5 games, but I'd say he looks NHL-ready. His positioning looks good, and he plays the puck well, but mostly I like the effect he's had on OLAS who suddenly looks more comfortable and is playing much better.
Jonas Gustavsson - I already love the Monster and given the way Toskala has started the season, thank God we have him. With the Vesa2010 going back to the drawing board for more maintenance, Gustavsson could get the next 4 starts (or more). Looks like an opportunity again for the Monster to grab the spotlight and hopefully a few wins. With games coming up against Tampa (tonight), Florida (Friday), Buffalo (Monday), and Montreal (Tuesday), if he gets on a roll while the team builds confidence around him, he could really make a serious claim on the starters job by Wednesday of next week.
Niklas Hagman - Started the season strong and continues to be a rock for the Leafs up front. Currently leads the team with 9 goals.
Christian Hanson - Will make his season debut tonight with the Maple Leafs. Hanson appeared in 5 games at the end of last season, scoring a goal and an assist, so he already has most of his rookie milestones out of the way. For the Marlies this season, Hanson has been a point a game player, leading the team with 18 points (8G, 10A) in 18 games. Hanson is also a big lad and seems to be getting bigger - listed at 6'3", 202lbs on the Leafs roster and 6'4", 228lbs on the Marlies roster. They also have 2 different birthplaces so it makes you wonder if they just make this stuff up.
Tomas Kaberle - Has been awesome. Leads the team in points with 24. Currently on pace for 82 assists. Tied with Getzlaf for 2nd overall in that category behind only Joe Thornton. Tied with Washinton's Mike Green for highest scoring defenceman in the league after 22 games. Tied with Kopitar and Thornton for the league lead in points on the powerplay. I'm really happy for Tomas and I really hope he can keep this up 'cause so far he's having a terrific season.
Phil Kessel - Just excellent. 9 points in 10 games. 6 goals, 3 on the powerplay, 3 at even-strength. Makes the powerplay look dangerous and makes the other players more dangerous as well.
Mike Komisarek - Has already missed 6 games due to a quadricep injury and hopefully will only miss a couple more. Had a rough start but seemed to be rounding into form just as he was injured. The Leafs could use his solid presence, but it's good to see them playing better the last couple games without him. Despite the games missed, Komisarek is still 2nd on the team in Hits with 41.
Nikolai Kulemin - Doesn't seem to be one of Wilson's favourite players anymore and may be struggling to find his groove. I like Kulemin because he's got a lot of skill and can do a lot of different things on the ice, but he's yet to put it together into a complete package. He seems to require linemates who can lead the play and isn't able to dictate his own style of attack, but maybe that will come with experience. I still have high hopes for Kulemin and I hope Wilson gives him the ice-time he needs to gain the experience that will make him a more aggressive and independent player.
Joey MacDonald - will come up to join the team for practice while Toskala is on the IR, but probably won't see any action. If he does get any ice-time it means something has gone terribly wrong. Hopefully the Monster won't need any help. In 3 appearances this season MacDonald had 3 regulation losses and an .880 SV%.
Jamal Mayers - I'm hesitant to criticize Jamal Mayers too much right now. He doesn't posses a lot of skill but he has been putting in some gritty performances lately and seems much more comfortable with his role on the team. He does what he's asked and as long as he's not asked to do too much I'm happy to have him in a limited capacity.
John Mitchell - Needs to be better, but was improving. The injury comes at a bad time for Mitchel, but maybe won't hurt the team too much if Hanson can excell with the opportunity he's given and Primeau can step up with more ice-time. Mitchell is listed as day-to-day so hopefully it's not too serious and doesn't become a step backwards for him. His first 8 games were awful - no goals, 2 assists, and a minus 6, while the Leafs went 0-7-1. In the last 14 games, Mitchell has 2 goals and 5 assists, and perhaps more significantly, is a plus 2, while the Leafs are 4-4-6.
Colton Orr - I like Colton a lot. I honestly think he's one of the best enforcers in the game and I'm really glad we have him. He does what he does, and he does it well.
Alexei Ponikarovsky - Poni is doin' okay, but he's not lighting up the score sheet at the same remarkable pace as he closed out last season. I was expecting Alexei to be top 3 on the Leafs in all offensive categories, and while 8 goals is a solid contribution and has him 2nd on the team, his 3 assists combines for only 11 poins thus far, making him only as dangerous as Stempniak, tied for 7th. Not enough, Poni. This team needs you. One eyebrow raising stat: with Komisarek out of the line-up, Ponikarovsky has taken over the team lead for Hits with 43.
Wayne Primeau - I didn't like Primeau much at first. He looked slow and unskilled, but in the last few weeks he's grown on me a bit. Still doesn't have an assist, but he has scored 2 big goals (one against Detroit, the other in the last game vs. NY Islanders), and if he continues to be a little dangerous without being a defensive liability (only -2 thus far) then I could see myself warming up to him even more.
Luke Schenn - Schenn has struggled early, so much so that few people are still referring to him as OLAS at the moment. Clearly, he doesn't look the same. But I was never that concerned because sophomore slumps do happen and usually only last for half a season, and because Beauchemin and Komisarek are new partners and they have also struggled. I'm encouraged by the fact that Schenn has looked better recently paired with Gunnarson, and I'm expecting Luke's play to continue to improve throughout the season. Zero panic. He is still OLAS.
Matt Stajan - Second on the team in scoring after Kaberle with 15 points. Once again being asked to do too much but making a noble effort as usual. Only one even-strength goal is a bit of a concern, but he's on pace through one-quarter of the season for 20 goals and 40 assists. If he starts to hit it even-strength or really click with Kessel, it could be really interesting to keep an eye on his numbers again this season. I'm assuming most people will be blown away if Stajan can hit 40 assists again.
Viktor Stalberg - I miss Vik already but maybe he wasn't ready for the NHL. After dazzling us in the preseason Stalberg got hurt in the third regular season game, and then played 5 games when he returned before being sent down. One assist, minus 5, 8 games. It's too bad 'cause there is something very exciting about the way Stalberg plays hockey, and when he's ready for the Big Show he's going to be fun to watch. Seems to be finding his game with the Marlies - 11 points in 10 games (4G 7A).
Lee Stempniak - Has exceeded expectations in terms of people being able to see him and notice his contribution. Indeed, the Visible Ninja has looked far more dangerous then he is deadly. I congratulate Lee on his work ethic and consistent effort so far this season, but I want to see more of a killer instinct and better results. Hopefully Stempniak can learn a few lessons from Kessel 'cause I think he's mastered everything Jason Blake has had to teach him.
Jiri Tlusty - Was called up for 2 games and sent back down again. Failed to register a point and was a minus 2. Probably deserved a longer look, but now that the system is deeper there's no need to rush him in. Second on the Marlies in scoring with 14 points in 16 games.
Vesa Toskala - Has been brutal. As much as I wish it wasn't true, there's no other way to slice it. The first quarter of the season has been a disaster. By any measurable standard, Toskala is the worst goalie currently employed by an NHL team. Including Raycroft. And then, just as the Vesa appeared to be turning a corner, he's back on the IR. Consider: in his previous 3 starts (L 2-3 vs. Chi, L 2-3 vs. Ott, W 2-1 vs. Was) Toskala carried a .920 SV% and for 78 minutes and 53 seconds from the end of the first period against Washington to the middle of the second period against the Islanders Toskala didn't give up a single goal. Seventy Eight Fifty Three. And then somebody remembered to shoot high glove-side and it was over. The illusion was shattered. Three minutes later the Leafs were down 3-0 and four minutes after that, Toskala was bizarrely taking himself out of the game with a little over a minute left in the period with what he later described as "just a little tweak". This, after ending his season early last year for surgery that nobody knew he needed, for his second injury of the season in only 9 starts. Frustrating and sad. If the Vesa can turn it around it will be no small miracle.
Rickard Wallin - A small disapointment. I wasn't expecting much offensively from Wallin but thus far he really provides zero offensive punch. His defensive positioning is sound, even above average, but he has absolutely no offensive zone presence. Makes it really hard for fourth line players like Orr, Primeau, and Mayers to not be able to use the forecheck effectively and to always be on the defensive. Hopefully a little time in the press box will help Wallin figure out how to be a valuable player at both ends of the ice.
Ian White - Possibly the greatest human being alive today. By far, the fastest rising star on the team is Ian White. Fifth on the team in scoring (13P), White is a mind-boggling plus 6. How White can be a plus 6 while Schenn (-6), Kaberle (-6), Exelby (-7), Finger (-8), Komisarek (-9), and Beauchemin (-11) are all well below zero is beyond me and a real mathematical headscratcher. Whatever, I'm not even sure what the question is anymore, but I think the answer is Ian White. He gives a great effort every night and strives to defy expectations, often with dramatic success. Despite Kaberle's truly impressive point totals, I'd say White is the early favourite, based on poise and determination, for the team's MVP.
Weekend wrap: Planting seeds
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