Finger and Exelby, in my view, seem to be two similar players fighting for one position in the line-up. Before I'd looked into it I'd assumed that if one was in the line-up, the other was out. Indeed, that has been the case for every game this season with the exception of one - a 3-2 loss to Chicago for which they were both dressed. That was the first game after Komisarek's injury, and by the next game, Gunnarson was called up and given Exelby's spot. Gunnarson has remained in the line-up since as the Leafs have gone 3-2-2, picking up points in each of their last 5 games. Exelby returned to the line-up on November 23rd and has now played three consecutive games in place of the injured Finger who's out day-to-day with a "lower body injury". There has not been one game for the Leafs this season without either one or the other in the line-up. That may change soon with the return of Komisarek.
I previously remarked that XLB seemed like a "poor man's" Jeff Finger, capable of doing a few things better then Finger, while Finger does most other things much better then XLB. I also noted that both players have similar plus/minus, but Finger is the only one of the two who contributes offensively at even-strength.
Let's break it down.
Finger has played 12 games now and has 6 points (1G, 5A), all even-strength. 5 of his 6 points came in 3 consecuitive games against Detroit, Minnesota, and Chicago, November 7-13. Finger was without a point for 4 straight games when he was injured.
Exelby is minus 6, but plus 1 overall in his last 3 games. Finger is minus 8, minus 5 since his personal mini-slump began 4 games ago.
XLB has 17 penalty minutes - 6 minors and one fighting major.
Finger also has one fighting major. He has otherwise not been penalized for any infractions this season.
Finger has 10 shots on goal in his 12 games. XLB has managed 3.
Jeff Finger gives you a lot more ice-time, averaging 17:25 per game. Exelby has the lowest average ice-time of the 8 Leaf defenders that have seen action this year, at 11:01 per game.
Finger has seen minimal powerplay time per game and XLB has seen zero, but both players are used regularly on the penalty kill.
You might think that XLB hits more then Finger but so far that's not true. Finger has 33, or 2.75 per game, XLB has 21, or 1.62.
Finger also gets in the way of a lot of shots: 38. Only Beauchemin has more. Exelby has the lowest total among defenders with just 14. Gunnarson, in just 7 games, has blocked more shots with 16. This is a strong indication that XLB's poor positioning means that he's rarely in a space between the shooter and the net.
Are you starting to get down on XLB? Feeling certain that Finger's better? One last stat to consider: In 13 games with XLB in the line-up, the Leafs have lost in regulation only 4 times. With Finger in the line-up, the Leafs are 3-8-1, 7 points out of a possible 24 for a dismal .292 winning (losing?) percentage. XLB's Leafs are 3-4-6, 12 points in 13 games, a .461 winning percentage. Should the Leafs win Monady night against Buffalo, they could then claim to be a .500 team when XLB's dressed.
So I'm thinking that Finger is obviously overall a better player, but sometimes what the Leafs need from their 5th or 6th defenceman is a little bit of sandpaper, attitude, and unpredictability. Should be interesting to see what Wilson decides to do once Komisarek comes back as Gunnarson seems to have earned the only spot Finger and XLB were fighting for.