Mickey Grabbs is my choice for Leaf of the Week, one of only two Leafs that have stood out for me recently with solid performances (Kulemin is the other). Grabbo has been in on all 3 Leaf goals scored this week (yes, just 3 goals in 3 games for the entire team), scoring twice and assisting on the other. He's currently in a 3-way tie for 2nd in team scoring along with Kessel and Kulemin, each with 9 points after 15 games.
Grabovski's other de facto linemate, MacArthur is the team leader, jumping ahead of the pack by 3 points with 12. That Grabbo's line holds 3 of the top 4 spots in points clearly puts the responsibility for the team's scoring woes on the shoulders of Bozak and Versteeg. Bozak is currently on pace for less then a 30-point season.
Grabovski's real eyebrow-raising stat is his plus/minus. A most pleasing +7, Grabbo leads the team in that department and has only been on the negative side of the ledger once this season (minus 1 in the 4-0 loss to Tampa Bay).
Clarke MacArthur has the 2nd best plus/minus at +6, and in 3rd is, surprise surprise, Tomas Kaberle with a respectable +4. I noticed after the Leafs very depressing 4-1 loss to the Panthers, that Kaberle somehow escaped the night as a +1. Meanwhile, Kabby and Grabbo are now tied for the team lead in Assists with 7 each.
The Importance Of Scoring First
If the Leafs are going to make tracks in the standings, it's imperative that they get on the board first to give themselves the best possible chance of success. The team has scored the first goal of a game at just a 40% rate - 6 times in 15 games - not entirely terrible, but when they do score first, their record is 4-0-2. Ten of a possible 12 points and no losses in regulation.
When their opponents get the first goal, the Leafs are a dismal, and nearly hopeless, 1-7-1. Three of a possible 18 points.
The Importance Of Scoring In The 1st Period
The Leafs record when they score in the 1st period is identical to when they open the scoring. Nine times they've been shut-out through the opening 20 minutes and in those nine games their only victory came in the 4th game, a 4-3 overtime victory against the Rangers in which the Leafs dominated the 2nd period after giving up the opening goal in the 1st. In games when the Leafs do score in the opening period, again the Leafs are 4-0-2 without a loss in regulation.
On the other hand, in the 9 games that the Leafs have been held scoreless in the 1st, the Leafs have followed up that scoreless 1st period 6 times - a 66% ratio - by not scoring again in the 2nd. Awesome. Unbelievably, the Leafs have been shutout through 2 periods of play 6 times already in just 15 games (40%) and shutout completely 3 times (20%).
In the last 8 games, Leaf fans have agonized through scoring droughts that lasted 2 hours 27 minutes 40 seconds AND 2 hours 22 minutes 44 seconds.
The Importance Of Scoring At All
There's nothing more demoralizing then being shutout. Grabovski's latest tally, which broke our second longest shutout streak of the year, was welcome relief, even if it had no impact on the outcome. As bad as it was to lose back-to-back games in Florida, I imagine that without the Grabovski goal, the psychological distress of being blanked for two games in the sunshine state and coming home amidst what would have been a 149:19 run of impotence, might have been near-overwhelming for Wilson and his crew. That one goal, by Grabovski, coming in the 3rd period of a game well out of reach, allowed the Leafs to return from their Florida trip merely embarrassed, and not utterly humiliated.
It makes sense now for Wilson to pair Grabovski with Kessel in an attempt to get the latter going and back on the scoresheet. Because, while Bozak and Versteeg can largely be blamed for the team's offensive slump, it's Kessel's contribution, or lack of, that determines whether we win or lose. I wrote a post on this subject at the end of last season, and after having another look, I've updated my findings. Kessel's production is absolutely vital to the cause; behold:
In the last 41 games, half a season, going back to Feb. 2nd , the first game after acquiring Phaneuf and Giguere...
When Kessel tally’s a goal OR an assist, the Leafs record is:
When Kessel is held without a point, the Leafs record is:
Hopefully Grabovski and Kessel will find a way to put up points together and help turn this sinking ship around. The key to beating the Leafs is obviously to keep Phil Kessel off the scoreboard, so it's a smart move for Wilson right now to do anything he can to get Kessel back on it. And the sooner the better. A first period tally, an early lead, a point for Kessel, is all the Leafs need for there to be a much more positive outlook.