Another year has started and I know hockey season is well underway by the growing sinking feeling in my gut. 22 games in and the Leafs look about where most analysts had them pegged. There have been surprises, some pleasant, most not so much. So here are my first quarter grades for the Leafs.
Andrew Raycroft: 2-2-3, 3.32 GAA, .887 SV%
-Raycroft has seemed more relaxed this year than last, too bad consistency still eludes him. He was great in that Buffalo shutout, but brutal in that Boston game last week. He still looks like a goalie who can make saves, but won't make THE saves, which is essentially what the Leafs have and likely always will need.
Vesa Toskala: 6-7-2, 3.25 GAA, .894 SV%
-Much of the time I watch Toskala, I feel sorry for him, because he has seemed to really keep the Leafs in it some nights... but when I look at the mediocre numbers (the only NE goalie to face less shots is Ryan Miller) I have to question whether his numbers are so bad because the Leafs defense is brutal... or if the Leafs defense is brutal because Toskala just isn't making the IMPORTANT saves. I think this is the big issue with the Leafs defense... is that every mistake they make ends up as a goal... so they start playing a little too conservatively and suddenly they are just stuck in their own end, running around until they make another glaring error...
Tomas Kaberle: 5g, 12a, +3
-Although his early season play left much to be desired, he has seriously turned it up of late and been the impact defenseman the Leafs need him to be. His zone coverage leaves a little to be desired, but his puckmoving is so critical to Leaf breakouts.
Pavel Kubina: 1g, 10a, +6
-Up until his injury, he was the Leafs best blueliner. He played fairly well in his own end and was even contributing on offence... this is likely what the Leafs envisioned when they signed him.
Bryan McCabe: 4g, 6a, -6
-In the midst of being so maligned by the fans, it has almost gone unnoticed that his play has really picked up of late... that's not to say that he doesn't still make brutal defensive plays (Montreal anyone?) but against Ottawa he was rock solid, and looked to have regained some lost confidence... up until two weeks ago... I couldn't stand to watch shifts while he was on the ice... watching him botch defensive assignments and fumble the puck was just too painful... his decent play of late doesn't save his grade, but gives Leafs fans hope for the next quarter.
Hal Gill: 1g, 4a, +2
-He is at his best when rarely noticed... his complete lack of mobility is a serious handicap in the 'new' NHL, and he gets burned badly by fast teams like the Habs or Sens, but he is a huge asset on a rapidly improving PK. He's playing much the same as he did last year, although I think that his effectiveness might be a little lessened with the poor play of his partners.
Ian White: 2g, 5a, -7
-His play has been significantly worse than last year... bad enough that his name has been surfacing in trade rumours with teams looking for a young puckmover who aren't fazed by his complete lack of defensive acumen. He's been almost as bad in his own end as McCabe, but without the 6m cap hit...
Andy Wozniewski: 1g, 3a, -1
-His numbers aren't bad, but if you watch the Leafs, you are wincing every time he's out there. When Maurice gives him 10 minutes of ice a game, while allowing White and McCabe 20 and 30 a piece... you know he's not the solution on the blueline. He's a big body, but doesn't play physically like Hal Gill... he skates alright for a big guy, but so could Aki Berg, didn't make him that useful.
Staffan Kronwall: 0g, 0a, +2
-He's only played in 4 games, but he's played with surprising ability. I've been impressed with his zone coverage and strength. Right now he looks like he deserves a place over half the existing corps, but I won't hold my breath until he gets in a few more games.
Anton Stralman: 0g, 0a, -4
-'Poor man's Lidstrom' isn't really impressing me that much... he looks like someone who needs some more AHL time and could be useful later in the year. He's got some nice puckmoving and skating ability, but he needs work in his own end... he hasn't been any worse than some other guys, but he hasn't been a whole lot better. I think this kids got a future, but its not yet... leave him in the AHL, until its time to blow up the team at the trade deadline.
Mats Sundin: 11g, 17a, +8
-Mats is delivering his best statistical season since he played for the Nordiques many years ago. He has essentially been a major reason that the Leafs have even a chance at winning every night.
Nik Antropov: 9g, 11a, +6
-Antropov has cooled off considerably since his hot start, but damn what a start it was! He's been showing more consistent flashes of dominance, which has got to be encouraging for those of us who watched him struggle through injuries and inconsistency. He looked alot better at Centre as opposed to wing so hopefully he'll be moved back soon.
Jason Blake: 2g, 12a, +1
-I'm not going to lie, this guy is really pissing me off. He doesn't work well with Sundin because he doesn't pass... sure he's got wheels... but he's another Darcy Tucker, he needs a playmaker and he just wants to wire it from the same place every time. All of his assists have been second touches, or rebounds. Oh, about shooting, how's this... he's got a Shooting % of 2.2%... he's on pace for 8 goals right now. I know he's female doging about how he might've "Made a mistake" in signing here... but he's part of the damned problem... I want to see some backchecking, some teamwork, and some goals from this guy.
Darcy Tucker: 2g, 4a, -3
-Is it me, or does Darcy look tired and uninterested most games? Aside from his dumbass confrontation with Avery I haven't seen the fire that I used to from Tucker. He's never been a great defensive player, and he needs to score to offset this.
Chad Kilger: 4g, 2a, -5
-Another player who's seen his play regress... Chad was apparently pissed at being a healthy scratch this year... I'd usually agree with him were he not sleepwalking through most games. The poor showings by guys like Kilger, Pohl, and Battaglia has been a serious reason for the Leafs losing record.
Matt Stajan: 4g, 7a, +4
-He has been a surprise this year... I always thought of him as a poor faceoff guy, but every game I watch, I see him winning important draws... lately he's been playing with Steen and Devereaux to make up a shutdown unit... I've gotta say that I'm impressed.
Alex Steen: 3g, 8a, -1
-He really should be putting up higher point totals, but as part of this new shutdown unit, he's been so good defensively that I don't really care. He looks good most nights with his smart two-way play.
Alexei Ponikarovsky: 7g, 4a, +5
-I haven't noticed him as much this year, but his numbers project to about what he had last season, which is respectable. I think he might have hit his offensive ceiling, which is fine, because he is versatile and skates well for a huge guy. His defensive play is pretty decent, not great, but definitely better than some.
Jiri Tlusty: 3g, 2a, +2
-the Leafs top forward prospect has come up pretty early. He's played alot better than I'd have expected and leaps and bounds ahead of what some of the returnee forwards have offered. He plays a pretty smart game and even handles the media pretty decently, as was demonstrated with his 'scandal'
Boyd Devereaux: 3g, 1a, -6
-I wasn't very happy with his play earlier this year, but when he was placed on the Stajan-Steen line, he seemed to come alive. He uses his speed to create turnovers, and forechecks like a demon. Still, he's going to have to keep this up to make up for a poor initial showing
John Pohl: 1g, 3a, -1
-Has just seemed to not care when out there. He's been lacklustre in his own end and hasn't managed to generate much offense, which has led to his frequent press box visits. He needs to pick it up.
Simon Gamache: 2g, 2a, -1
-Played with a little spark, but his defensive inadequacy forced the Leafs to turn elsewhere. His offensive skills aren't in question, and he could see another callup if say: Tucker or Blake were to get hurt.
Kris Newbury: 0g, 0a, -4
-a tough kid that didn't really play all that well this time around... he's usually one of the first called up when the Leafs need some energy.
Wade Belak: 0g, 0a, -2
-an undisputed NHL heavyweight who hasn't received too much ice time this year... he looks alot better as a forward than as a defenseman. He's still plodding and doesn't add much offense, but the Leafs could do worse.
Mark Bell: 0g, 2a, -2
-he'd best hope that his career not be based on his fighting results... because I saw him get stomped a few times already this year. He has played with some fire, and he possesses a great deal of versatility, so he could be productive if used correctly.
Kyle Wellwood: 3g, 0a, -4
-his return has given the powerplay some teeth, however he is pretty bad in the defensive end. Hopefully he can revive Tucker or Blake's offensive games.
Bates Battaglia: 0g, 0a, -5
-If you look closely at his stats line, his plus minus is about the only thing that tells you he is playing... he only has 6 shots and 7 PIM, so it's not like he'd doing anything else out there... I don't know what happened to the hungry Battaglia from last year, but this one that's been a frequent healthy scratch isn't going to cut it, and may find himself in the AHL again before long.
Prognosis: not good... they need to find a way to keep pucks out of the net, because really, they've let in 20 more goals in 3 more games than the team ahead of them in the NE.... thats just inconceivably bad... they won't make the playoffs without a goalie stepping up and either the coaching staff or the players stepping up to improve defensively.
Let me know what you think of my grades,