A Defensive Start
|RENE JOHNSTON/TORONTO STAR|
|3.43 times a game so far, 24th overall in the NHL.|
Granted, nobody thought the Maple Leafs would be able to score as well as they have early this season.
But hands up those of you who predicted the Leafs would be worse defensively under Ron Wilson than they were under Paul Maurice.
But the numbers, at least to this point, don't lie. Last season, the Leafs allowed 3.12 goals per game, which left them ranked 27th in the NHL and was part of the reason they missed post-season play and Maurice was fired.
Wilson promised to tighten things up, and certainly his track record suggested he'd be able to do that. And he still might.
But a main reason why this year's Leafs have only been able to win five of 14 games - given all the kudos thrown their way, you'd think that win total would be higher, wouldn't you? - is that they can't keep the puck out of their net very efficiently.
The club's defensive ranking is actually slightly higher, 24th overall. But they're almost a third-of-a-goal worse at 3.43 per game, and climbing after coughing up 23 goals in their last five games. They are also the NHL's worst penalty killing team, another area that Wilson was supposed to clean up. Instead, right now the Leafs are less efficient killing penalties than they were under Maurice last season.
All this should tell you three things:
1) The forwards are getting a little giggly over the team's surprising offence and are looking to join in, leaving their defensive responsibilities uncovered.
2) Despite all the non-sensical talk about how the Leafs have this "surplus" of NHL quality defencemen, they have one A player in Tomas Kaberle, a B player in Pavel Kubina, two C-level blueliners in Mike Van Ryn and Jeff Finger, a raw rookie in Luke Schenn and several others who can't stay in the lineup of one of the NHL's worst defensive teams on a regular basis.
It was suggested here before the season that the Leafs might have the worst blueline crew in hockey. It might not be that bad, but its not much better.
3) Vesa Toskala is not having a good year. He has the league's 26th best save percentage - .886 compared to .904 a year ago - and has won five of 11 decisions despite the fact the Leafs have been regularly outshooting their opponents, particularly of late. Curtis Joseph, through the pre-season and in 65 minutes during the regular season, has yet to indicate he'll be able to help much between the pipes.
The Leafs have posted some surprising results by being faster and more prolific on offence. But bad defence is starting to catch up with them.