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The Smith, Leafs and the North 8 game review

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Toronto Maple Leafs v Edmonton Oilers
Maybe we’ll start David Ayre’s next game and he can shut out the Oil too!
Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images

Welcome back! I get things aren’t the rosiest right now with the Leafs totally dominating us and showing us a thing or 2 about winning. However, it was a really good 8 game segment and, overall, things are quite positive!

I never thought we were a cup contender but I do think we are a playoff contender and this is 2 segments in a row where we are firmly in the playoff race. Season is almost half over so that is very encouraging! Of course, we only play 6 teams and we may get ourselves into some very stressful ‘4 point games’ a little later.

First 8 games, 3 wins and 5 losses for 6 points.

Games 9 to 16, 6 wins and 2 losses for 12 points!

Games 17 to 24, 5 wins and 3 losses for 10 points.

Powerplay was 6th (4th last time) and Penalty Kill was 13th (22nd last time)

So our PK is improving and our PP is around Top 5 territory consistently. I imagine it’d be higher if we didn’t get shutout against the Leafs in back to back games (by their 2 and 3 goalies and first time since the 50’s for the Leafs!).

Let’s get to some stats:

If there was a window to win the North, then we just closed it. By Points we are 2nd. By Points Percentage we are 3rd. I’m very happy with both. Calgary, Vancouver and the Sens have a lot of work to do to get into 4th right now. Neat fact: the Sens are 5-3 in their last 8 games which is the same as us!

Scoring wise it was great to see RNH get back to a .ppg pace. Connor is still our offensive leader. Drai, to me, looks hurt but it still putting up a .ppg pace! Who had Chiasson at #4? Great run for him. I’m fine with JP, Kahun and Yamamoto putting up 3 or 4 points every 8 games. I would prefer to see more though. I have REALLY enjoyed our new third line of Ennis/Khaira/Archibald. Ennis might end up playing himself right into the Top 6 if he keeps it up.

Who knew the D haven’t scored in 8 games? Not one goal in 8 games. We also started 9 different D. Koekoek is done for the regular season. Bouchard was a healthy scratch. Jones is getting shifts again which is good but his stat line is a long line of 0’s. I know people hate this stat but if you go back to the play-in to today, when Jones play we lose. I don’t blame Jones for this strange phenomenon but it is a thing (5 wins and 6 losses this season on a winning club, play-in was 0 wins and 2 losses). Nurse averaged 28 minutes per game during this segment. We need more balance on the D.

The MVP of this 8 game segment is Mike Smith! He has been outstanding. Koskinen only started 2 games and lost them both but his stats were decent. I’m not a fan of running tandem goalies into the ground. First we overplayed Koskinen, now we are overplaying Smith. 4-4 please.

MVP Smith and Vezina Contender!

Alright, it’s an odd stat. I used ‘minimum games played’ as 9. The reason I chose 9 is because that is how many games Smith has played. He is currently tied with Vasilevsky for goalies that have played a minimum of 9 games! Do I expect this to keep up, no. Do I think it is tremendous, yes! Really happy for Smith for shutting up guys like me!

Here is what I said needs to happen last time for this segment to be a success (bold indicates that it actually happened):

  1. RNH, Yam and JP need to get at least 4 to 5 points each
  2. Connor/Drai need to keep demolishing everything in their paths
  3. Barrie needs to keep putting up points
  4. Nurse needs to continue to be steady... I don’t expect 5 goals though
  5. The new third line needs to keep scoring
  6. Need Bear back! But not at the expense of Bouchard who should never sit again.
  7. The Counting Crows want Mr. Jones back!
  8. I think we need to make a trade and address some weaknesses
  9. Take your time in recovery Zack! No rush.
  10. Both goalies healthy and play 4 games each

Bear did come back but it also, indirectly, led to Bouchard sitting. Then they brought him back on his wrong side with a recovering Bear. You’d think the rookie is the last guy you play on their offside. The fact he played on his offside in Junior (on a stacked Memorial Cup contender) with Adam Boqvist (a Top 10 pick and NHL regular today) against 16 to 19 year olds is not a good reason to try it in the NHL. Sure enough, 2 goals against and now Bouch looks like he can’t defend.

No trades have been made. I cannot stress this enough. We are 90% likely to make the playoffs and can get to the final 4 without playing Tampa, Colorado, LV, Bruins, Caps and Blues. This is a GOLDEN opportunity. When we make the playoffs, currently, Tippet will have to choose between Mikko or Smith (maybe Stalock) to be our playoff goalie. In no way do I believe any of these guys can win 16 games in the playoffs. Improve our goalie and we have a good chance at final 4. I can count on one hand how many games our goalies have stolen. I’d need my fingers and toes (40 things we share) if I wanted to count how many games our Goalie has been the second best goalie on the ice (eg. the backup and the backups backup just shut us out back to back).

The MIGHTY NORTH

I’ve been trying to come up with an analogy for how I rate the North. Here is how I’d explain it. Picture a World Junior (or senior) championships with a pool of death. Picture a pool with Canada/Finland/Sweden/US/Russia all in it with 2 other nations. Now picture the other pool as having the Czechs/Swiss/Germans/Norway/Latvia/Denmark/Belarus. The North is that second pool. Some team will come out of that pool with great stats in every category (Vezina goalie stats, leading tournament scorer, D look amazing). It’ll look like they’ve improved a lot (eg. Leafs went from 13th to 1st with a bullet, we went from 12th to Top 7th, Jets are in Top 10). Eventually, we have to leave our pool and crossover with that other pool. That will be an ugly day right now. Dominating the North is one thing, being a Cup Contender in the NHL is another thing. We are nowhere near the Leafs currently. Leafs are not a cup threat IMO.

You asked for a Premiere D, so shut up!

I make no bones about wanting to trade Tyson Barrie and improve a different area of our team. I’d like to package him and address goaltending (Kuemper perhaps). Or a one for one trade for a better bottom 6 player. Or even a better Top 6 option. I don’t want picks. I don’t want prospects. I want to improve our roster. We have cap space (about 4 million), a highly covetted ‘elite Dman’ and some good prospects so let’s get that goalie!

The most common counter for this is along the lines of ‘for a decade the Oil have needed an elite D and now they got one and they want to trade him. SMH’.

If I can be blunt. I have been one of the ones screaming for better D in the last decade. Brandon Manning and Matt Benning were in our Top 6 as recently as last season. Go back 2 seasons and you start seeing names like Jerabek, Gravel, Petrovic, Wideman and Garrison. That’s only 2 years ago! I’ve always said I’d like more Klefs and Nurses. I’ve also argued that a TRUE number 1 D would push everyone into their right spot. Eg. Viktor Hedman joins our D crew, now Nurse and Klef are our 2 and 3 and we are a cup contender.

In either case, I don’t recall me (or the fanbase) begging for a RW’er who happens to play D? I don’t recall anyone in the last decade screaming: ‘you know what we need? A 1 dimensional puck mover who leaks chances against.’ I’ve never heard it. In fact, Tyson Barrie was not an answer to any question I’ve read in the last decade. He’s a guy I’d love on my bottom pair if we didn’t have Bouchard.

‘But he’s a powerplay specialist’. Just a reminder that our PP was number 1 in the NHL last season. We were NOT looking for a powerplay specialist to ‘improve’ our already league best powerplay. In fact, the last thing on a long list of things we need was a Powerplay Specialist. You could replace Barrie with any of Nurse/Bear/Bouchard and get similar Top 5 results. The reason? Our Powerplay already has 3 specialists on it (Drai/RNH/McDavid) and that’s more than enough. Coincidentally, Evan Bouchard is our future Powerplay Specialist. This was not a need.

A need was another guy like Nurse or Klef that can play solid Top 4 minutes. A need was a guy better than those 2 to push them down a notch. So please stop telling the Oiler fans that they asked for this! It’d be like asking your partner for sex and getting an evening of Netflix and comfy track pants instead. Sure, both are nice but it’s not what you asked for.

For next time...

  1. Beat the Leafs and get this started right.
  2. Kahun/Yam/JP need to get more points. 5 or 6 each.
  3. RNH needs to keep up the .ppg pace.
  4. Drai needs to heal/recover/rest because something is off.
  5. Smith and Koskinen need to split starts
  6. Package one of Smith/Koskinen with something good to get a good goalie while Stalock and the remaining goalie split games till the real starter arrives.
  7. Bear needs to be more like Bear (concussions suck!)
  8. Bouchard/Jones need to keep improving and forcing a trade to happen
  9. DRY line?
  10. Third line needs to keep rolling like they have!

Get well Dimitri Samorukov!