Leafs Powerplay Certainly Powerful
The Toronto Maple Leafs power play in recent years has been somewhat of a spectacle in the NHL. The team has tried many different looks on the PP to try and spark some offense. A change in personnel, a coaching change, and more personnel changes later the Leafs are finally a team to watch on the man advantage for the right reasons.
A Powerless Powerplay:
In the 2009-2010 season the Leafs power play ranked dead last in the NHL at a dismal 14.00%. A unit that featured players like Phil Kessel, Tomas Kaberle, Francois Beauchemin, Dion Phaneuf, and Mikhail Grabovski failed to produce any offense. The unit was an embarrassment and warranted some significant change.
Powerplay Moving Forward:
Last year during the 2010-2011 season the Leafs PP unit saw some slight improvement finishing with the 22nd ranked powerplay. A year in which the forwards saw an increase in production, Kessel with 12PPG, Grabovski with 10PPG, MacArthur and Bozak with 6 the defense continued to struggle mightily with PP offense.
A Coaching Change and the Defense Catches on:
This off season saw the Leafs make some coaching changes; Greg Cronin and Scott Gordon were appointed the new assistant coaches specifically for the purposes of improving the Leafs horrendous special teams. Through 32 games this season the Leafs powerplay ranks 2nd in the league, an impressive improvement to say the least.
How did it Happen?:
Though many are left scratching their heads as to why the Toronto Maple Leafs have made such leaps and bounds on the man advantage, it’s clear... to me at least why the Buds PP has been so successful.
A Chemistry Problem Solved:
After many attempts to shake up the roster in the hopes of achieving some chemistry, Brian Burke may have finally crafted something special. The top unit of Kessel, Bozak, Lupul, Liles, and Phaneuf all Brian Burke additions have been spectacular. It all begins with Tyler Bozak’s prowess in the faceoff circle (although only 50.4% now) has allowed the team to start with the puck and set up shop more often than not. Lupul’s net presence has allowed for shots from the blue line to create scrambles in front of the net, using his large frame Joffrey Lupul has had many a opportunity to bang in a loose puck as a result. Phil Kessel’s versatility along the half wall is becoming very apparent as the season continues, a right handed shot lining up on the left half wall, Kessel has the option to shoot or pass to anybody on his unit, a threat that cannot be dismissed by opposing penalty killers. The emergence of Dion Phaneuf and John-Michael Liles as a tandem on the blue line has been quite spectacular, as Liles becomes more familiar with Dion’s tendencies this combination will only continue to improve, a slick passer, Liles is the perfect complement to a defenseman with a shot like Phaneuf’s. To his credit, Liles has a great shot of his own and is often in position to receive a one time from either Phaneuf or Kessel.
The Entry to Greatness:
A problem that plagued the Leafs man advantage unit last season was the clubs inability to enter the zone efficiently and set up their powerplay. In past seasons fans watched the Leaf players try to carry the puck in on their own, defenseman or forward, one player would try to get by everyone often resulting in nothing. Fans watched players dump pucks hopelessly into a corner only to have the other team recover and clear the zone with ease.
This year has been something refreshing and quite entertaining to watch. The buds entry is no longer shameful to watch. The incredibly simple yet genius method is like a gift from the hockey gods. The entry appears similar to a long snap to a punter in football; a player (usually a defenseman) will carry the puck up the ice and once he approaches the other teams blue line will drop it back to a forward behind him charging up the ice with speed. This is most notably effective when a quick player like John-Michael Liles backs a team off with his own speed only to drop the puck back to an explosive player like Kessel flying up the middle. The player with the puck often enters with ease to the surprise of opposing penalty killers and awaits his teammates to catch up. The play is simple and incredibly effective, and it’s rarely nulled by other teams. Unless teams figure out a way to snuff out this effective entry, the Leafs will continue to gain offensive zone time and continue to be effective on the powerplay.
While it would be a bold prediction to say the Leafs will finish first in the NHL on the powerplay, it is incredibly realistic it will remain in the top 5 in the league. With a fantastic first unit, and a fairly effective second unit there will always be a legitimate scoring threat on the ice with a Leafs man advantage, something that couldn’t be said last season. Barring any changes in the way opposing teams approach the PK, the Leafs simple entry plan will continue to allow them to be successful in the future.
My personal prediction for the Leafs this season relies more on their PK than PP, if the Leafs can manage to get into the top 20 on the PK, they make the playoffs. If the Leafs PK doesn’t improve, we may be looking at another high draft pick (at least we have it this time around) J.