The Stat Pad Contest

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The only things exciting about the match up tonight was the race in statistics that is going on between a few players.  With both teams completely out of any playoff race, the teams are playing more for position in the entry draft.  Stamkos is looking to be the second player in 15 years to hit the 60 goal mark while Kessel is looking to notch 40 for the first time in his career.  The excitement was not enough to match the opening day of the Toronto Blue Jays season in Cleveland, Ohio (A win for the Jays)

The most curious thing that occurred for myself personally was the performance of Ben Scrivens.  The kid has been up and down in all of his performances with the Leafs this year, while he has been good at a consistent pace with the Marlies.  The reason that curiosity is struck when talking about Ben Scrivens, lies in his current path to the NHL.  He had two amazing road performances against Nashville and St. Louis, the proceeded to play one of the worst games by a Leafs goaltender this season against the Boston Bruins.

This reminded me of a path that another goaltender had at finding his way into the NHL close to a decade ago.  While Ryan Miller was a late draft pick of the Buffalo Sabres, he and Scrivens both took the NCAA route.  While Miller has a proven track record of winning and some pretty good credentials at every level of hockey, Scrivens again was on a similar path.  The game that resembles what I think was a defining moment in Millers career happened in the 2003/2004 season against the Buffalo Sabres

In this game, Miller was given the start over Martin Biron and Mika Noronen as either goaltender had very much going for them at the time.  Miller was shelled in a Red Wings 7-2 victory which he was not pulled, and was more dejected than I think I can remember any other player being during his post game conference.  Miller had tears running down his face as he made comments to the nature that he felt he may have performed his way out of the NHL, if not at least the Sabres organization.  That same night, when Lindy Ruff spoke, he was less concerned.  He made comments to the nature of how long it really takes an NHL goaltender to develop in professional hockey as the mental aspect is so much more important.  It should be noted that he was a pretty good AHL goalie at the time.

Fast forward to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the current situation with both Scrivens and Reimer.  Scrivens was given opportunity due to injuries and poor performances by Gustavsson.  Reimer was only six games into his first campaign as an NHL starter before being sidelined with a concussion.  It is very presumptive that the Leafs will search for a more veteran goalie, but maybe that is not the best course of action.  Neither player has a large enough sample size to completely write off as quality starters, and both are very deserving of a shot.  Earlier in the year the talking heads were raving about the signing of Jose Theodore in Florida and Tomas Vokoun in Washington, neither were giving the situation a large enough sample size to completely finish.  Neither Vokoum or Theodore proved to be a large enough difference maker for their respective teams to differentiate them from other bubble playoff teams.  During the home stretch in Washington Michael Neuverth and Brayden Holtby took over the crease due to groin problems suffered by Vokoun.

This website has been front and centre at chastising Brian Burke for not supplying requesting help for the young goalies, but perhaps in the long run it would be best to remain with the 2 they currently have under contract.  Time and Experience are the only things that will get them better suited to be starters, and maybe the effort should be made to improve the team in front of them.  Goal tending is really not the only issue that needs to be solved, and the change in coach and system along with personnel will maybe give the current goalies a better opportunity to succeed.  Even since the coaching change the team has routinely allowed 40 plus shots which is not a recipe for success.

Whatever the management team decides, the team has to find some confidence and consistency to really become a good team.  If they can’t accomplish this, all the changes in the world will not make them a better team.

Highlights From the Game-

-Tim Connolly is a player that has recieved large amounts of scorn over this season, but he truly is not a bad player.  He is not $4.5 million dollars good, but he’s not that bad.  He didn’t offer himself the contract, so that anger should really be directed elsewhere.

-Jake Gardiner is the Leafs best current defenseman followed by John Michael Liles. The one that will get me the most beaten up is Mike Komisarek.  The others all get passes for whatever reason, but the large bodied defender is one of the few that will both initiate contact and play with a bit more jam.  I have frequently wondered with the lack of size elsewhere this year, why he was not move to a wing to help the team generate cycle and zone time, but other people make those decisions.

-Ben Scrivens was good and efficient in the win.  His largest fault is probably his over-eagerness to play the puck, but time that should get ironed out.  He will be the first Leaf goaltender with the benefit of a playoff run in recent years, and this should only help make him a better player.

-With Union College being eliminated from the NCAA Frozen Four tournament this afternoon, look for the Leafs to be in active pursuit if 2 players.  Jeremy Welsh is a Junior and is currently undrafted which would qualify him as an unrestricted free agent.  Reports from the game stated that multiple teams had scouts present, although teams represented were not specified.  The other would be Union Senior Kelly Zajac, brother on New Jersey Devil Travis Zajac.  If history is accurate, both will be on the Leafs radar.

-Cody Franson played a very reserved, safe game.  He was not bad, just not noticable which may be the demands of the coaching staff.  Both Leafs coaches this season have spoken of his practice habits as an issue, specution is rampant that the player may look to arbitration as a means of getting out of town, but given his limited performance as well as the coaches critiques, it would be hard to imagine him having enough leverage to be granted an amount that would force the Leafs to move him.  Rick Dudley 2 seasons past went to arbitration and put up zero fight in keeping Clarke MacArthur in Atlanta, so anything is possible.

-Hard to believe with all of the firepower on the Lightening, how shallow a team they are when looking past the big three of Stamkos, Lecavalier, and St. Louis.  The defense is both slow and small, and they may have to make some hard decisions with a couple of these players.  Stamkos is without a doubt untouchable, players like him come around once a decade.  Lecavalier and St. Louis are both very highly paid, and not currently getting better as seasons pass.  If the opportunity arises to recieve amnesty on player contracts, Lecavalier may be through with the Lightning as his 7.72 million dollars may be too prohibitive to keep on the books going forward.  No insider information here, just speculation.