Twenty-six games into a Maple Leafs’ season in which few expect anything good, the boys in blue and white are in Pittsburgh on Wednesday night to try and top the best player in the NHL. Sidney Crosby (leading league with 24 g, 48 pts in 29 GP) will likely see a lot of Luke Schenn tonight, but that will be up to Pens’ coach Dan Bylsma, who has last change. The Leafs’ blueline will obviously be key in Steeltown. Here are their individual report cards one-third of the way into the season.
LUKE SCHENN ~ 21 yrs old, 26 gp, 1g, 5a, +1 rating, 22:55 TOI – Rates an A+
When Cliff Fletcher drafted Schenn 5th overall from the Kelowna Rockets in 2008, this is exactly what the team envisioned Schenn would become. The guy is rock-solid. Oh, he makes a mistake here or there, but also plays against the opposition’s top lines. And he’s smart as a whip offensively. More confidence will lead to more points, but I’ll take him right now exactly the way he is. He is a primary reason why the Leafs’ goals-against are down.
FRANÇOIS BEAUCHEMIN ~ 30 yrs old, 26 gp, 1g, 4a, -3 rating, 24:22 TOI – Rates a B+
You can tell Beauchemin has won a Stanley Cup, because he plays with that confidence. Not that he’s infallible, because he’s not. But I like the way he takes charge defensively, waving and yelling at his mates while opponents try to form a play. He’s also not afraid to speak his mind in the media. Sometimes that helps, sometimes it hurts.
TOMAS KABERLE ~ 32 yrs old, 26 gp, 0 g, 14 a, +3 rating, 23:33 TOI – Rates a B
Guy plays like he just wants to see his highlights on TSN after the game. But he makes as many defensive blunders as he turns in offensive gems. Every team needs an offensive-scoring defenceman, but the guy can’t be a liability inside his own zone. I get really tired of looking up and seeing Kaberle one step behind the guy who just scored on Gustavsson.
DION PHANEUF ~ 25 yrs old, 11 gp, 0g, 4a, -6 rating, 22:44 TOI – Rates a B
Phaneuf’s biggest problem is that he’s still trying to live up to Pierre McGuire’s hype that followed him when he entered the league with the Calgary Flames in October 2005. Before he was injured on November 2nd v. Ottawa, Phaneuf had enjoyed a re-birth with the Leafs. His +/- is a bit of an aberration because of that horrific -3 game in Philly on October 23rd. The way Phaneuf played in his 11 games this season, I’ll take him any day.
KEITH AULIE ~ 21 years old, 9 gp, 0g, 0a, -3 rating, 13:16 TOI – Rates a C+
Still a little hard to judge Aulie’s efforts, but his minutes are growing and Ron Wilson and Rob Zettler are occasionally throwing him out there against some of the best. Remember, like Schenn, the kid’s only 21 years old.
MIKE KOMISAREK ~ 28 years old, 26 gp, 1g, 6a, -1 rating, 16:06 TOI – Rates a C
Some people are gonna think “C” is too much. Maybe it is. But I think Komisarek is giving it everything he has. He came from Montreal with a lot of fanfare after one good season with Les Canadiens. Frankly, he was overrated. His ice time has been minimized lately, resulting in more time for Aulie. Too many giveaways and random acts with puck. But he does add an element of blueline toughness that, with Phaneuf out of the line-up, is crucial.
CARL GUNNARSSON ~ 24 years old, 18 gp, 1g, 2a, -3 rating, 15:16 – Rates a C-
I’ve never been a big fan. Frankly, I can’t think of a single great thing he’s done all season. He seems to play without any apparent aggression or anger. For a defenceman, those are not plusses. If I was starting a team tomorrow, Gunnarsson would not be on it.
BRETT LEBDA ~ 28 years old, 12 gp, 0g, 0a, -11 rating, 15:14 – Rates a D-
OMG, -11! Are you kidding me? He’s another of Brian Burke’s “American” experiments. This one’s not working. Lebda got big minutes when Phaneuf got hurt and has made Jeff Finger look good. Mmmm, wait a minute. Scratch that last one. No one could do that. Whatever the question is, Brett Lebda has not been the answer.