We all know that the 2010-2011 NHL regular season wasn’t exactly a great one for the Toronto Maple Leafs, but it was a much better one.
A big part of success in the NHL is defense and goaltending. So big in fact, that some of the most successful teams have been built around their back-end. While it’s not right to compare the Maple Leafs to some of the best defensive teams in history, or even say they were solid defensively, the Leafs’ blue line and goaltending did have their bright spots.
While Luke Schenn had what most would say was his best season yet, he continues to develop as a NHL defenseman. He matched his career-high goal total of five in 2010-2011, while setting a new career-high in points with 22 in all 82 games.
He continues to be at the top of the list when it comes to hits. The former fifth overall draft pick finished the season with 251 hits, putting him eighth in the league and first among defensemen.
While Schenn had his ups and downs this season, captain Dion Phaneuf was there with a strong second half of the season.
Phaneuf, 26, scored six of his eight goals in 2010-2011 after Tomas Kaberle was traded to the Boston Bruins. In those 24 games after Kaberle was dealt away on February 18, Phaneuf also tallied 15 of his 30 points. Not only did he do all that while making the Maple Leafs’ power play more destructive, but he improved defensively as well.
That great defensive play from Schenn and Phaneuf helped James Reimer to an outstanding rookie season. Beginning his career on January 1, 2011, Reimer appeared in 37 games during the regular season. He finished up with a 2.60 goals against average and a .921 save percentage.
Aside from Schenn, Phaneuf and Reimer, there were no real “impact or game changing” goalie or defenseman.
While those three were great, there were some Maple Leafs who struggled in 2010-2011; most noticeably Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Jonas Gustavsson, Mike Komisarek and Brett Lebda.
Giguere, a veteran of the league, lost his starting job to Reimer. In 33 appearances, the 33-year-old had a 2.87 goals against average and a .900 save percentage. However, his statistics looked much better than he did during the season, as he made a lot of shaky saves that didn’t exactly build confidence.
Gustavsson played even worse in his second NHL season. The Danderyd, Sweden native played in 23 games, had a goals against average of 3.29 and a save percentage of .890.
Komisarek, who will actually be playing for Team USA at this year’s World Championship in Slovakia, had the worst season of his career. In 75 games, Komisarek recorded just one goal and nine points while finishing with a minus-8 rating. His ice time was slipping all season before finally ending with an average of just 13:08 per game.
Despite his poor play for most the season, Komisarek was able to finish the season much stronger than how he began it.
Lebda, who signed a two-year, $2.9 million contract in the summer of 2010, was never expected to be great, but he was expected to be better than his minus-14 rating showed. Lebda struggled all season long, finishing with just one goal and four points.
Both Komisarek and Lebda were in the “doghouse” of Leaf fans and coaches all season long, while Gustavsson was even sent down to the AHL for a conditioning stint mainly because of poor confidence. That’s something that you cannot have if you want to snap a playoff drought that dates all the way back to 2004. That’s right: six years.
A big problem for the Leafs in 2010-2011 was the amount of goals they allowed per game. Their average of 2.99 goals against was 24th in the league. While that needs to improve a lot next season, it is much better than the Leafs’ 2009-2010 goals against average of 3.21.
Many of those goals against came while shorthanded, as the Leafs killed off just 77.4 percent of the penalties they took. Like the Maple Leafs’ GAA, their penalty killing improved.
Perhaps the main reason they allowed so many goals was the amount of shots they conceded. The Leafs allowed 2540 shots reach their own net last season, which is an average of 31 shots against per game; something that falls on the entire team.
Despite improving in the 2010-2011 season, the Leafs will need to crack the top half of the league in all three statistics if they want to become a playoff contender. One forward who is trying to help that become a reality is Tim Brent.
Brent, a native of Cambridge, Ontario, came up with three huge shot blocks while down two men against the Carolina Hurricanes on February 3. Later in the same shift, Brent sprawled across the ice as he cleared the defensive zone.
Those are just three of the 58 shots he blocked during the regular season.
That’s passion. That’s heart. That’s soul.
That’s what the Leafs needed.
Follow me on Twitter @LukasHardonk for more Maple Leafs coverage.