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Leafs needs earlier, better production

by John Kreiser /
If the Toronto Maple Leafs want to make the playoffs, they're going to have to get off to faster starts and get more results from the barrage of shots they're firing at opposing goaltenders.

Tuesday's 6-3 loss to Atlanta captured the Leafs' season in a nutshell. Toronto was outscored 1-0 in the opening period; it was the League-worst 26th goal allowed by the Leafs in the opening period. Meanwhile, their 13 goals scored in the first period is tied for 27th in the League; only Ottawa (12) and Edmonton (10) had fewer.

Toronto was the only team that was in the bottom three in both categories.

The lack of first-period goals isn't due to a lack of shots. Through 21 games, Toronto outshot its opponents by 149.

When the Leafs outshot Atlanta 35-30 Tuesday, it marked the 17th consecutive game in which they outshot their opponents, the longest active streak in the League. But they haven't translated those shots into wins -- Toronto is 6-8-3 in those games.

Shot prevention -- After finishing with just 71 points last season, the Los Angeles Kings have improved under new coach Terry Murray, going 8-9-3 in their first 20 games. One area in which the Kings definitely are better is in keeping opposing shooters from bombarding their goaltenders.

The Kings have allowed 30.0, 29.8 and 32.0 shots per game over the past three seasons. The 32.0 shots per game they surrendered last season was the third-highest total in the NHL.

Thus far this season, though, Los Angeles has excelled at cutting down the workload for goaltenders Erik Ersberg and Jason LaBarbera. Through 20 games, they've allowed just 24.8 shots per game, the fewest in the NHL. The Kings haven't allowed fewer than 30 shots a game over a full season since 2003-04, when they permitted 27.0 per contest.

Not so friendly home -- The Chicago Blackhawks became the seventh team this season to overcome a three-goal deficit and win when they rallied from a 4-1 deficit to beat the Maple Leafs in Toronto last Saturday. Amazingly, all seven teams to do so have been road teams.

Five other teams, including four this month, have overcome three-goal deficits to get a point with an overtime or shootout loss.

At the same point last season, there were only four games in which a team led by three or more goals and didn't win the game. Two of those were three-goal comebacks; in two others, the winning team came back from four goals down.

Four by four -- Referees Kelly Sutherland and Dennis Larue had an easy night Monday, when the Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers combined for only four minutes in penalties, matching the fewest penalty minutes assessed in the past four seasons, done three previous times.

The Panthers were involved in one of the other three -- April 6, 2007, at Tampa Bay. The others were Tampa Bay at Ottawa on Jan. 5, 2008, and Phoenix at Anaheim on April 6, 2008.

Sutherland and Gord Dwyer are the only two referees involved in more than one of those games. Sutherland was one of the officials in the Tampa Bay-Ottawa game earlier this year, while Dwyer worked the Florida-Tampa Bay and Phoenix-Anaheim games.

No game has had fewer than four penalty minutes since the Boston Bruins and New York Islanders took only two penalty minutes (one minor against the Islanders) in a 2-2 tie Jan. 27, 2004. Five other games that season had only four penalty minutes.

Carolina was the second team this season to play a full game without being assessed a penalty. Ottawa went penalty-free in a 6-3 home win over Phoenix on Oct. 17.

No crazy eights -- Offense is up in the NHL this season, but not because teams are running up enormous totals in any one game.

Through the first 311 games -- just over one-quarter of the season -- no team scored more than seven goals in a game. Though there were fewer goals scored last season, four teams scored eight goals in a game before Thanksgiving. In the first quarter of 2006-07, four teams had eight in a game and two had nine.

There was only one game in the first quarter decided by seven or more goals -- Philadelphia shut out Atlanta 7-0 on Oct. 29 -- and only two teams scored as many as five goals in a period.

Two-man-down blues -- The Detroit Red Wings are one of the NHL's elite teams in all situations except one -- playing down two men. The Wings have allowed a League-high six goals while playing 3-on-5; Nashville and Los Angeles are next with four, while eight teams haven't allowed any.

The Wings aren't doing too well playing 3-on-4, either -- they are the only team to allow two goals in those situations.

But in "normal" (4-on-5) power plays, the Wings are among the NHL's best. They allowed only 10 such goals in their first 20 games, fewer than every team but Minnesota and the New York Rangers.

And the Wings nearly make up for their 3-on-5 failings when the tables are turned. Detroit has four 5-on-3 goals, tied with the Rangers for second in the NHL and one behind League-leading Buffalo. It's part of the reason Detroit was tops in the NHL with 28 power-play goals.

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