Five Points on the Maple Leafs
1. Nikolai Kulemin has now gone 15 games without a goal, the longest dry spell of his career. Before Tuesday's game in Tampa, Kulemin met with assistant coach Scott Gordon on the ice at the St. Pete Times Forum for a five-minute conversation. Gordon offered words of encouragement, noting his satisfaction with Kulemin's overall performance, also stressing that he was bound to find the back of the net very soon. Gordon told Kulemin that he tried to find things that weren't working, but aside from the pucks not going in, could find none.
In his rookie year, Kulemin went 13 games without a goal, the longest prior drought before this season.
2. Mike Brown has missed the last four games with an undisclosed injury. The 26-year-old was reluctant to reveal the nature of his injury in conversation with the Leaf Report on Tuesday, but it seems likely to be related to a groin injury he played with during the second half of last season. Brown had minor surgery on the area in the summer, but struggled to recover. He began skating in early August, but was forced to pull back shortly thereafter. In training camp, the issue lingered and Brown was forced to miss the entire preseason, fortunate to play on opening night.
It would appear that the injury has resurfaced. Brown took part in the pre-game in Nashville, but was forced to pull out as a late scratch. He has not played since. In Tampa, he expressed frustration that the injury was not improving as he had hoped.
3. It's as cliché as it gets in hockey, but remains painfully true. If your goaltender is not your best penalty-killer, you're in trouble. The recent rise of the Leafs penalty-kill – 86% over the last ten games – proves that. Jonas Gustavsson and Ben Scrivens have combined to post an .883 save percentage (5 goals on 43 shots) during that 10-game stretch, not quite impenetrable, but drastically better than the .780 save percentage posted by Leaf netminders in the previous twelve games (15 goals on 68 shots).
4. One other interesting note on the penalty kill is the faceoff work of David Steckel. Steckel is 58% on shorthanded draws (71-122), considerably better than the rest of his teammates at 37% (18-49).
5. It's not hard to see why Ron Wilson chose John-Michael Liles an alternate captain with Mike Komisarek and Mikhail Grabovski both sidelined with injury. Liles is the oldest player on the team (30) and a steadying presence in the dressing room. But he's also a light and witty personality. The former Michigan State University star is notorious for chirping players in their post-game interviews. Case in point on Tuesday night when he yelled "What a player!" as Tyler Bozak met with the media following a three-point effort against the Lightning. Similar scenario on Saturday when he barked "Thattaboy Franny!" as Cody Franson talked about scoring his first goal of the season in a win over the Capitals.