Lately I have found myself spending more and more time browsing the wonderful shiftchart.com site. While going through a variety of different things on Monday, I stumbled upon an issue that annoyed me throughout the 2013 campaign and has seemingly once again become a calling card for Leafs coach Randy Carlyle. Carlyle is a very strong believer in icing enforcer Colton Orr immediately after the Leafs have allowed a goal against. It was something he did consistently last season and through the opening 9 games of the 2013-14 season he has once again gone to the tried and true formula of looking to Orr to turn the tide.
It was established last season that Carlyle truly believed an energy shift by the fourth line was the best way to stop the flow of momentum from going against the blue and white. However, more often than not, the subsequent shift found the Leafs 4th line hemmed into their own zone as the opposition exploited the poor skills of Carlyle’s enforcer heavy unit. In 2013 Orr was joined by fellow one-dimensional pugilist Frazer McLaren and checking centre Jay McClement. This season McLaren has yet to play due to a hand injury while McClement has shifted between the 3rd and 4th line as a fill-in for a Leafs team missing both injured and suspended players. It is widely believed though that once the Leafs return to full strength the Orr-McClement-McLaren trio will be reunited.
Until that time Orr is the sole member of that Leafs line who is once again being entrusted with providing the ‘momentum shift’ Carlyle so desperately believes in. Thanks to shiftchart.com I was able to go through the 9 games the Leafs have played this season in order to see how often Carlyle used Orr in the situations mentioned above. To this point the Leafs have allowed 22 goals against. Orr has played the following shift 7 times. The Leafs enforcer was also on the ice for three of those 22 goals. Keep in mind, the Leafs remained on the penalty kill following two of those goals, a facet of the game (one of many) Orr does not contribute to. Therefore, eliminating the three goals he was on the ice for and the two goals that saw the Leafs continue on the PK, Orr has been used by Carlyle 7 out of 17 times (41%). According to another great site (extraskater.com) Orr plays only 10.2% of the total time per game this season. So, Orr is used by the Leafs in total 10.2% of the time per game, yet he has played the following shift after a goal 41% of the time.
It’s actually pretty interesting that a player who averages around 6 minutes of ice time a game is entrusted so much in this one particular area. I have reached the point where I believe the main reason Carlyle dresses Orr is to use him in this situation. Considering his lack of ice time and random usage in all other areas of the game, it’s safe to say that #28′s main purpose is to create energy following a goal against. What is terribly frustrating is how Orr (and his regular linemates last season) proved to be poor at accomplishing the task at hand. Has the time arrived for Carlyle to entrust this responsibility to another player?
While I may not be a fan of what he provides on the ice, I am resigned to the fact that Carlyle will continue to pencil him into the lineup as long as he is healthy. The evidence against Orr is pretty alarming. In fact, it appears as if he has regressed even farther to begin this season. Not only has Orr yet to record a point this season (something that is realistically not expected of him), but he also has yet to register a single shot on goal through 9 games. One would think that a player entrusted for creating energy and momentum would at least generate shots on goal. His calling card is being one of the leagues toughest heavyweights. Saying that, it’s strange that through the opening nine contests (nine pretty dopey Leaf games) the player who led the NHL in majors last season has only dropped the gloves once this year. Has it not reached the point where we need to seriously wonder (once again) why Carlyle continues to dress Orr?
Oddly enough, Carlyle mentioned on Monday what he thinks the Leafs need to work on in order to become successful:
I think at times we’re just not playing fast. We think we’re playing at a higher pace then we are. Just trying to reinforce to move the puck and move ourselves at a quicker pace. That’s what our team is built on speed, and right now we’re just not playing fast enough.
I could not agree with Carlyle more. The Leafs strength is speed and their ability to transition from defense to offense. However, if that is your teams identity why dress Orr (and eventually McLaren)? Also, why entrust your two slowest skaters with the all-important shift following a goal against? Early this season players such as David Broll, Troy Bodie, and Carter Ashton have all proven to be capable of providing more than Orr on the ice. Those players listed are all better in their own zone, just as competent on the forecheck and can keep up with the Leafs speed game. Orr is signed through next season, but his deficiencies last season are once again coming to the forefront this year. At 31 Orr is the oldest member of the Leafs, yet (Dion Phaneuf aside) he has the most physical duties. Moving forward I’m curious to see how Carlyle addresses the Orr situation.