What has become an issue over the past month or so is the porous defense which has caused problems closing out games yet again this season. Some of these issues can be explained by having a rookie on the first two defensive pairings (Carrick & Zaitsev) but it doesn’t explain it all.
The defensive lapses have been caused in large part to lack of concentration and missing key defensive zone assignments. How many times in the past 5 to 10 games have we seen the open player either in front of the net for a tap in or in the slot score a goal uncontested? This applies to the full 5 man unit on the ice. There needs to be a commit from each player to the defensive side of the puck as there is on the offensive side, where on most nights the Maple Leafs are one of the most explosive offensive teams in the NHL.
What has also caused the Maple Leafs problems in the defensive zone has been their inability to simply clear the puck from their zone without an icing call being made. Many times in the game against Boston and New York last night, a simple chip play into the neutral zone to ease the pressure on them which would allow them to regroup isn’t made and the puck has stayed in their defensive zone than immediately in the net.
It is easy to blame Andersen, yes he hasn’t been the same goalie we saw in December and early January but not all the issues are his alone. Most nights, he has been left out to dry with the constant barrage of high quality scoring chances which can only leave shell shocked after 60 minutes.
Those are the problems, now what are the solutions to fix this. One has already been mentioned, making the patient and simple play of chipping the puck into the neutral zone this way they break up cycle and it allows the defense to get back to their positions and it can allow the team to make quick line changes if there is time to get fresh legs on the ice. Having players gassed after being held in the defensive zone surely doesn’t help when you are trying to generate any offense. It also eliminates mistakes made out of desperation due to exhaustion.
The other solution is make smarter passes, I can’t help myself when I see passes going to no one or losing possession because of a misread of a play or not seeing the open man. You don’t have these issues if the puck is on your stick and not on the other team’s stick. Jake Gardiner for all his gains in Corsi and points this season, continues to make these same mistakes as have Polak, Hunwick just to name a couple more offenders.
The positive in all this is that we have seen this team play some aggressive hard checking defense, this is the same team that recorded back to back shutouts not too long ago. So it is possible, and more coaching and attention I am sure is being placed on correcting these teachable mistakes.
Tonight is another opportunity to fix these issues as they play the Dallas Stars on the back end of a back to back. Let’s see which team hits the ice tonight, will it be the one leaking goals or will it be the one that recorded back to back shut outs. Either way, we are promised an exciting game! Go Leafs Go!
Video Courtesy of Toronto Maple Leafs