The 2017-2018 season for the Toronto Maple Leafs has started and the early results are promising, but there is still some work to be done. After 5 games, the Maple Leafs’ record is 4-1 and what we have seen in this early stage of the season is both the best and worst this team has to offer.
The depth in scoring the Leafs’ have in their arsenal was well documented coming into the season. Leading the way has been wonder kid Auston Matthews with eight points, which includes two big overtime winning goals. The scoring attack keeps coming with all but Eric Fehr registering only a single point so far. It appears scoring won’t be a problem as the Maple Leafs have shown the insane ability to score in bunches. This was evident early in the games against the New York Rangers and Winnipeg Jets. The depth and talent on forward is matched by few teams in the NHL.
Where Coach Babcock will have to organize his troops is on the defensive side of the game. When a team scores almost 30 goals over 5 games, one would expect they would have won all 5 games but that was not the case. This young team still struggles with attention to detail on defense. Some of the blame can be placed on Frederik Andersen, but when a team allows a goal on a 5 on 3 power play, as was the case against the upstart New Jersey Devils, it does highlight a need to buckle down before the season kicks into high gear.
One change for tonight’s game to possibly address these issues will see Mitch Marner start the game on the fourth line, his line with Tyler Bozak and James Van Riemsdyk has struggled defensively to start the season. Babcock has shot across the bow to get this line going again. If this doesn’t help, maybe a larger more significant change needs to happen with either Bozak or JVR be it a benching or possibly a trade.
Another area of concern which is a bi-product of the defensive challenges are the 19 goals against. The Maple Leafs rank near the bottom of the conference and I do not expect the offense to dig the defense out of a hole each night. If this problem isn’t fixed fast, the season could be a challenge and the Maple Leafs may struggle getting back into the playoffs once games start to tighten up. Veteran players like Dominic Moore, Patrick Marleau and Ron Hainsey will need to lead the charge and mentor this young team to allow them to take the next step and really become the team all the experts predict is a real threat to challenge for tops in the division.
It is early and there is still some summer rust yet to shake off, but that can be said for any team this early in the season. Next game is tonight against the Washington Capitals, so the Maple Leafs will be looking to exact some early revenge against the team who eliminated them from the playoffs last spring. Washington can also score in bunches, testing the Maple Leafs’ defense early and often. Prediction: 4-3 Toronto, Matthews with one goal and an assist.