We have hit the quarter mark of the 2017/2018 NHL season and it has been a roller coaster for the Maple Leafs and Leafs Nation. The young and dynamic Maple Leafs flew out of the gates on the backs of their potent offence and speed. The early results saw the Maple Leafs as Vegas Odds’ favorites to win the Stanley Cup.
Players like Auston Matthews, Morgan Rielly, Nazem Kadri Mitch Marner and Zach Hyman continued to amaze early. Each is on pace to match or best their point totals from a season before and Frederik Andersen has single handedly carried his troops to victory by being a brick wall in net over the past quarter of the season.
The additions of Ron Hainsey, Patrick Marleau and Andreas Borgman have been easily some of the wisest decisions the management team made over the summer. Each of these additions has been noticeable in their immediate impact on the ice and each has been relied upon to take on more responsibility as some of the holdovers from last season have stumbled early like Tyler Bozak, James Van Riemsdyk, Jake Gardiner and Leo Komarov.
Now that is the positive, here are some of lows at the quarter season mark. Undisciplined play, slow starts to games, mental lapses in the defensive end and overall lack of compete in games pose long term issues.
It is this very trend of late that is concerning, this reminiscent of the days of Phaneuf and Kessel led teams that would play a brand of hockey that wasn’t sustainable and each season saw them fall out of the playoff picture come January/February.
No team, no matter how skilled can think they can come out flat for one or two periods, have the game dictated to them and win. Maybe the early results masked some of these deficiencies but lately this type of play has caught up with the Maple Leafs and they are lucky to be where they are in the standings. If it weren’t for great goal tending, they would be facing an uphill battle to get into playoffs this season.
All’s not lost though, they have the right coach in Mike Babcock and talent to turn this around. Most of the issues revolve around the mental part of the game. Starting games on time, not taking stupid penalties and getting back to the aggressive style of play that the team was playing with a great level of success can cure a lot of the inconsistency issues we have seen of late from the Maple Leafs.
What makes this team so full of hope and frustrating for management and fans alike is that for the first time in ages the answers to what ails this team are now in the player’s control. They have the players in place and when they play their aggressive style few teams have the ability to match the talent nor offense this team can produce. The Maple Leafs control their own destiny, they know what they can be which is what we saw at the start of the season. Simple mental adjustments to how they execute the coach’s game plan will have them back on track, and into a long playoff drive come April.