Let’s get some difficult truths out of the way before I comment on any silver linings that may exist with the Maple Leafs’ play since the calendar turned to 2022.
Let’s start with the biggest horrible truth, the goaltending. Goaltending has been ranked within the bottom 5 of the league for a while now, with the Maple Leafs coughing up at 3 or more goals in their last 6 games, not a winning recipe obviously. I mean neither of the two current Maple Leafs goaltenders have been able to buy a solid start in what feels like ages, the team around them has suffered accordingly. Did anyone catch the third goal against the Maple Leafs yesterday? Yikes that stunk didn’t it??
The next area that is an issue but was manageable at times was the defense. I mean it is obvious that this team has issues with boxing out the opposing players from in front of the net, which has led to rebounds being converted against, tip shots going in and this compounded by mental lapses by the forwards as well (Nylander has been uncharacteristically been the culprit of a few doozies as of late) and this is a recipe for disaster. The addition of the Russian Bear has helped, but the team still needs one more top tier stay at home defenseman to really see this group take shape to give this team the type of defense needed to win in the playoffs.
So queue up the anger, pitch forks on social media and local media……BUT……Here are some things to also consider when trying to asses this team more objectively.
For as bad as the Maple Leafs have played, the teams above them and around them points wise around the league really haven’t ran away with anything in the meantime. That tells me, that even though the Maple Leafs have been playing like crap, that the others haven’t been either which should still offer a glimmer hope for Leafs Nation.
Even with the Maple Leafs dropping some easy points as of late, they are only 3 points back of Tampa for second in the division, only find themselves 2 points back for fifth overall in the NHL, their Power Play still ranks first in the league, they still have a top 5 Penalty Kill, for some additional context context the Colorado Avalanche most people’s Stanley Cup favorite have given up 5/8 points to the Arizona Coyotes this season.
I mean even the division leaders the Florida Panthers have some serious areas of concerns as well, their penalty kill is ranked 15th and their power play is 10th in the league. Can you imagine the uproar if that was where the Leafs special teams ranked? This isn’t to provide excuses for the Maple Leafs, but context that good to great teams can struggle or have holes and in the NHL no team is perfect. The playoffs is as much about luck as it is about skill as seen by the Cinderella run the Montreal Canadiens had in last year’s playoffs.
For more positivity, with five games remaining against the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers a lot is still up for grabs in the division if the Maple Leafs can right the ship in the next 8 days as the league inches closer to the trade deadline. I wouldn’t be surprised if prior to the weekend at least one trade is completed with the hope it being the addition of a true 1B goaltender to take the net while Jack Campbell is still healing and who can push him when Campbell returns. Clearly Mrazek isn’t the fix, if GM Dubas can get out of the Nick Ritchie’s contract, something tells me he has a trick up his sleeve to relieve the team from Mrazek’s contract if it is determined by management that the team and player need to part ways.
Maybe what we can all take from this stretch of games is that yes the Maple Leafs have their issues, but they aren’t the only team to have them, they are just different from say Florida for example who are looking to improve both of their special teams prior to the playoffs.
The Maple Leafs are a good to great team, which has seen their goaltending and their defense go sideways and sometimes even comically sideways in the same game, but if management can shore up the goaltending ( won’t be an easy task, but isn’t impossible) and can bring in some fresh blood on defense this team can and will find its confidence again and we will see a better team and product on the ice.
The biggest silver lining before closing out this week’s blog is this, we know this team can score. They can do it in bunches when needed and sometimes against the league’s better teams do they seem to find that extra gear. We have seen with the eye test and analytically that when they are playing confidently they can and do beat the very best in the league.
So solidifying the goaltending between now and next Monday’s deadline needs to be imperative, as there is a true chance that this team can go for a run with Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and their linemate Michael Bunting each having career years, and an improved third line so it is my belief that the team can finally breakthrough even if it doesn’t feel like it today and more specifically after yesterday’s loss in the Heritage Classic.