Toronto Maple Leafs Adapt Game To Continue Success

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Auston Matthews
TORONTO, CANADA - OCTOBER 02: Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates during an NHL preseason game against the Montreal Canadiens at Air Canada Centre on October 2, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images) .
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Run And Gun – Life In The Fast Lane

Life as a Toronto Maple Leafs fan is a tough road. Expectations are always high and the team rarely lives up to the desire of the fans. Then came the savior from Scottsdale, Auston Matthews, and coach Mike Babcock. The Leafs began the 2017-18 campaign the talk of the town. Not just in Leafs fan circles, but throughout hockey. Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and the rest the Leafs were playing an exciting, fast-paced, creative game that had many hockey fans paying close attention. That team and the style of play was on display in their 8-1 dismantling of the Carolina Hurricanes this week. On any given night that exciting team can show. Or the chip and chase, protect the puck team will be on the ice. So, is this a Babcockian strategy or is this team just plain inconsistent? Let’s take a look.

Toronto Maple Leafs Adapt Game To Continue Success

The Leafs started the season on a tear. Playing with a craftiness and creativity, not to mention speed, they created scoring chances from all points of the ice. The leader in that charge is Auston Matthews. He slips through and around defenders like so may pylons before another highlight-worthy goal. His teammates Nylander, Marner, Nazem Kadri and the recently acquired Patrick Marleau pressed opposing defences and goalies into service. All lines contribute to the success of the offensive output.

Current points leader, the injured Matthews sits on top with 26 points, (26 games, 13 goals, and 13 assists.) His ability to draw defenders to create chances for others and find the net himself is an even split in numbers and playing style. He contributes every shift. James van Riemsdyk electrifies the offence and sits in second with 26 points (16 goals and 9 assists) in 34 games and is the stalwart in Matthews absence. Run and gun offence is rarely sustainable for large parts of a season. See the New York Islanders for reference. Seemingly Babcock is playing the long game and made the change to dump and chase, much to the chagrin of the fanbase.

Dump And Chase For Season Success

While not the prettiest game the chip and chase style that the Leafs play of late has been successful. They weather the injury to Matthews and continue to win games. Additionally, it looks like Babcock is using the injury as a springboard to giving his team the tools it needs to make a playoff run. Their record of 21-13-1 over 35 games is a testament to the team’s ability to modify their style and continue to win. They currently sit in second in the Atlantic behind the scorching hot Tampa Bay Lighting. With the ability to protect the puck when necessary as well as turning on speed and finesse the Leafs look destined for the playoffs.  With only two losing streaks of three games so far this season. Once in October and again last week. In each case, they bounced back with a decisive win. It was a hard fought 3-2 win against the San Jose Sharks in October and the recent 8-1 win versus the Hurricanes. It seems that losing does not sit well with this team at any level.

Stopping Power

Frederik Andersen is stopping the puck and shouldering the load well for the Leafs. His record is 18-10-0-1 with a .923 save percentage over 29 games played.  This leaves little time for back up Curtis McElhinney to get ice time. Why mess with a good thing when you’ve got it. However, if Andersen goes down with an injury it will be difficult for the Leafs to continue their winning ways.

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