For the Toronto Maple Leafs losing is familiar. Let’s put aside their history for a moment. Let’s ignore the Harold Ballard years, the Wayne Gretzky high stick, and the Game 7 debacle. This season’s early stretch of futility, especially on offence, is still eerily familiar.
Toronto Maple Leafs Losing Is Not New And Not A Concern
Last season, the Maple Leafs stormed to a 6-1 record. They scored 34 goals in that time. This season the Maple Leafs stormed to a 6-1 record scoring 33 goals along the way.
Last season, the Maple Leafs went 2-6 after that 6-1 start and were an 8-7 team on November 4th. The Maple Leafs are evening up their record this year as well, having lost four of their past six games. They’re gone from 6-1 to 8-5.
The goals dried up last year too, not as much perhaps as this year, but that hot start quickly simmered down. That’s what parity in the NHL looks like. It’s difficult to dominate other teams night in and night out. The difference in skill is not big enough for that.
A Record 105 Points
The Maple Leafs went from a winning percentage of .857 to .533 in two weeks last season. There were doubts, and disappointment, but in the end, the team set a franchise record for most points in a single season with 105.
The reasons the team has lost recently aren’t the same as last season. Last season Frederik Andersen was his usual October self, that didn’t help. This year, Andersen seems to have shaken that bug. This year, the Maple Leafs are having trouble scoring, and scoring at home especially. That’s concerning at first glace. They were supposed to be a juggernaut on offence. Now it feels like every game is a struggle to simply avoid getting shutout — which they failed at once already.
Where Are The Goals?
Some of the answers are easy. The Maple Leafs aren’t scoring like they were expected to because they’re missing personnel. William Nylander still hasn’t signed. Auston Matthews is out with a shoulder injury. Those are a couple of big names. Although the scoring woes began when Matthews was still in the lineup.
Some of the issues are systemic. The Maple Leafs love the stretch pass, and when it works it looks great. It can create breakaways and high percentage chances — but its success rate is low. They look to be moving away from that as their go-to zone exit strategy. They are more focused on controlled exits. That’s going to help in the long run, even if they struggle a bit with it now.
Much of the problem is getting used to the system. Getting used to playing hockey three or four times a week again. John Tavares commented that the Maple Leafs play a different system than the New York Islanders. He’s got to adjust. There are other new players that the Maple Leafs are depending on to provide secondary scoring, there’s an adjustment period for them as well.
Then there’s good old puck luck. The Maple Leafs deserved more than one goal against the Dallas Stars last Thursday night.
Winning six out of seven games shouldn’t be expected from any team. Losing four of six shouldn’t be expected from Toronto. There is a middle ground in there. One that the Maple Leafs will start playing on. They won’t score seven goals a game very often, but they won’t be entering the third with no goals very often either.
The depth players will start scoring goals. Nazem Kadri has three in four games after having none in the first nine. Andreas Johnsson, Josh Leivo, and Tyler Ennis will start scoring goals or be replaced with players that can. Trevor Moore was called up and may play Saturday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins. If he does it will be his first NHL game and he’ll be replacing one of these three players.
Matthews will return sometime in December and will hopefully bring Nylander with him, or maybe a player to be named later. Patrick Marleau will improve, although one of these seasons age will have to catch up to him.
The Maple Leafs may not get to 105 points again this year, although a betting man may say otherwise.
Six Points Out Of Ten
Mike Babcock is a fan of five-game segments. Expecting to get six points in each of those segments. The Maple Leafs need only to win one of the next two games to meet Babcock’s point goal over the first 15 games of the season. Then they get on the road for four of the next five. The Maple Leafs are 5-0 on the road this season. A long road trip far away from Toronto may be exactly what this team needs.
Losing Is Not New, But Winning Expectations Are
Seasons where Toronto is expected to win are few and far between. This year they’re not only expected to win, but they’re also expected to do well in the playoffs. Losing games at home while struggling to score is scary, it’s true. But the Maple Leafs are inundated with talent. Scoring is not going to be a long-term concern.
What should be taken as a positive in these recent games is the goals against and the shots against. The Maple Leafs are learning to play defence. Dallas had only 19 shots on net last Thursday.
There’s still a lot of room to grow in that area to be sure. But if the team is going to have success in the playoffs, they need to worry about how to keep the puck out of their own net now. Maybe the goals will dry up as they find a balance. Maybe they will see some loses, ugly ones at home. And missing key players only exacerbates that.
The Maple Leafs are fine. The goals will come. The winning will come. Just like they did last year. The sooner the better if they want to win the division.
Worrying about the division title can wait for a couple months. For now, the goal is to get used to playing the system, get great at it. They may lose a few in the process, but it’s better to lose in October and November than April and May.
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