The 2019-20 Toronto Maple Leafs turnaround is just around the corner. October was not kind to them, but there are many reasons for the team and its fans to have a little more positivity now that it’s over. October saw three back-to-backs as opposed to only two in November. There will be only two in December too. The Maple Leafs also played three games in four nights twice in October, but will only face that once in November and once again in December.
2019-20 Toronto Maple Leafs Turnaround Coming Soon
It’s not just an easier schedule in terms of how many games are played in short succession. The Maple Leafs have many reasons to think things will turnaround in November.
The Maple Leafs played the Washington Capitals twice in October, the Boston Bruins twice, the Tampa Bay Lightning, Stanley Cup champs the St. Louis Blues, and the Montreal Canadiens twice. Those games against the Canadiens seem to always be close no matter how good each team is. Toronto was 1-6-2 in those games.
If the Maple Leafs want to be taken seriously as a Stanley Cup contender, they need to learn how to beat those teams. They’ll have to go through at least one of those teams, to reach the Stanley Cup Finals. It’s not unreasonable at all to think they could play all four rounds against the teams they fell to in October. Before thinking too much about who the Maple Leafs might play in the playoffs, they need to qualify for them first. That means they need to win more than they’ve been winning.
An Easier November
November’s schedule may be just what the Maple Leafs need to get back on track. There is one game against the Bruins in November and a couple against the Vegas Golden Knights, but it’s generally against easier opponents, starting last night against the Philadelphia Flyers whom they defeated 4-3 in a shootout.
They do have a six-game road trip that takes them through Vegas and Arizona. Road trips can help teams build chemistry, especially teams with new players… like Toronto. Getting away from cold Toronto in late November may be seen as a boon too.
Power Play Breakout
It’s not just an easier schedule the Maple Leafs can rely on to improve their standing. The schedule will get difficult again eventually. The Maple Leafs need to be better, and the power-play is one area that needs help.
The Maple Leafs have scored nine times in 46 power-play opportunities. They should improve upon that. Paul McFarland is in his first year with Toronto. He helped Florida Panthers to the second-best power play in the league last year. Some of that has got to start rubbing off in Toronto where the offensive talent is among the best in the NHL. If the Maple Leafs are going to improve, it starts with the power play. They were one for eight against the Capitals. Scoring on one of those other seven chances probably would have won the game for the Maple Leafs.
It will take time for McFarland to get used to his new players, and for them to get used to him. The Maple Leafs may have only scored once in eight chances against the Capitals, but they looked dangerous at times.
Return Of The Injured
The Maple Leafs lost John Tavares in October but he will be back in the lineup soon. Tavares is not only a prolific goalscorer. His presence in the lineup makes it easier for other players both on his line and on other lines. There will be less focus on Mitch Marner if players are also worried about Tavares. The Auston Matthews line will have an easier time against opponents’ lesser lines as well. During Tavares’ absence, Matthews was typically facing the other team’s best defensive group. With Tavares returning, teams will need to decide which line to utilize their best players to stop them.
The Maple Leafs have gone 2-2-2 without Tavares in October.
Zach Hyman is also set to return any day now. He’s been considered a spark plug on the Tavares line. If he can make that line even more dangerous, it will again help the Matthews’ line. Having two (or more) lines that can score at any time is how the Maple Leafs are built.
It’s worth digging into the idea of depth scoring a little more. Just how important players like Tavares and Hyman are to the team can’t be overstated. The Maple Leafs are built around offence. They don’t have a shutdown defender or a team defence that consistently prevents goals. Frederik Andersen can get hot and steal a game here and there, but the real philosophy isn’t ‘have a stellar defence’, it’s ‘outscore your opponent’.
The Maple Leafs aren’t going to win many games 1-0 or 2-1. Every game so far this season has seen a minimum of five goals. They’re going to allow goals. They need to score them in bunches to win. That’s easier said than done when key offensive players are out of the lineup. Without three, or even four, lines chipping-in consistently, the Maple Leafs will struggle. Hyman’s return improves the Maple Leafs’ top line. It also drops Trevor Moore to the fourth line, which will improve that line as well.
With a full lineup, including Travis Dermott who recently returned to action, the Maple Leafs can start playing up to expectations.
Mike Babcock and Kyle Dubas
There’s one more interesting note to add to the concept of the Maple Leafs being offence driven. Mike Babcock may not be on the same page as Kyle Dubas. We’ve seen some evidence of it with the strange treatment of Jason Spezza. Dubas brought Spezza in to make the fourth line a little more talented, a little more dangerous.
Babcock seems to have other ideas. He has a more traditional fourth line in mind. One that is tougher to play against and can eat minutes, probably cycling the puck and makes it generally unpleasant for the other team. The players Dubas has given Babcock aren’t built for that. Spezza isn’t. Moore isn’t really. Dmytro Timashov isn’t.
2019-20 Toronto Maple Leafs Defence vs Offence
It’s a coach’s job to preach defence. Defence wins championships, right? Well, Dubas has a different idea. Championships are won with skill, and in hockey, skill usually doesn’t translate well to good defence.
That’s not to say that Dubas isn’t right, or that Babcock is wrong. It does add an interesting element and if the Maple Leafs don’t start winning, and soon, the relationship between Babcock and Dubas is going to go further under the microscope.
The best thing for everyone is for the Toronto Maple Leafs turnaround to start now.