What’s Wrong in Leaf Land?

A lot of fans have had a lot to say about what’s wrong in Toronto with the recent bad play. Some citing bad defensive miscues by our defencemen, which a valid point. Some booing veteran blueliner Jake Gardiner for a couple of costly giveaways. While other calling for coach Mike Babcock’s head, Auston Matthews to be traded as well as William Nylander. I think those watching games have missed the real things the Leafs have missed during the last 16 games. Some may disagree with my thoughts but I think if you take a look at the evidence I provide, you will notice what I’m saying is quite true.

Here are the 4 points I will discuss in detail:

  1. The pressure of playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs, while struggling to score and to win.
  2. Team Defensive Play
  3. The Powerplay
  4. More Penalties, Less 5 vs 5

Let’s begin the discussion.

  1. More Penalties, Less 5 vs 5

The Leafs are top 5 in puck possession in the NHL 5 vs 5 and are 2nd in the league in Even Strength goals (only behind the Tampa Bay Lightning). The team combined from October to the end of December for 208 minor penalty minutes the least penalized team in the league which is about 2.5 minors a game. Since January 3rd 2019 the Leafs have been penalized for 50 minutes or 25 penalties which is 3.1 minors a game, which is another full penalty over their average.  While they still sit top 5 in the league in those even strength categories, The Leafs powerplay which was top 5 has dropped off significantly while getting more opportunities. Teams are averaging 7.1 minutes or 3.6 penalties against the Leafs per game. Leaving the Leafs Powerplay declining and getting more opportunities and taking away from their strong even strength game. To put this in perspective let me tell you this. An NHL game is comprised of 60 minutes, throughout 3 periods. According to the Leafs top 5 possession numbers, they control the puck for 50.9% of the game 5 vs 5. So let’s say 30 minutes a game. Now minus 6 minutes in penalties game, so 24 minutes. Then 7 minutes of powerplay per game, so 17 minutes. So 17 minutes of offensive time to use on the best skill. Oh and one more thing the Leafs Penalty kill sits about 10th so top 10,  so they usually use the full 2 minutes.

  1. Team Defensive Play

Some have been easy to blame Jake Gardiner for his giveaways and yes he has made a few glaring giveaways that have lead to goals. But sometimes I think Leaf fans walk around turning blind eyes to their favorite players or to the stars on the team and finding one player to really take all the frustration out on.

Let’s talk about Mitch Marner (my favorite), Auston Matthews, John Tavares, William Nylander, Morgan Rielly, Nikita Zaitsev, Shall I mention more names? Let’s stop looking at the game as a fan of the Leafs and look at it as a fan of the game. You’ll start to notice a lot more stuff goes on in a game than just one giveaway

Marner at times gets to the opposing blueline and instead of dumping it in, he wants to stickhandle and be too fancy.

Auston Matthews, known for his 200ft hockey has looked lost and soft in the defensive. His backchecking and faceoffs have been down big time. He just looks all out of sorts.

John Tavares is known for his excellent defensive game and his ability to not only score but to shut down opponents top players has been a shadow of himself defensively in the last 10 games. Being a minus player on most nights, missing assignments, losing draws. All big parts of his game.

William Nylander not known to be the best defensive player but since being coached by Babcock at least being known for backchecking and fewer giveaways.

Morgan Rielly`s season has been characterized by good defence and great offense. Being the Number 1 defencemen the Leafs have expected him to be for a long time. But the last 10 games have been a turnover safari for him.

Nikita Zaitsev, the rookie we all fell in love with as Leaf fans have turned into a walking nightmare. Consistently turning the puck over all over the ice. Bad positioning and reckless play.

  1. The Powerplay

A whopping 2 for 17. Matthews has scored 1 goal in 9 games. Marner has 1 goal and there you have it. It went from a threat to non-existent. Predictable and then the 2nd unit is a real downgrade. Kadri used to be a focal point now he’s a distraction. This doesn’t click it’s like wasting your best skill (5 vs 5), might as well just take 2 minutes off the clock.

  1. The pressure of playing in Toronto, when not scoring or winning

Gary Roberts spoke to the media this last week and discussed the pressures of playing for Toronto, while not scoring or winning games. He discussed how when playing for Toronto the whole world rests on your shoulders. If you don’t perform then the wrath of Leaf Nation comes down on you.

You can check out the full interview here:

But what Roberts says is true, James Reimer and wife April Reimer learned it in a disgusting fashion. When you play for Toronto and don’t score or win you feel the pressure to do more, which takes you away from your game. This is what Auston Matthews is dealing with 1 goal in 9 and the team is struggling. Matthews starts missing defensive assignments and trying to pick corners on shots, eventually, he’s so far away from the game he plays he almost looks like he’s just floating. It’s less about the offence and more about the pressure you here from the media constantly and the fans or should I call them “Keyboard Coaches/General Managers” who think they know more than every coach, GM. The media constantly asking or analyzing your every goal, lack of goals, even your every motion on the ice. This happens everywhere don’t get me wrong but in Toronto, it’s blown up and so extreme. The pressure playing in Toronto, Edmonton and Montreal are almost like no other. Say what you will but the impact of this on a player, let alone a young player is huge.

These are the 4 reasons why I think the Leafs have struggled so heavily. Hit me up if you want to chat about it.  Always looking to talk.

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