Toronto Maple Leafs: Goaltending and Special Teams Costing Team


Going into the season the Toronto Maple Leafs were not strong in particular areas, but special teams and goaltending were the last two items that anyone would expect to be the problem so far this season.

Oct 26, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock motions during their game against the Arizona Coyotes at Air Canada Centre. The Coyotes beat the Maple Leafs 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

It was expected that the Toronto Maple Leafs were going to struggle in certain areas this season as Mike Babcock alluded when he was introduced as the new head coach. He said there would be pain in the process and even through eight games that pain is starting to sink in more and more.

The Leafs join teams like the Anaheim Ducks and the Columbus Blue Jackets who have struggled to get that second win on the season. The Leafs have scored 19 goals this season and haven given up 28, which does not come as much of a surprise.

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Out of the 19 goals scored this season for the Leafs two have come on the power play on 23 attempts, which translates to a success rate of 8.70 percent. When Babcock was with Detroit they were a relatively good power play team with players like Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Nicklas Lidstrom, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Holmstrom Johan Franzen. This is how Detroit did on the power play the past seven seasons.

2008-09 – 25.5 percent: Ranked No. 1 in the League

2009-10 – 19.22 percent: Ranked No. 9 in the League

2010-11 – 22.26 percent: Ranked No. 5 in the League

2011-12 – 16.11 percent: Ranked No. 22 in the League

2012-13 – 18.38 percent: Ranked No. 15 in the League

2013-14 – 17.73 percent: Ranked No. 18 in the League

2014-15 – 23.81 percent: Ranked No. 2 in the League

Feb 7, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward Tyler Bozak (42) congratulates Toronto Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel (81) on a goal against the Edmonton Oilers during the second period at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

During that stretch the most power play goals scored in a season was by Nyquist last season with 15 power play goals. Many players on Detroit were able to score 10 plus power play goals in a season. Now, while it is still early for the Leafs, the problem they will have with their power play this season is the lack of players who can produce on the power play. Over the same stretch as Detroit, the Leafs had only four players score 10 or more power play goals in a season. Phil Kessel did it twice in 2010-11 and 2011-12, Tyler Bozak had 12 last year and Mikhail Grabovski had 10 in 2010-11.

If the Leafs want to get better on the power play they will need players like James van Riemsdyk, Nazem Kadri, Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner, Dion Phaneuf, P.A. Parentau and even Joffrey Lupul to find ways to create success. If that area does not improve then the Leafs will continue to struggle to put together wins.

Oct 26, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Arizona Coyotes center Max Domi (16) skates with the puck as Toronto Maple Leafs cenetr Byron Froese (56) pressures him at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

While the power play has not been good for the Leafs, the penalty kill has also been an issue, something that Babcock talked about after their last game against the Arizona Coyotes. The team has a 71.9 percent penalty kill percentage, which is not good. The worst part is the fact that the team has allowed the nine goals against while on the penalty kill.

Where the team is struggling on the penalty kill has been at home where they boast a league worst 54.5 penalty kill percentage. The closest team to them are the San Jose Sharks with a 62.5 penalty kill percentage. So it’s obvious where the team is struggling, but how do they go about fixing it?

Feb 20, 2015; Raleigh, NC, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier (45) and goalie James Reimer (34) before the game against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena. The Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 2-1. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

As Rielly said the team could start putting more of an emphasis on shot blocking, at the moment they currently only have 101. Making it more difficult for the opposing team to get clean shots on net will make it easier on the goaltenders.

When the Leafs traded for Jonathan Bernier after losing game seven against the Boston Bruins it received mixed reviews because many believed that the issues with the Leafs was not related to goaltending. However, GM Dave Nonis made it clear that adding Bernier was an attempt to create competition and make the team stronger in net. Many were also wondering whether the Leafs were comfortable with James Reimer as the starting goaltender.

Neither Bernier or Reimer have been able to give the team the type of goaltending that it has needed to get a victory. It is tough to see the goaltenders struggle, especially after the past couple of seasons where they kept the team in games that they had no business being in. Right now the Leafs goaltending is sporting a combined 3.25 GAA, which is concerning because Reimer and Bernier combined for a 3.13 GAA last season.

Oct 3, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Antoine Bibeau (30) during the pre game warm up against the Detroit Red Wings at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The target for a team when it comes to combined GAA is around 2.50-2.75 GAA, especially for a team like the Leafs who are not going to score a lot of goals. However, the Leafs as a team are trying to make things easier for the goaltenders. They have 33 shots per game, which is good for second in the league, and are allowing 28.8 shots per game, which is an improvement on the 33.5 shots per game they allowed last season.

Although it is early, if the team can continue their effort at even strength and get things together on special teams then the goaltending should get back on track. This is where patience is necessary, especially those calling for Antoine Bibeau who is 21 years old and has only played 35 games at the AHL level.

Oct 3, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner (51) tries to protect the puck from Detroit Red Wings forward Tomas Nosek (83) at the Air Canada Centre. Detroit defeated Toronto 2-1. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

This season has been surprising when you consider the way the Ducks, Blue Jackets , Calgary Flames, and Pittsburgh Penguins have started. After 20 games or so the Leafs will get a better understanding of what needs to be fixed. Right now, though, it is clear that if the special teams and goaltending do not improve it will be hard for this team make as much progress as they would like.

Hopefully with Gardiner, Tyler Bozak and Nick Spaling coming back from injuries the team will be better defensively, but the players have to take it upon themselves to play better and they know that.

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