Time for the Maple Leafs to fix disturbing trend


Even though the Toronto Maple Leafs have remained near the top of the Eastern Conference, the team does need to make adjustments ahead of a crucial stretch.

Sometimes it is easy to get carried away after a loss especially when the Toronto Maple Leafs have been one of the hottest teams in the league as of late. However, even though the Philadelphia Flyers have struggled recently, they did not take their foot off the gas pedal while the Leafs did.

While the Leafs were outshot 37-21 against the Flyers, the difference in high danger scoring chances was the difference in this game. Natural Stat Trick showsed that Toronto only generated six high danger scoring chances while Philadelphia had 11. So basically the Leafs struggled to keep up offensively especially when they got the lead late in the second.

The second period was the team’s worst in terms of possession with the Flyers owning a 68.75 corsi percentage and a 64 fenwick percentage. Once again Frederik Andersen was asked to stand on his head and it could have been a different if he didn’t.

Head coach Mike Babcock said after the game that they should have gotten points out of the game, well part of the reason was because Andersen gave them a chance. At the same time, the Leafs loss was necessary because it should be a wake up call to the players.

After the game Connor Brown was saying how the team feels like they are one and done in the offensive zone and that same sentinment was echoed by James van Riemsdyk in his postgame comments.

"It just feels like, in general, the games we’ve been playing have been more of a patient style of game and we’ve got to find a way to create offence in those games and create some more havoc at their net and have some things happen. I think it’s been kind of low-event sort of games and I think we can do some other stuff to be able to be a little bit more dynamic offensively."

So how do the Leafs reverse the trend of being hemmed in their zone too long and not generating sustained offensive pressure? It starts by addressing the parts of the team that have struggled.

While people continue to show their frustration with Roman Polak being in the lineup, it should not leave Jake Gardiner and Nikita Zaitsev off the hook for their recent struggles.

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Gardiner has regressed this season in comparison to last season to the point where he his possession stats have taken a serious hit and he is on pace to setting a career high in giveaways. He has turned the puck over 46 times in 32 games this season after setting a career high with 79 last season.

Part of that could be Gardiner starting more in the defensive zone at 54.5% which is a 10% increase from last season, but there has been some Unfortunately for the Leafs the struggles does not lie solely on Gardiner but also on his partner.

Zaitsev is usually a reliable defensive partner but like Gardiner, he has been plagued with the same problem; 41 giveaways this season and worse possession numbers at 46.9 corsi percentage and a 45.2 fenwick percentage.

This season Gardiner and Zaitsev have played 81.3% of the time together at even strength while last season they only played together 22.9% of the time. The main difference is that Morgan Rielly is playing with Ron Hainsey this season after Zaitsev played 50% of the time with him last season.

Do the Leafs try to make a change to put Andreas Borgman with Zaitsev and Polak/Carrick with Gardiner? That might not look like an appealing option but right now there are not many options outside of making a trade or calling up a defenceman and it would be tough to split up Rielly and Hainsey.

Upfront, the Leafs have had to do some line juggling with Auston Matthews out of the lineup, but even with him in the lineup, Babcock had the blender going. Part of the problem with the offence lately has been the amount of time the Leafs are spending in the defensive zone.

Team’s know that the best way to defend against the Leafs talented offence is to find a way to win puck battles in the Leafs zone. PDO is a strong indicator of whether team’s are too reliant on a high shooting percentage or save percentage and in Toronto’s case it is Andersen that they have been too reliant on.

Jonas Siegel wrote in the Athletic how the Leafs have been outshot 13 times in the last 17 games, with a possession rate of 47 per cent, but Andersen has been remarkable with a save percentage well over .950.

At that rate it is hard to expect Andersen to continue to play at that rate especially if the Leafs are not getting goal support.

It would help if players like William Nylander and Mitch Marner take the charge offensively with Matthews out of the lineup. So much has been made of the Leafs being able to survive without their best player, but how long until that suddenly changes if Matthews is out long term?

Siegel also points out that Nylander’s offensive struggles are only a part of the team’s problems upfront and one big issue could be the shutdown line.


Last season, Nazem Kadri had a breakout season with Leo Komarov and Connor Brown and it was expected to be better with Patrick Marleau on his wing. Now Marleau has been asked to play center at times with Matthews out of the lineup but that line has struggled recently.

It was pointed out that Komarov has struggled at both ends of the ice with only seven points in 32 games. Now the 30-year-old is not relied on to be an offensive force but his possession numbers have taken a serious hit like other Leafs players struggling right now to the point where his relative corsi percentage is -8.1 and his relative fenwick percentage is -5.9.

What that means is that with Komarov on the ice, the Leafs are allowing eight unblocked/six unblocked chances at even strength with the winger on the ice. With Komarov a UFA, the Leafs might be in a position where they have to think about life without him in the lineup.

It could be time to give Connor Brown a chance to play on Kadri’s wing or maybe promote Josh Leivo to that line to give it a spark. It is easy to point at the struggles of Marner and Nylander offensively as a reason why the Leafs are not generating enough chances but the only line that hasn’t had a big shakeup is Kadri’s line so maybe it’s something Babcock should consider.

Next: Impact of salary cap increase on the Leafs

What do you think about the Leafs recent play of late? Do they need to shake things up or stay the course? Let us know in the comments below.