Maple Leafs singing the Blues after another tough loss

TORONTO,ON - JANUARY 16: Brayden Schenn
TORONTO,ON - JANUARY 16: Brayden Schenn /

The Toronto Maple Leafs let another game slip away late in the third period as the St. Louis Blues walk come away with the overtime winner but it speaks to a much bigger problem with the team.

It has been a frustrating start to 2018 for the Toronto Maple Leafs and their most recent 2-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues, with Vince Dunn scoring in overtime to complete the comeback.

This was the fourth time in the last five games that the Leafs have gone to overtime or shootout and over that span Toronto has a 2-1-2 record. The tough part about this stretch is the lack of scoring with the Leafs only scoring more than two goals once.

The Leafs got a taste of how scoring gets tougher in the playoffs no matter how talented a team. the challenge is overcoming that.

Against the Blues, the Leafs had a chance to show they could go head-to-head with a Stanley Cup contender and came close. They were fortunate to get strong goaltending from Frederik Andersen because St. Louis held the advantage in play at even strength.

“We’re still a ways away from where we think we can be and where we want to be,” said Auston Matthews to the media postgame. “I think just structure-wise we can be better and a lot smarter, making sure that we’ve got guys above the puck, above their guys, and not giving up too many odd-man rushes.”

Sportsnet‘s Chris Johnston points out that the Leafs are fortunate to be in the Atlantic Division, because they have been able to sit in a comfortable playoff position. They have not looked like the same team that started the season near the top of scoring in the league especially at even strength.

Connor Brown scored the lone goal for the Leafs shorthanded and while most of the talk has been on team’s inability to hold a lead late in the game, their offensive struggles should be the focus of the discussion.

How much has the offence struggled?

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Since Dec. 1, the Toronto Maple Leafs have scored 35 goals at even strength, eight on the powerplay and three shorthanded in 19 games. That has them 28th in league with 46 goals scored (2.5 goals for per game), only the Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings and the Arizona Coyotes have less than them.

During that same stretch, the Leafs have allowed 49 goals against (2.72 goals against per game) which has kept them afloat. How much of a struggle has it been offensively?

In their first two months of the season the Leafs scored 91 goals (74 at even strength, and 17 on the power play) and 77 goals against over 26 games. That averages out to 3.5 GF per game, and 2.96 GA per game, a major decline in production.

It should also be noted that while the Leafs have cooled off, the Boston Bruins have done the exact opposite scoring 72 goals (57 at even strength, 14 on the powerplay, and one shorthanded) which is the best in the league.

Players that need to step up their production

Over that 19 game stretch the Leafs have only three players have scored five goals or more. James van Riemsdyk leads the way with seven, Matthews comes second with six (in only 13 games) and Patrick Marleau with five.

The goal scoring after that drops off to the point where Kasperi Kapanen‘s two goals over the three games he played in December are good for ninth on the team in scoring over the last 19 games.

That is more goals than Leo Komarov, and Nazem Kadri who played significant minutes on the Leafs and suffering through tough scoring slumps. Simply put the lack of scoring depth is hurting the Leafs as the burden is being put on certain players to keep the team afloat while other players.

The Leafs are not generating a lot of shot attempts at even strength and it was recently pointed out by Tyler Dellow of The Athletic that the Leafs were sitting below 50 per cent possession. With the investment the team made in analytics it is tough to grasp how they have not attempted to solve the issue.

James Mirtle wrote postgame that it looks like the Toronto Maple Leafs are not playing as aggressive right now and it is having a tough time getting going offensively. He also mentions that the blown leads are just a small part of a bigger problem.

"Let’s take this down to just the last eight games, where they’re winless outside of shootouts. Over that span, score-adjusted, they’ve put up just 45 per cent of the shots at 5-on-5. They’ve been leading for just 41 minutes — second last in the NHL (hello Edmonton) — which is only 8 per cent of play.–Mirtle on the Leafs less than inspiring effort at even strength."

Eventually Mike Babcock will realize that it is not just the Leafs inability to close out games, rather it is a team that was once the most dangerous scoring threats every night, becoming a passive team with the puck and a more nervous one without it.

Maybe a player like Brown deserves a bump in the lineup, move William Nylander with Kadri and Marleau to get things going offensively. Something will need to change but at this point Babcock has not suggested that it will so all that Leafs fans will have to do is wait and hope that the players can get it together.

Next: ToT Podcast ft. Chris Johnston on Leafs' outlook after bye week

What do you think the Toronto Maple Leafs should do to turn things around offensively? Let us know in the comments below.