Toronto Maple Leafs need Nikita Zaitsev to return to last season’s form

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 7: Nikita Zaitsev
TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 7: Nikita Zaitsev /

The Toronto Maple Leafs continue to battle the Boston Bruins for second in the Atlantic Division and need Nikita Zaitsev to turn his game around.

Despite picking up points in consecutive games, the Toronto Maple Leafs wish they had come away with two wins during their road trip through Florida.

It was a tough match against the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Buds were probably lucky to pick up anything, but against the Florida Panthers, they played well enough to get the extra point.

However, it wasn’t meant to be, partly because of a poor decision by Nikita Zaitsev in overtime which led to Jared McCann‘s game-winning goal as the Panthers triumphed 3-2.

That was not the only time the 26-year-old was burned, as Jonathan Huberdeau victimized him on the first goal. Zaitsev was on the ice for all three goals against while playing 24:21, which was the most among Leafs skaters.

Whatever struggles Zaitsev is going through, Mike Babcock is not sheltering him from it and that is part of the problem. Since returning from his foot injury, the Russian defender has been on the ice for the most goals against.

He is also among the worst defencemen at even strength in terms of possession, ahead of Ron Hainsey and Roman Polak.

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Now there are people showing concern about Zaitsev having another six seasons on the contract he signed this past offseason. At the time it looked like a bargain deal, but this season he has struggled to regain his form from last season.

Part of it might be the fact Zaitsev was not paired with Jake Gardiner for the entire season last year and maybe that change has been tough for him to adjust to. Both players were better away from each other in possession and goals against.

It the Leafs cannot get Zaitsev back on track in time before the playoffs, it will put more pressure on the offence to carry the defence. So far it has not been a major issue for the team, but if he has another performance like he did on Tuesday night, it will be a tough road ahead.

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What did you think about Zaitsev’s performances of late? Is there a cause for concern or should the Leafs remain patient with him? Let us know in the comments.