The Toronto Maple Leafs are in their own heads

The Toronto Maple Leafs Fixated on the Wrong Things?

In the midst of a crazy time, the Toronto Maple Leafs find themselves fixated on the wrong aspects of their game. As fans, we’ll have to navigate this challenging period together, relying on our intellect and savoir faire.

At first glance, the NHL standings may not indicate that there’s much wrong with the Leafs. They’re just two points behind the Panthers for the last automatic playoff spot in the Atlantic Division, with games in hand. However, a closer look reveals a concerning statistic: Toronto has only five wins in regulation, tied with Chicago, Montreal, and Seattle for the fewest in the entire league. When a team finds itself in the same boat as these struggling teams, something is definitely amiss.

While the Leafs have managed to stay in the playoff race with wins in overtime and shootouts, relying on these gimmicks is not a sign of a healthy overall team. The Leafs are experiencing issues in various areas, with strange clanking noises, leaks, and warning lights all over the dashboard.

In truth, the Leafs aren’t excelling in any particular aspect of the game right now. They rank 14th in goals per game, 12th in goals against per game, 12th on the power play, and a disappointing 21st on the penalty kill. Their underlying metrics also fail to impress, with a 20th ranking in both attempts-share and expected-goals share. It’s clear that the Leafs are struggling to perform at even strength.

The main problem lies in the team’s defense, a long-standing issue for the Leafs. Supporters may argue that the team is adjusting to a new system, with the top-six forwards and bottom-six forwards playing different styles. However, the Leafs’ blue line is ill-equipped to handle either approach, if that is indeed their intention.

The top defensive pairing of Morgan “Rag It” Rielly and TJ Brodie is simply not up to par for a team with aspirations of winning the Stanley Cup. They have been consistently exposed at even strength, despite playing alongside the talented Auston Matthews. The Leafs are conceding numerous chances off the rush because their defensemen struggle to shut down opportunities before they materialize.

The team’s overall lack of mobility on defense is a significant concern. John Klingberg has been sidelined for the season due to injury, and Mark Giordano and Jake McCabe are also slow-footed. The Leafs’ pursuit of Nikita Zadorov and interest in Chris Tanev highlight their desperate need for a defensive overhaul. Zadorov, while not the solution, would have brought chaotic play to the team, while Tanev could have provided some much-needed puck-moving ability.

The bottom two lines have also failed to make a significant impact. While David Kampf’s line can be excused for being defensively-minded, the third line of Max Domi, Calle Jarnkrok, and Nicholas Robertson has been largely ineffective. It’s unclear what the Leafs expect from this line.

Despite these struggles, the Leafs have managed to stay competitive largely due to the performances of their star forwards. William Nylander, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and John Tavares have consistently delivered and bailed out the team in overtime and shootouts. However, their efforts alone may not be enough to satisfy fans come playoff time.

The Leafs have emphasized playing a playoff-style game during the regular season, but they must first secure a playoff berth. Additionally, the team’s identity crisis is evident, with a desire to play fast and skilled while also being gritty and hard to play against. Trying to be everything often leads to being nothing, and the Leafs seem to be caught in this dilemma.

As the season progresses, it’s clear that the Leafs must address their defensive shortcomings and establish a clear identity. Without an overhaul on the blue line and a cohesive game plan, their playoff aspirations may remain out of reach. It’s time for the Leafs to reevaluate their priorities and focus on the right areas to achieve success.

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