Maple Leafs’ Overtime Struggles

Overtime and the shootout. Those should be the two most frightening words for fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

It was clear that the Leafs struggled with overtime, but I didn’t realize just how bad it was. The Leafs have the most overtime losses in the NHL (13). That includes losses in both overtime and the shootout. So why do they always lose when the game goes to extra time?

They’ve got great players in Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner as well as a solid goaltender in Frederik Andersen. On paper, the Leafs shouldn’t be this bad. So it’s time to get to the bottom of the Leafs’ overtime and shootout struggles.

Overtime Isn’t the Problem

Overtime comes first so it makes sense to start here. Surprisingly, the Leafs aren’t that bad in overtime. The Leafs have played 19 games that have gone to overtime or the shootout with 11 games ending in overtime. In regards to overtime, the Leafs are average compared to the rest of the NHL.

Nazem Kadri, Toronto Maple Leafs, NHL
Nazem Kadri has been relied on in big situations so far this season. (Amy Irvin/The Hockey Writers)

With goals for and against in overtime, the Leafs are league average in both. The Leafs are dead-center in the NHL with five goals scored in overtime and six goals against. This simply means the Leafs have won about half of their games in overtime. This could, and probably should, be better than it is when looking at all the games the Leafs blew a multi-goal lead and lost in overtime.

The other aspect of overtime is player usage. Since it’s a five-minute period of 3-on-3, it makes the choice of players even more important. The logical thing to do is just put out your best and fastest players to try to end the game quickly. Mike Babcock’s overtime player choice has been at times questionable, to say the least.

Several times Babcock has started overtime with Nazem Kadri and Leo Komarov on the ice. They have primarily been used as a shutdown line this season so it’s strange that they’d be his first choice for overtime. Although he’s been great on the penalty kill, Komarov just isn’t suited for 3-on-3 overtime. He doesn’t have the speed or skill to take advantage of the open ice.

Kadri, however, has taken full advantage of his ice-time in overtime with two of the Leafs’ five overtime goals. It’s a goal like this video below that has made Kadri a reasonable choice for overtime.

The other three overtime goals have come from Jake Gardiner, with two, and one goal for Matthews.

So the Leafs haven’t been great in overtime, but they haven’t been bad enough to really call for alarm. The shootout is a different story…

Time to Worry About Shootouts

This is where things become worrisome. Now to start, the shootout is something that isn’t truly representative of hockey as a team sport and being good at shootouts doesn’t mean a team is solid. Look no further than the Washington Capitals’ shootout record of one win in six games. The problem is that losing in the shootout eventually adds up in lost points.

When looking at the Leafs shooters, it’s clear that it all rests on Marner and Matthews.

Their records aren’t great, but it’s reliable enough for the shootout. The problem seems to come from the third Leafs shooter as Marner and Matthews tend to go first. The strange thing when looking at the Leafs’ shootout results is that William Nylander has only gone once. You’d think putting Nylander in the shootout along with Marner and Matthews should give the Leafs the best possible chance at winning.

Their lack of results have shown with the Leafs having the third worst shooting percentage in the shootout with just 20 percent. And it’s not like they haven’t had plenty of chances. They’re sixth in the NHL with 25 shots in the shootout. The problem seems to be the choice of shooters.

The other issue, and the most glaring, is Andersen. He can single-handedly get the Leafs into overtime, but he cannot be relied on during the shootout.

Toronto Maple Leafs, Frederik Andersen, NHL
Frederik Andersen got back to his old self making 38 saves against the Blues. (Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports)

This season, Andersen has played seven games in the shootout and has faced 20 shots, which is tied for fourth most shootout shots against in the NHL. Unfortunately, Andersen has never had much luck in the shootout. He’s only stopped 10 of the 20 shots this season and has a disappointing .500 save percentage. Andersen has the Leafs’ only shootout win in the seven games he’s played in the shootout.

Last season with the Anaheim Ducks was no different for Andersen. He only won one of four shootouts and had a .500 save percentage on 12 shots. In 2014-15, he had a better time in the shootout with six wins in 10 shootouts and a .656 save percentage on 32 shots.

The Leafs have the sixth worst save percentage in the NHL with a .522 save percentage, which is almost entirely based on Andersen. The Leafs can’t afford to let a game go to overtime with how bad they are. The problem is that they’ve gone to the shootout eight times this season, which is tied for the second most in the NHL.

The Leafs have the most overtime losses, which includes the shootout, in the NHL with most of those being the result of their poor performance in the shootout. They also have the most shootout losses in the NHL with seven. Letting games go to overtime has cost the Leafs too many points that are now becoming more and more valuable as the playoff race begins.