The Toronto Maple Leafs’ playoff play-in series is upon us and there are still some burning questions surrounding the team coming in from Leafs Nation. As the team continues their series against the Columbus Blue Jackets, we’ll be diving into some playoff talk with the latest set of mail-in questions.
With that said, I won’t pretend to be able to read minds or see into a crystal ball, but I will do what I can – based on my knowledge of the game and the Maple Leafs – to answer some of the recent questions sent in by fans of the hockey club.
How will they play in the rough, no whistle playoffs?
Early observations of the 2020 postseason is showing that there will be a number of penalties called throughout playoffs. That said, the Maple Leafs and Blue Jackets had just three penalties called in their Game 1 matchup – which was a seemingly clean, physical game.
The way I look at it is that the Maple Leafs can’t put themselves in a position to lose based on calls made or the lack of calls in any given game. Take advantage of the opportunities when you get them, but otherwise find ways of getting it done five-on-five.
Look, I’m just as guilty as anyone when it comes to criticizing officiating both in the regular season and during past playoff runs, but the fact is no team should go into a game expecting calls to get made. It’s the beauty of a game that still has some extent of human error involved in its officiating.
The whistles will be there. The power play opportunities will be there. But the Maple Leafs need to get it done in all situations, otherwise this is going to be another short-lived playoff push by the boys in blue.
Will Freddie finally win a Game 7?
Fortunately, there won’t be a Game 7 at least for the first little bit of these playoffs. That said, I think the question here is more whether or not Frederik Andersen will be able to win an elimination game. My answer is simple. There is no doubt in my mind.
In past years, we have to remember that Andersen play 60-plus games during the regular season. He was leaned on heavily in regular season play – often among the top five goalies in the league in shots against – and was required to have big games again during playoffs.
By the time Game 7 rolled around in past years, whether it was fatigue or just knowledge of where to put the puck by the other teams, Andersen just couldn’t be the go-to guy for the Maple Leafs. That said, he has shown that he can dial in for big games. Even in Game 1 against the Blue Jackets, he finished with a .971 save percentage on over 30 shots again and the Blue Jackets had some high-quality scoring opportunities.
He can’t be the only guy for the Maple Leafs. Hung out to dry, he’s going to leave holes in the wall and teams are going to score. Too often the Maple Leafs are pinned in their own end and give up too many chances. So should the question be – will Freddie win an elimination game? Or should it be more like – can the Maple Leafs finally win an elimination game?
What will it take for the Leafs to be the next Canadian team to win the Stanley Cup?
That’s a tough question Jeffrey, but a good one. It’s going to take growth, maturity and defensive coverage from a team that has lacked it in years past. Right now, the Maple Leafs need to gather experience from the past three playoff seasons they’ve been in. Guys like Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner need to play a veteran role on a team that is still oh-so-young and lead them to victories.
On top of that, the Maple Leafs need that big game breaker on the blue line. Sure, they have Morgan Rielly who can be a force on the offensive end of the puck, but when it comes to shutdown guys who do they have?
Justin Holl? Cody Ceci? To me, that just isn’t good enough to get it done. Neither one plays overly physical and in the playoffs that’s a requirement in the defensive end. Instead, the Maple Leafs seem to get pushed around in their own end and have a hard time getting the puck out. Their breakout attempts are intercepted and play is quickly turned back in on Andersen.
They could very well be the next Canadian team to win the Cup. That said, it won’t happen until they make those changes. It’s just a case of whether or not another Canadian club comes in and wins it before they do.
Will the Leafs get better and tougher players for the playoffs?
I read this question twice – heck, maybe three times. Will the Maple Leafs get better players for the playoffs? Are Marner, Matthews and John Tavares not good players?
The issue with the Maple Leafs isn’t the talent level of the players they have. It’s their ability to find open seams during high-pressure games and do it as complete unit. The talent is there, let’s not debate that.
Tougher players, however, is something that the Maple Leafs definitely need if they are going to make a deep playoff run. Now, they’ve added Kyle Clifford this year and have guys like Ceci on defence, but two players won’t make a difference – especially when a guy like Clifford is only seeing just over four minutes like he did in Game 1 against the Blue Jackets.
Mental toughness is going to be just as important as the physical side of the game. It seems that some of the Maple Leafs’ young players have developed that mental side of it, but they still need some more physicality to matchup against teams like Columbus and the Boston Bruins.
If they continue to put out players that shy away from the physical aspects of the game, they’re going to continue to see the same return – first round exits from the playoffs each and every year.
With that, we’ll close the books on another edition of the Maple Leafs’ Mailbag. There’s still tons of questions to be answered and we’ll get back to those soon with another edition of the mailbag. For now, if you have a question that you want answered, feel free to leave in the comments below or reach out to me on Twitter.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.