Last week, the Toronto Maple Leafs headed into a mini break that the team desperately needed. After sweeping the Edmonton Oilers, they ended off a disappointing stretch with a 1-5 record, including a poor effort against the Ottawa Senators.
With the time off, they seemed to have addressed some of the issues as they prepped for their weekend series against the Calgary Flames. While the team had a better performance, they were still some issues that stood out as they lost 4-3. Some glaring and some that can be fixed with more practice time.
The Maple Leafs are well into their second half of the season. As they still remain in first place, the gap for the North Division title has been narrowed. As the games and points become more important, so does the Maple Leafs goaltending, power play and consistency. These are some factors that need to be at the forefront from here on out.
It’s worth noting that we’ve seen this team have inconsistent efforts in past seasons and even this season. It’s also the reason why they’ll be able to have any sort of success. This team, however, is in a better spot where they’re able to rebound and get back to their original form. Consistency is always a major factor going forward.
During that stretch of play before the break, they looked good overall. However, there were certain points in games where they started off strong, fell apart for a few minutes and then the gas on again. That split second where they let their guard down hurt them in games. The attention to detail, especially with turnovers, defensive positioning and decision-making played a major factor in those games as it resulted in crucial goals against.
The team wasn’t necessarily in trouble, but it was something that they would like to fix to avoid another long cold streak as we witnessed. Keefe definitely took note of the team’s consistency issues as bad habits started to creep back in.
“That’s what we’re seeking, is greater consistency in each area and that’s game to game, but also shift to shift and period to period,” Keefe said according to Post Media’s Terry Koshan.
“Since those games (in Edmonton), we haven’t been winning (each time out). We’ve been trailing and we’ve been trying to find our way back. It’s staying with the structure and trusting the structure and staying committed and finding ways to score when it’s more difficult.” (from: ‘KOSHAN: For Keefe, consistency the key goal for Maple Leafs in second half’, The National Post – 03/12/21)
Having a strong start like their recent 2-0 win against the Flames is definitely going to help them out in the long run. The Maple Leafs succeeded early on by bringing their best every game. However, with that cold stretch a lot of factors came into effect, especially fatigue. A full 60-minute effort should be expected from here on out. From the forwards, the defense and even the goaltenders.
Campbell Deserves More Starts
During a little rest before their series with the Flames, Frederik Andersen said that he wasn’t 100 per cent and not being where he wants to be at, in terms of his play.
Andersen’s ability to try and play through an injury really hampered his play as he allowed four goals on 18 shots in his last start. Overall, his numbers are a concern as he has a SV% of .897 and numbers below .900 in five of his last six games. Andersen has shown that he can provide steady goaltending in the past; at the moment we’re just not seeing it. A goalie making $5 million with subpar numbers isn’t ideal for a contending team, as his performance has come into question.
Even before Andersen sustained his injury, his play was mediocre as he still allowed a weak goal every now and then. He has shown to have big performances. This is the perfect time for him to get healthy and hopefully he can get back to the level of play that he is capable of. If he returns after resting from the injury and still provides below average goaltending, it won’t end well for him.
Head coach Sheldon Keefe gave Jack Campbell the nod in net against the Flames in a back-to-back situation. Campbell definitely made the most of his return from his injury as he earned a shutout, his second of the season and improved his record to 4-0.
It seems that all the attention should be on Campbell and rightfully so. This should be the indication that he deserves getting more starts with his stellar play.
Campbell is now in a spot where he has a chance to run away and possibly steal the starter role from Andersen. Even though it’s s small sample, Campbell has a 1.00 goals against average, a save percentage of .965. But even just looking at his play, he looks more confident and composed in net and has given his team a timely save when they needed it. What’s even more impressive is that he continues to battle through no matter what. Despite missing a lot of games, he has a save streak of 71 saves over 133 minutes dating back to his last game against the Oilers.
Campbell has shown that he deserves more starts and even the starter role. The players are starting to rally around him with his positive attitude and personality on and off the ice. Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner showed their appreciation with a private and positive message for their goalie.
The Maple Leafs have a goaltender who can rise to the occasion and give them a chance to win when they need him to. If Andersen can’t get back to form, they definitely have someone reliable in Campbell to take over the net.
Power Play Needs to Heat Up
The Maple Leafs have been absolutely lethal on the power play this season. While they sit fourth overall with 27.7 per cent rate on the power play, it has gone cold lately. They have only one power play goal in their last eight games. There are two things that I have noticed as this power play has gone cold; they rely heavily on the drop pass, making entries difficult as the penalty killers are all lined up anticipating this set up to happen and the puck movement is too passive, something that caught my eye early on in the season..
With regards to the zone entries, the drop pass has worked, but the Maple Leafs get too comfortable in a rhythm with this play that it’s their only tool. Usually Morgan Rielly skates up to centre drops it back to either to Matthews or Marner who has already built enough speed – usually it’s to Marner. While this was effective early on, this attack to gain entry into the zone hasn’t quite worked out for them lately as it results in a poor entry and a broken play.
Gaining entry is essential with the man advantage. What the Maple Leafs could utilize more is their speed to charge their way through the defense, chip the puck off the boards and gain possession as a means of finding an alternative way to set up.
There was a play on Saturday where Rielly quickly moves the play carrying the puck in as opposing to dropping it back and it led to a good shot on net. It’s simple but an effective way to get the defenders on their heels and catch them off guard. The Maple Leafs have an abundance of speed on both power play units that could definitely help with their setup.Early on, I mentioned that the Maple Leafs were being too patient with the puck and that they weren’t converting on their opportunities. That patient mentality is starting to creep in again as the Maple Leafs are becoming too passive on the power play.
While they have had good looks at the net, it seems that at times, they’re too patient in trying to set up the perfect play. As a result it kills time and allows the defenders to get into position, get into the shooting lanes and block a shot or a pass. The puck movement needs to be quicker as that was a big reason for their success early on.
Peter is in his third year with The Hockey Writers, covering the Toronto Maple Leafs and heading the Draft and Prospects section. He has previously interned at The Hockey News and worked on Toronto Marlies broadcasts for Rogers TV. He currently is the co-host of the podcast Sticks in the 6ix and a frequent guest on Maple Leafs Lounge. Aside from hockey, he also enjoys drumming, animation and impressions/ voices.