Second in the Atlantic Division – the Toronto Maple Leafs have had a promising 35 games to open up the 2018-19 campaign. Morgan Rielly is averaging over a point per game. Mitch Marner is leading the way in primary assists and the combination of John Tavares and Auston Matthews is filling the net for the storied franchise.
While a lot has gone right for the Maple Leafs so far this season, they have had games at the other end of the spectrum as well.
Take the last few weeks, for example. Along with their big wins against Florida and New Jersey, the Maple Leafs have also had four losses in the last seven games – giving up 19 goals in those four games.
So what’s been going on with the Maple Leafs over the past few weeks?
Toronto’s Home Cooking
So far, in the month of December, the Maple Leafs have played seven of their nine games at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. On the season, the team is 10-5-1 in front of their home crowd – that includes a 4-2-1 record this month.
While it’s been nice to have the support of their home crowd, the Maple Leafs’ losses at home this month have been to three Atlantic Division foes in the Boston Bruins, Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lighting – who the Leafs are chasing in the divisional standings.
In their four December wins at home, the Maple Leafs have averaged five goals per game – even posting seven against the Devils on Dec. 18. On top of that, the Leafs gave up just 2.25 goals per game in their four wins. Not bad when you’re playing in front of the home crowd.
In their three losses at home, however, the team struggled defensively. In losses to the Bruins and Pathers, the Maple Leafs found themselves down by multiple goals before they got on the board, while the Lightning were able to string off four straight tallies including a power play and shorthanded marker to grab the two points.
In these games, the Maple Leafs gave up an average of 4.7 goals per game, while only tallying and average of 2.3 of their own – giving up a six spot to the Bruins on Dec. 8.
Surging Special Teams
Another big contributor to the Maple Leafs recent ups and downs has been their special teams. After 35 games this season the team ranks 19th on the penalty kill – killing off 78.5 percent of their shorthanded opportunities – and seventh in the league on the power play (at 24.7 percent).
Over their last seven games, four of which the Maple Leafs have lost, their special teams have struggled to some extent which surely has led to some of the undesirable outcomes. Prior to their last game agains the Panthers on Thursday, the Maple Leafs power play was clicking at just 4.35 percent over the previous six games.
A three-for-three effort by the team’s top unit increased that to a more salvageable 15.4 percent over their past seven games and gives the team something to build off of heading into the final stretch of the month – with their last four games coming against teams in the bottom half of the league in penalty kill percentage.
“We were dry there for a bit. When you go through a tough slump like that, you’ve just got to work through it. It was just a matter of time,” said Morgan Rielly about the team’s struggles with the special teams (from ‘Maple Leafs power play leads the way to victory over Panthers’, Toronto Sun – 12/20/18).
As for their penalty kill, the Maple Leafs have killed 18 of their last 24 shorthanded opportunities – good enough for a 75 percent success rate over their past seven games. While it’s lower than their season mark, the Maple Leafs could build off their past two games in which they went five for six on the penalty kill.
Either way, with 13 goals for in their two most recent games the Maple Leafs are trending in the right direction as they approach the midway mark of the season.
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.