Forget the mini-slump the Toronto Maple Leafs may have gone through leading up to the holiday break in the NHL’s schedule, especially if their Next Century game was any indication of what this team can do offensively.
Still, the Leafs have lacked consistency in the first half of the season – with Frederik Andersen being the backbone to the Leafs’ strong play to this point. With Andersen leading the charge, the Leafs are sitting third in the Atlantic Division with a 23-15-2 record through their first 40 games and while they’ve definitely struggled with consistency this season, they’ve also had a major issue when it comes to their depth.
Leafs’ Drive to Find Desperation in Depth
Speaking of Andersen’s play, the Leafs are 11-2-2 this season in games decided by one goal. To say that they are relying on their goaltending is an understatement. But beyond that, the team also relies on a select group of players which can become problematic when these players miss time due to injury.
Take Auston Matthews for example. He’s missed 10 games this season due to a couple of separate injuries. Still, the sophomore leads the team in goals (tied with James van Riemsdyk) with 17 and points (31).
In fact, the Leafs have five players currently in double-digits for goals. Combined, Matthews, JVR, Patrick Marleau, Nazem Kadri and Connor Brown have combined for 72 goals this season. That makes up just over 53 percent of the team’s goals. That means the other 17 players have combined for 63 goals this season.
While it doesn’t seem like a major issue, the team struggled without Matthews in the lineup. And most recently have had to deal with a hole where Kadri normally is. While the number of goals might not speak volumes to the team’s struggles with depth, thanks in large part to Andersen, the lack of fill-in role players has been noticeable.
Matthews is a possession guy – with a Corsi For Percentage (CF%) of 51.4 this season, while Kadri plays a physical role in the lineup and one that often gives his team an edge with his ability to draw penalties.
And while the Leafs miss these role players when they’re out, it shows how important they are when they are in the lineup.
Kadri’s Imminent Return?
Speaking of Kadri’s role in the Leafs lineup, the team has been without the 27-year-old center for the last two contests. That, however, should change for the team’s upcoming matchup against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Jan. 2 in Toronto as it was reported that Kadri took part in the team’s morning skate.
Appears as though Nazem Kadri will return tonight for the Leafs against Tampa. Centering Leo Komarov and Patrick Marleau this morning.
— Jonas Siegel (@jonassiegel) January 2, 2018
So far this season, Kadri has 13 goals and 23 points in 38 games. Based on those numbers, Kadri is on pace for 27 goals this season and 48 points which would be a slight step back from his 61-point campaign last year that set career highs in both categories.
Still, the Leafs will be happy to get Kadri back in the lineup against a tough Lightning squad.
Maple Leaf Milestone Moments
As part of the Next Century game, the Leafs also recorded their 20,000th franchise goal when van Riemsdyk notched the team’s third goal of the game on their way to an 8-1 rout of the Carolina Hurricanes.
According to the Toronto Sun’s Lance Hornby, the Hockey Hall of Fame had a tough time finding the stick that JVR scored the milestone goal with as it was broken and discarded by the team later in the game.
However, the stick was later found in a dumpster at the Air Canada Centre and retrieved by building personnel and handed over to representatives from the Hall of Fame.
Matthews, Nylander Join 100-Point Club
While the history of the club was celebrated with that goal, two younger players joined the 100-point club with minor milestones of their own.
William Nylander attained his 100th point of his young career in his 141st game with an assist on Matthews’ first period goal. It was also the first goal for Matthews in Arizona – a feat he won’t soon forget.
Two games later, in his 112th career game, Matthews notched his 100th career point against the Vegas Golden Knights. It came on his second goal of the game and 17th of the season tying him for the team lead with van Riemsdyk.
Bower: Paying Our Respect
Finally, the team is holding a public celebration of life ceremony in honour of the late Johnny Bower on Jan. 3 at the Air Canada Centre. The event will be open to the public as the city, team and its fans pay tribute to the former Leafs legend.
Bower passed after a short battle with pneumonia. He was 93 years old.
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.