Special Teams Will Be the Leafsâ€™ Demise
Three games into the season and the Toronto Maple Leafs have already embarked on an up and down ride.
After defeating the Detroit Red Wings in an aggressive, defensively responsible and convincing opening game, the Leafs are now spinning their tires. Saturday nightâ€™s debacle at the ACC was an embarrassing display that saw the Leafs panic under attack, never regaining their composure. While goaltender Toskala wasnâ€™t sharp, much of the blame rests with his incompetent defense, who were often crowding his crease throughout the night.
But in a season where inconsistency will describe the Leafs best, placing the blame will do no good. Trial and error – itâ€™s the only way this young team will find their place in the NHL and eventually surface to respectability.
Todayâ€™s matinee against the St.Louis Blues is a good example of this, which saw the Leafs blow a 3 goal lead in a 5-4 shootout loss. An aggressive attack and solid defense embodied the 1st period, which gave the Leafs a 3-0 lead, but things went south quickly. It began when 25 year old Ryan Hollweg â€“ who returned from a 2-game suspension handed out by the NHL disciplinarians during preseason – nailed the Bluesâ€™ rookie defenseman Alex Pietrangelo from behind, receiving a 5-min major as a result. In that span, the Blues capitalized, scoring 3 goals to tie the hockey game. The Leafs responded with a goal, but the night would ultimately end by the hands of Brad Boyes in the shootout.
While itâ€™s only the beginning of the season, the problems that plagued this franchise for so long are still evident â€“ and thatâ€™s their special teams play. Three games in and the Leafs PP percentage is a lowly 16.7%. Their PK percentage isnâ€™t fairing any better either, sporting a 62.5% with man down.
Realistically, the Leafs PP will probably struggle all season long. Even in the Mats Sundin era the Leafs only managed a paltry 27th overall ranking on the PP last season. Itâ€™s not unreasonable to expect them to finish dead last in that department this season.
On the PK, however, things could be much more promising then years past. While itâ€™s not apparent so far, Wilson is implementing a defense first system that will force the players to play a responsible, low-risk game. If the Leafs learn to adapt to the style of play coercively, their lack of firepower will be less of a hindrance.
All that said, it is important to remember that this franchise was practically left in shambles before GM Cliff Fletcher took over. This is a work in progress and the flaws that corrupt this club wonâ€™t get sorted out all at once. Start at the foundation with solid goaltending and stingy D, and then implement a lethal offense as the youth matures (and draft picks stock pile).
These three games might describe the season to come, but certainly not the teamâ€™s future.