On the latest MLHS Podcast, Anthony Petrielli and Gus Katsaros discussed their concern level with the Maple Leafs’ 26th-ranked penalty kill and the areas in need of improvement heading into the final stretch and playoffs.
Petrielli: The Leafs‘ power play has received a ton of attention, and rightfully so. It was beyond dreadful for an entire month. But what hasn’t received an equal amount of attention — and I think people have just largely been chalking it up to bad goaltending and shrugging their shoulders — is their penalty kill ranking 26th in the league. That is really bad.
With Frederik Andersen, there was a time where he had the worst penalty-kill save percentage in the league. A lot of people looked and said, “They are not getting a save. The save percentage on the penalty kill is not repeatable. Really, things just need to kind of even out, and we’ll call it a day.”
If you look at advanced metrics on shot share and shot quality and per 60 rates, the Leafs have generally graded out okay on the penalty kill. At the end of the day, it is still leaking goals against pretty consistently. Are we overreacting or underreacting to this?
Katsaros: I think it is an underreaction. They are giving up almost a goal a game. The last time they went two consecutive games without giving up a power-play goal was April 10th.
There are some structural components I don’t particularly like. They give up the zone a little too easily. When they are in their own zone, they are a little lost. There is still this element of it almost being a free-for-all.
My expectation is for them to play a Czech press or a triangle +1. They always have a component in the middle, two defensemen floating, and then you add that one player. There still seems to be confusion among the forwards; they often leave lanes open and it gives teams the opportunity to generate scoring chances if not outright goals.
The bad goaltending they have had in the last few weeks compounds the error. They often say your best penalty killer is your goalie, and if your goalie is shaky and your structure is shaky, your penalty killing is going to suck. That is what it has done over the last little while.
Going into the playoffs, how are they going to make it better? They can’t improve the goaltending dramatically. They have to do something to promote the structure.
I don’t mind using Mitch Marner on the penalty kill. I’d encourage that. I like the offensive component because it puts the other team back on their heels. If you are going to put out four forwards and a defenseman, I am going to put out a very offensively-creative player on the ice for you to deal with. But the Leafs putting themselves in that position where they are using the modern mentality of using offensive tactics in a defensive situation is putting them in a situation where they are starting to leak a lot more goals.
There is a balance that coaches and players need to find. I am not sure they are aligned at this. It looked great for a little while. All of the components came together, they played some teams that weren’t able to generate a lot of scoring chances on the power play, and it gave the Leafs a bit more of an air of, “We have a great penalty kill.”
I think this is an underreaction. It is a legitimate worry going into the playoffs.
Petrielli: I agree it is an underreaction. You talked about the counter-attacking a little bit offensively. There was a point in the season where they were essentially sending both penalty killers up the ice, and it looked like a two-man forecheck. They were getting absolutely crushed in the neutral zone. They did dial it back a little bit, which has been helpful.
Honestly, when I watch them, I see a lot of teams that are able to generate a lot of the kind of shots that they are looking to create. If they are trying to set up a shot from the half wall, I have seen a lot of teams that are able to get it off. We have seen Nikolaj Ehlers score from the top of the circles completely untouched. It is on the border of whether it is in the house or not, so it might not look like a quality chance of sorts on the shot charts, but it’s the same thing with Auston Matthews: If you are letting these guys come in with speed untouched and they have a clear avenue to shoot the puck with a screen in front, that is a quality shot.
We talk sometimes about point shots that have gone in, but if you are not boxing out, you are allowing a guy to screen the goalie, and the shooter is able to tee off a bomb that gets through while the goalie is screened, I am not going to call it a “quality shot,” but it is certainly not a bad shot. Not all shots are created equal. Sometimes we forget that.
Fundamentally, they have some issues with boxing out in front and blocking shot lanes. We kind of saw it with Nick Foligno in two games. He received a bunch of PK time, and he was trying to put his body on the line. That is probably something they looked at and said, “We don’t really have a ton of guys that will actively get in there and straight-up block the shot and prevent it from getting through, or make it really hard for the other team to get the shot through.”
The Leafs have hounds on the PK, in a good way — Hyman is a hound, Mikheyev is a hound, Marner can be. When it comes to blocking shots, getting in the lane, and laying out, generally speaking, none of those guys do it — even Zach Hyman. I love all three of those guys, but it just not really their game.
I think this is an issue. Foligno helps a little bit. Losing Bogosian sucks, and they are putting Dermott on it, so we will see how that goes.
If you play a team like the Habs, they don’t have the shooters. I don’t care what kind of season Tyler Toffoli is having, he is not Rantanen or MacKinnon. He is not the top end of the top end. If they were to play Colorado at some point, and you are going to allow MacKinnon, Rantanen, and Makar to tee off for free from the sort-of outskirts, they are going to make you pay.