Just another WordPress site


The Mailbag: March 15

The Leafs may be slumping, but we’re still chugging along here. It’s a new week, with new questions from the crowd. Let’s see what’s on everyone’s minds!

I think the time off will do the team some good. The Maple Leafs don’t play again until Friday; that’s time for injured players (be it out of the lineup like Wayne Simmonds and Jack Campbell, or playing through the pain like Auston Matthews) to heal up, veteran players to rest up, coaches to reconfigure strategy, and everyone to get a mental and physical reset. Ultimately, the Leafs are in the midst of their first real slump of the season and many of those games could’ve gone another way. Even the best teams deal with stretches like this every season, so it’s up to them to make the find the positives and move forward with them.

Yes and no, I’d say. To the point of no, the easiest thing to point to is the fact that no one would be remotely concerned about experimentation if the past week didn’t happen. When the result is win after win, the consensus is almost always “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

One could also point to the fact that, outside of their most robust and obvious combinations, there has been experimentation. Players like Zach Hyman, Alex Kerfoot, Pierre Engvall, and Jimmy Vesey have slid up and down the lineup. The third defensive pair saw some ins and outs to try to give Mikko Lehtonen at least somewhat of a chance before his trade. Travis Boyd fought his way into the lineup after being given a chance, and Nic Petan had one of his own.

The yes comes in the fact that you could argue that the team could be doing even more, though, particularly at the fringes of the lineup. Rotating the depth players – the 3rd and 4th line, the third pair, etc, with taxi squad players who have waiver flexibility, treating the schedule more like Keefe had to when he was managing three-in-threes with the Marlies, would be fantastic for keeping players energetic and making sure that all are game-ready in a time of need.

I wouldn’t say so. This question came the night after the Leafs had a frustrating ending in Winnipeg, and I get that Keefe’s anger leading to a bench minor left a lot to fill in blanks with, but given that Toronto has been a low-event penalty team with a differential hovering around zero for several years now, regardless of coach, I wouldn’t look too much into a moment of frustration.

I’m usually quick to say “there’s fewer shots on the PK, could just be variance”, but three years in a row in the same range is definitely something worth considering. Its interesting when you look at the visuals:

The easy thing to point out here is that Toronto doesn’t give up much in the goal mouth, which lowers the average xG value of shots that he’s facing. I wonder if there’s a trade-off though, in that while the team has been successful in blocking or outright preventing attempts from those closer range areas, the work they do to box out / tie up players in front might come at the cost of the occasional screen. A lot of the recent goals that Andersen has conceded have been deflections – this might be something worth diving into in more detail later.

Thomas Drance made a good point today in pointing out that the Leafs have had 57% of the Expected Goals in this slump stretch – that seems like a team that’s controlling momentum, and the amount of work that Thatcher Demko and Connor Hellebucyk in particular had to do in particular for their games fleshes with the idea that things were, for the most part, in their own control.

I’d lean towards luck carrying a lot of it. Not every goal or every loss can be blamed on that – there have been some bad efforts scattered in, and last night’s game was mostly Ottawa’s to be had until the Leafs made their late push – but its hard to lose sleep when you’re controlling games and what you concede are largely off deflections and bounces leading to rushes. Toronto had some fantastic finishing results to start the year and exemplary backup performance from Jack Campbell and Michael Hutchinson – in a way this is just some of that coming back around. There are things to be built upon and tweaked, but this isn’t a derailing either.

You might be interested in …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *