I brought up this last week too, but the Leafs are starting to worry me a little. It’s strange to say the team is 7-2-1, first in their division and first in the NHL. They have seen some improvement in their defense and their great strikers have emerged and scored.
However, the performance of this team so far is more than envisaged. While they drove in possession of the ball with 52.61% of attempts to shoot at uniform strength (which ranks 6th in the league), the same cannot be said for creating scoring opportunities as their 48.78% 5v5 xGF% den 19th place in the league. While their luck was relatively normal with even strength, their shooting rate of 7.69% is 17th and their savings rate of 92.1% is 14th, where they saw how many jumps their way is theirs Power play.
In power play, the team scores 43.3% of their chances, which definitely won’t keep up (the highest power play percentage ever was the Montreal Canadiens of 1977-78 who scored 31.9%). . Part of that is because they lead a league in power play at 12.92 xGF / 60, which is absurd and allows their shots percentage in power play not to be nearly as bad as it should be (only 19.32% )) but it’s still not something that will score at this rate and it definitely won’t make them reach their consistent strength as the season progresses.
Well, there are a couple of positive aspects. The Matthews line was very good at generating scoring opportunities, as was the pairing of Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl. Plus, Tavares and Nylander were pretty good at scoring chances on any line that Ilya Mikheyev isn’t on (which, unfortunately, is the line used due to injury).
But currently only one other player has scoring opportunities on this team and that is Travis Dermott, who has been scratched a couple of times because we have to keep Mikko Lehtonen from returning to the KHL despite mediocre play and Zach Bogosian in the line-up for some reason . Not that Bogosian was bad, he actually quite surprised me, but I wouldn’t say he played well enough to stay in the lineup every night, especially at Dermott’s expense.
Everyone else on the team did not do well to generate scoring opportunities. Nobody in the bottom six has no matter who is on the lineup, and the bottom pair doesn’t if Dermott isn’t on the lineup. But even worse, and probably the biggest problem, is that the two players, Morgan Rielly and TJ Brodie, who have the most Ice Age, are also very bad at it, as they are 44.08% and 44.88% xGF% at 5v5 too The season begins. Leaguewide they are the 23rd worst pair when it comes to scoring chances. Part of that could play in difficult minutes but Rielly has always struggled with it and we still don’t fully know how well Brodie can handle minutes like this outside of Mark Giordano.
Of course, there are a few things that should be kept in mind. The team had no preseason and has never had more than a day off since the start of the season, nowhere near enough time to work on systems and strategies that Sheldon Keefe would love to implement. Also, they could be exhausted from those 10 games in 18 days, which is a lot after most of them only played 5 games in the last 10 months. Luckily, they have the next few days off to rest, but also to do a few exercises and maybe get things done. Given how the Leafs played last season when Keefe took over, I would like to believe that he doesn’t want the team to play like that.
But this team is too skilled to play like that, especially in a really weak league where they should dominate possession and create chances night after night. If this doesn’t improve soon, changes should likely be made. They could be playing mediocre hockey in that division, but even if they do and get out of the second round, they’ll be steamed up by whatever team they get from the other divisions. Maybe that means finally giving Dermott a shot in the top 4 and maybe protecting Rielly or bringing a middle six up to improve the depth. Who knows, but something has to change quickly, or the unsustainable start of the Leafs will catch up with them quickly.
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