Maple Leafs are living in dangerous times
Blown leads will happen when team allows so many chances in high-danger areas
The Toronto Maple Leafs took to practice Tuesday to work on tightening their playing structure.
It was a quick, high-paced session, one that followed Monday’s 3-2 overtime loss to Columbus in which a two-goal lead evaporated in a span of 108 seconds in the third period.
So it was back to the drawing board Tuesday to work on backchecking, own-zone play, and “playing heavy” on the forecheck.
But for all the lessons the Leafs have learned from close games in the last year, they appear to be a team that flirts with danger every night. Toronto is among the league leaders in high-danger chances and shots (from a trapezoid zone that goes from the goal to the high slot) but it drops to the middle of the pack in similar chances allowed.
The Leafs’ results — they have had three consecutive games go to overtime or a shootout — are in part a reflection of those stats. They rely on a solid, team shooting percentage, and a good PDO (shooting percentage plus save percentage) to counter a team defence that gives up leagueleading shot totals, and a concerning level of high-danger chances around goalie Frederik Andersen. Frustrations, like the blown lead in Monday’s game, will likely remain a part of the picture. Toronto has improved on its blown-lead stats, which became a priority this year after last season’s struggles limited the Leafs to the last playoff seed and a first-round matchup with first-place Washington.
Ultimately, though, the Leafs continue to invite frustration into their performances, and it all starts with shots against. Andersen remains under fire more than any goalie in the NHL; Toronto has given up a leagueleading 1,491 shots (Anaheim is next with 1,464), which means Andersen faces just under 34 shots per game.
Opposing teams have managed 382 high-danger chances against the Leafs, which is not a terrible number for the defence, given the number of shots. But that number still ranks 23rd in the league.
Andersen has done reasonably well, with his team giving up 43 high-danger goals, 14th in the league. He’s the reason why the Leafs have such a strong PDO.
On offence, Toronto remains one of the league’s more dangerous teams, with 407 high-danger chances (fourth in the league) and 48 high-danger goals (eighth).
The challenge for the Leafs remains the same as it was a year ago: Teams will tighten their defences, reducing chances and goals, during the final two months of the season. Toronto will need to cut into the number of high-danger chances it gives up.
In Monday’s loss, inattention to a couple of details cost Toronto a cou- ple of goals. New defenceman Travis Dermott wasn’t quite effective enough in boxing out Nick Foligno on one goal, while Morgan Rielly made an ill-advised stretch pass that led to an odd-man rush on the second goal.
Leafs coach Mike Babcock, in putting Monday’s game into perspective, told his team the “hockey gods” caught up with his club.
“We talked about that (Tuesday), about how we stole a game from Vancouver (in Saturday night’s shootout win) with 10 minutes to go, and how (Columbus) did the same thing to us,” Babcock said. “You have to work hard every day to get results. You don’t, and (the hockey gods) get you back.”