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Photo Credit: USA TODAY/ Tom Szczerbowski

News and Notes: Slow Starts, Poor Execution, and Trade Speculation

The Leafs are struggling as of late, with back-to-back-to-back losses since their encouraging three-game winning streak earlier in the month. Let’s take a look at what people are saying during these trying times.

Justin Cuthbert of Yahoo Sports posted a Tweet today that really puts into perspective just how underwhelming Toronto’s start has been this year…

While the Leafs have 22 points and currently sit in a playoff spot, they’ve only won six games in regulation through 20 games played. Those six teams they’ve beaten are listed above. Toronto’s six wins in regulation thus far came against six of the seven worst teams in the league. They’re currently on pace to win 24 games in regulation. For reference, the team won 23 games in regulation in 2015-16 when they were tanking for Auston Matthews.

After last night’s frustrating loss to the New York Islanders, Jake Muzzin pointed out that the team has struggled with focus early on. While they play well for good chunks of the game, there are major lapses in which they mess up and can’t compensate for it.

“We have confidence in this group, in the team, in the room, we’re just having some weird lapses through the game and it’s costing us,” Muzzin said. “We just have to be sharper throughout a full 60, shift to shift, more focused, better preparation and we’ll come out on top in these games.”

A prime example of this is last night’s gaffe that led to the Islanders’ first goal. Andres Johnsson dropped the puck back to nobody, Jordan Eberle picked it up and cruised his way through a bunch of confused looking Leafs before hitting Mat Barzal wide open Mat Barzal for an easy goal. After the game, William Nylander, who was Johnsson’s intended target, said that he and Johnsson weren’t on the same page when it came to that play.

John Tavares also spoke on the team’s lack of execution last night, suggesting that the coaching staff is creating the right aim for the team, they just aren’t getting it done. This is an important quote, of course, because many are blaming Mike Babcock and Co. for the team’s struggles. At some point, you have to wonder if the message Babcock is laying out for the team fits the roster that was assembled. It’s bizarre how lost the team looks at times given their skill level.

Moving away from last night, Kevin McGran over at the Toronto Star pondered if Kyle Dubas is anywhere near hitting the panic button. Of course, while most people would like for the result of the panic button to be the dismissal of Babcock, McGran is wondering if Dubas could pull the trigger on a trade that would bring a meaningful player to add to Toronto’s lineup.

Which brings us to an interesting performance on the first – or second? — line by Nic Petan against Los Angeles. He was fine. He wasn’t great. But he’s had a good week. He went to the Marlies, picked up five points in two games, and came back and looked like he belonged in the NHL.

Had to wonder if the Leafs were trying to showcase him, to see if they can do better than waive – i.e. give away – some of their assets on forward.

That it’s hard for a forward to crack the Leaf lineup is no shame. The Maple Leafs organizational strength is at forward. When the dust settles, Trevor Moore will be on the fourth line.

You have to wonder if Dubas can package two or three of his spare parts and get something more meaningful than cap space back.

The difficulty for Dubas is that the Leafs are pressed right up against the cap and they’ve already spent a bunch of their draft pick capital. There simply isn’t much wiggle room, so the team that’s there on paper right now is the team the Leafs are going to roll with, unless, as McGran suggests, Dubas can manage to package some of his smaller depth pieces in order to get something bigger.

But why would anybody want to give up something good for a bunch of spare parts? It’s hard to imagine the Leafs making any major changes this season. That said, we also haven’t seen this team at full strength yet. Zach Hyman and Travis Dermott were hurt to start the season, John Tavares was injured early on, and Mitch Marner got injured right as he came back. Getting fully healthy will be somewhat similar to making an acquisition.

Another thing people have speculated is whether the team is panicking about their backup goalie situation. Michael Hutchinson was placed on waivers after the team got blown out in Chicago and Kasimir Kaskisuo was recalled from the AHL to replace him. Kaskisuo has never played in the NHL and while he’s had a strong start to the AHL season for the Marlies, he posted a .896 save percentage in the minors last season.

While it might seem the Leafs badly need to look external for an upgrade to their backup goalie situation, Elliotte Freidman reports that the team isn’t worried about it.

If things stay consistent, Kasimir Kaskisuo will make his first NHL start Saturday night in Pittsburgh. That’s the second half of a back-to-back, although the Penguins will be playing Friday night, too. It’s a huge test for the 26-year-old Fin, who signed as a free agent in March 2016 out of NCAA Minnesota-Duluth.

“I wouldn’t have thought this was possible last season,” said one exec, who sees plenty of the AHL. “But since the playoffs began, he’s been much improved.”

The Maple Leafs appear less worried than everyone else about the position. They didn’t win any of Hutchinson’s starts, but don’t appear hell-bent on chasing outside the organization. They passed on Louis Domingue at least twice, once on waivers and once as a trade target.

Freidman lists Eric Comrie in Arizona, Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith in Pittsburgh, and Alex Stalock in Minnesota as possible upgrades, but also suggests the front office doesn’t view it as a priority right now. If Kaskisuo struggles, that sentiment might change in the next couple of months.