Tis’ the season to be freezing’, fa la la la la, la la, la, la.
It’s that time of year, where the air is frigid, exams are tough, and the Pillsbury cookies are really, really good. The holiday season is upon us and therefore, I’ve created a Toronto Maple Leafs Christmas Wish List. What kinds of things do I want from the Leafs for Christmas and why do I want them? Well, let’s go through them, one by one.
Backup Goalie Resolution
This is a biggie. Long-term, the Leafs have something with Joseph Woll, who is developing with the Marlies. Right now, Michael Hutchinson has only played in back to back situations, but hasn’t won. That just isn’t going to work. Kasimir Kaskisuo wasn’t given an opportunity to truly show what he’s got, and the team hung him out to dry in his only game with the Leafs.
Neither one inspires any confidence in me, and it is abundantly clear that something needs to be done here. Your backup should be able to get you a few points throughout the year, maybe 10-14. Right now, the Leafs have one(!) point from a goalie, not named Andersen. ONE. SINGLE. POINT. That is not good enough.
The Leafs probably could’ve acquired Tristan Jarry in the summer, considering he was available. Given how Jarry now has three shutouts in December, the Penguins aren’t giving him up. And while the Rangers have two budding goalies, neither Georgiev, nor Shesterkin will be available. That leaves Casey DeSmith and Jack Campbell as potential cheap adds.
However, for this wish list: I’d look to move one of the forwards, a position of strength, for Jarry, Georgiev or Shesterkin. This likely requires Kapanen, Johnsson or someone of that ilk, as part of the package. To me, this solves the goaltending situation for the foreseeable future.
It’s a long shot, but I’d like to have confidence in the backup goalie.
It’s no secret this team is wildly inconsistent. This is a team that goes out and dominates the Stanley Cup Champions, but also collapses and gives up three or four goals in three-minute spans. Some nights they look like one of the NHL’s very best teams, then look like a bottom 10 team the next night.
Since Keefe took over, the Leafs have been much better to start games. They’ve had multi-goal first periods, and have scored first more often than not. In Colorado, the Leafs responded to being scored on in the first minute with four goals in the first period. The team looks more prepared to start games and uses their puck possession to impose their will.
The downfall has come in the third periods, where the Leafs have been more bad than good, of late. To have success, the team needs to play consistently within the context of a single game, and over a stretch of games. If Keefe can find a way to make that happen, the hearts of many Leafs fans would be significantly less stressed.
Penalty Kill Success Rate
Since Keefe took over, the penalty kill has surrendered three goals in 11 games, while scoring two shorthanded markers of their own. Considering they’d given up 21 goals in the first 23 games of the year (0.91/game), giving up three in 11 (0.27/game) is a significant improvement. That’s probably not a realistic expectation going forward, but to level off at about 0.4 goals against/game would be terrific.
My wish: for the Leafs to kill penalties at an 84% rate for the rest of the season.
To get there, I’d like to see the Leafs fully adopt the “Power Kill” mentality. With Kapanen, Mikheyev, Engvall, Marner and Hyman, the Leafs absolutely have the speed and skill to be one of the league’s elite Power Kill teams. This means using your speed and skill to force turnovers up-ice and create chances, while shorthanded. Doing this would make power-play units think a little harder about making a dangerous pass that could result in a scoring chance against. This is an area that could be a difference-maker for the Leafs and something I would love to see, explored.
Sort Out the Defensive Pairings
The Leafs may have found something with Muzzin and Holl as a shutdown pairing. After all, they completely nullified the McDavid line and have put up good possession numbers against tough competition. Holl has shown himself to play with good gap control, make simple plays to break the puck out and skate himself into good situations. Muzzin has always been a shutdown type, but struggled with Barrie. Continuing to play that pair together until they prove they can’t take the tougher competition is a wise idea.
As for Rielly, Barrie, Dermott and Ceci, there needs to be some consistency. It’s unlikely that Sandin plays minutes with these four ahead of them, although I’d make the argument that he should play over Ceci. It is extremely clear that Rielly-Ceci doesn’t work, which leaves the logical Rielly-Barrie pair. That is currently being tried, but until there is a body of work with both players healthy, it is hard to evaluate. The bottom two pairs have a lot of unknowns right now, and that needs to be sorted out with some assurance in the very near future.
To Sum It Up
Hopefully, the Leafs are feeling cheery and not Grinch-y. The backup goalie situation is the biggest wish on the list, and most certainly the hardest to solve. The other three are relatively attainable scenarios, in comparison. All four of these wishes would go a long way to sustained success for the Leafs.