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Calle Jarnkrok’s Mr. Consistency act is needed more than ever

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Photo credit:D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports
Arun Srinivasan
1 month ago
Familiarity breeds contempt and constant failure metastasizes it.
During a pivotal stretch of the most important Toronto Maple Leafs season of the 21st century, the team has capitulated in the third period, culminating in four consecutive losses where the team squandered the lead. This is a frustrating club — or hilarious, depending on your vantage point — to observe, given that the team boasts two down-ballot Hart candidates in Auston Matthews and William Nylander and the offensive talent most coaches could only dream of.
“After 42 games, I still have questions about who I can rely upon,” Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said Wednesday via The Athletic’s Joshua Kloke.
Keefe crooning on about trust issues evokes the repetitive mantra of October Very Own’s Drake but there may be something there, even if he’s ultimately responsible for the line combinations and defensive structure that the Maple Leafs have struggled to sort out. There is no consistency beyond the Core Four and Morgan Rielly, save for Calle Jarnkrok.
Jarnkrok, by my count, registered the fewest number of ‘bad’ games aside from Matthews and Nylander and his ability to elevate any line he’s placed on, whether it’s the first or the third, is paramount to a team where the disparity between the team’s stars and ancillary pieces has never been more pronounced.
Matthews, Nylander, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and Morgan Rielly have accounted for 56.7 percent of the team’s goals. That’s a frightening amount of responsibility attached to the team’s leadership group, although if you’re deigning to be optimistic, Matthews vying for his second Rocket in three years skews the figures. If you include Jarnkrok, six players account for 63.5 percent of Toronto’s goals thus far. It’s an indictment on the bottom-six and now it may become incumbent on Jarnkrok to elevate his game to a new level, especially during Tavares’ least productive stretch of his Maple Leafs tenure.
Although the roster has undergone a significant overhaul since last season, we have precedent to draw upon. Last year, the Maple Leafs’ offense completely dried up for large stretches of March and Jarnkrok came to the rescue, leading the team in 5-on-5 goals during a 10-game span. Jarnkrok truly benefited on the team’s top scoring line with Matthews and Marner. The skeptical response is that anyone could thrive with the NHL’s premier goal scorer and an all-world playmaker, but there’s more to it than that. Jarnkrok’s underrated ability to get his shot off in tight spaces, his puck retrieval skills, his ability to extend plays and make himself available in the slot helped reinvigorate the Maple Leafs’ offense last year, and it very well could work again
This season, Jarnkrok played 66:33 with Matthews and Marner, the line generated four goals, two against, but posted sub-45 percent expected goals and Corsi at 5-on-5 via Natural Stat Trick. Jarnkrok played 77:13 with Matthews and Marner in 2022-23 and the line outshot opponents 45-30, while outscoring them 4-3, while posting a 57.7 percent share of the expected goals at 5-on-5 and it’s more likely to reason that the 2022-23 output is a truer indication of the line’s capabilities.
Pontus Holmberg has done well on the top line, with six points in his last six games while Marner has constantly praised his hockey intelligence and tenacity. Let’s call it what it is: Holmberg is miscast in a top-six role and it’s not a permanent solution for the Maple Leafs. Jarnkrok is simply a better player and while Holmberg is amid the best stretch of his career, while also riding an unsustainable 16.7 percent shooting percentage over the past 10 games, the former has continued to hum along metronomically.
During Toronto’s past ten games (ed note: prior to Thursday’s contest against the Calgary Flames) Jarnkrok ranks fifth in shots team-wide, fourth in individual scoring chances, fourth in individual expected goals third in rebounds created, tied for fifth in individual high-danger chances, while being a stabilizing force on Toronto’s third line. He constantly puts himself in good positions and generates chances for his linemates. Keefe may not be able to trust anybody but Jarnkrok excels on special teams and should be a permanent fixture over David Kampf. If the Maple Leafs want to snap Tavares out of his scoring slump, it may be worth tinkering with the lines again, with Jarnkrok and Tavares paired together. Both players have made a concerted effort of shooting to draw rebounds, which leads to easier goals, and the Maple Leafs have to be open to anything amid this potentially era-defining slump.
Jarnkrok’s game is pretty simple and displays an understanding of hockey’s rudimentary principles: if you throw pucks at the net, good things will happen and if you optimize shooting location and high-efficiency looks above all, great things will happen! Jarnkrok has been paired with Tyler Bertuzzi — whose analytical profile suggested he’s due for an offensive explosion and has been prone to poor shooting luck – and Max Domi, who is more comfortable offensively at centre but squanders any advantage with his relative inability to get out of the defensive third. On the above play, Jarnkrok makes a simple one-touch pass to Bertuzzi, who can’t bank in a golden chance against the Edmonton Oilers on Jan. 16.
Here’s another simple play from Jarnkrok, which Matthew Knies fails to convert during a 7-0 rout of the Pittsburgh Penguins on Dec. 16.
Bertuzzi deserves a ton of credit on the next clip, where Jarnkrok scores against the Los Angeles Kings during a Jan. 2 victory. Jarnkrok is adept at slipping past defenders, akin to a striker beating an offsides trap and his ability to get into the slot, both off the rush and in stationery sequences within the offensive third is a major asset for a Maple Leafs team that can’t generate offense outside of its Core Five.
It’s become apparent that there aren’t simple answers for Keefe but Jarnkrok deserves more playing time, even if his impact hasn’t shown up on the scoresheet recently. He is Mr. Consistency, he does all the small things well and the Maple Leafs are best suited reverting back to basics during perilous times in the wild West.

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