Maple Leafs October special teams report: Power play good, penalty kill bad
Photo credit:© Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
By Alex Hobson1 month ago
The Toronto Maple Leafs have given the fans no shortage of things to talk about through the first month of the season. With a record of 5-3-1 nine games into the season, they currently sit tied for fourth in the Atlantic Division, although in a playoff spot. Talking about the playoffs right now is complete insanity, but there are some factors to talk about now that will certainly come into play once we reach the postseason.
You’ve probably read more than enough discourse about how the new acquisitions are struggling to start the season, so we’re going to take things in a different direction here, and see how the team’s special teams have been holding up so far. Again, it’s only been nine games, meaning these numbers are pretty skewed, but they exist for a reason.
Let’s start with the power play. As it stands right now, the Leafs’ percentage with the man advantage sits at 31.5%, good for fifth in the league. This is par for the course for a team with as much top-end talent as Toronto, and it’s trending towards another finish near the top of the league. They had the NHL’s best power play in 2021-22 and finished with the league’s second best in 2022-23, so another top-5 finish should be expected even with Guy Boucher at the helm instead of Spencer Carbery.
The Leafs clearly understood the assignment of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, because their power play looks strikingly similar to the way it’s been in years past. The top unit is loaded up, with the only change being John Klingberg as the quarterback instead of Morgan Rielly. With five assists in nine games so far, I’d imagine the Leafs were hoping to get a little more production out of Klingberg early on. Rielly even took his spot on the point towards the end of Tuesday’s game against the Los Angeles Kings, but that may have just been an effort to shake things up.
The only other issue from the Leafs so far has been the consistency of their power play. They scored four power play goals in their first two games, only one in the next three games, and then five goals in the following four games. Otherwise, they’ve generally done a good job of capitalizing on their chances and it’s taken up a good chunk of their offence so far this year.
Now, let’s talk penalty killing.
The Leafs penalty kill has been significantly worse than the past two years to kick off the season. It’s currently sitting 26th in the league out of 32 teams at 74.2%, and don’t get mad at me for bringing it up, but we’re now seeing the main drawback of losing players like Alex Kerfoot and Justin Holl. Those two were both scapegoats for their final years in Toronto, and given the former’s inconsistency offensively and the latter’s brain farts on defence, it was warranted at times.
That said, we always knew that the risk of exchanging those players for ones such as Klingberg, Max Domi, and Tyler Bertuzzi was going to be the inevitable step back on defence. But especially early on, it’s evident where the presence of those players has been missed.It also doesn’t help that the Leafs have been using the start of the season to experiment with their penalty kill. As they hinted they would in training camp, they’ve been using star players like Auston Matthews and William Nylander while shorthanded, and also testing rookie Matthew Knies in the role as well.
As of right now, the top four forwards in shorthanded TOI (time on ice) are David Kampf, Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, and Calle Jarnkrok. The kill has definitely been more mobile than it’s been in years past, with more opportunities to carry the puck out of the zone rather than just icing the puck, but they haven’t been keeping the puck out of the net. On 31 power plays allowed, they’ve surrendered eight power play goals.
Since, once again, it’s only been nine games, I’d imagine the Leafs will keep trying to make the power-kill work. It’s a new style with new players, after all. That said, if we get into the new year and closer to the trade deadline and it’s evident that it’s not working, I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Leafs a) go back to a more traditional style of killing penalties, and b) trade for another centre who specializes in killing penalties, perhaps with a little more offence to provide than David Kampf.
I’ll repeat this one more time, and feel free to screenshot it to remind yourself every time you read an article. It’s early. These numbers, whether it’s power play or penalty kill, do not reflect where they’ll be all season, but it’s a nice indicator as to where they’re at right now.
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