Slight optimism Maple Leafs can turn around their slow start given recent track record
Photo credit:Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
By Joseph Zita1 month ago
It’s no secret the Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t started the season how their fans had hoped, and I don’t have to be the one to tell you that. However, given their track record over the past two seasons, there is slight optimism that this team could turn their play around sooner rather than later.
It was a very eventful off-season for the Maple Leafs. From the second-round playoff exit at the hands of the Florida Panthers, to the firing of Kyle Dubas, to the hiring of Brad Treliving and the additions that followed him here once free agency opened up, it’s safe to say things have been chaotic. That said, the Maple Leafs are a team that has historically started the season a little slow sometimes. Since the 2016-17 season, Toronto has only had four seasons with a point percentage greater than .500 in October.
2016-17: 2-4-3 – seven points in nine October games (.388 PTS%)
2017-18: 7-5-0 – 14 points in 12 October games (.583 PTS%)
2018-19: 8-4-0 -16 points in 12 October games (.667 PTS%)
2019-20: 6-5-3 – 15 points in 14 October games (.536 PTS%)
2021-22: 4-4-1 – nine points in nine October games ( .500 PTS%)
2022-22: 4-4-2 – 10 points in 10 October games (.500 PTS%)
2023-24: 5-3-1 – 11 points in nine October games (.611 PTS%)
Although their second-highest points percentage in October has come this season, they’ve dropped their first two games of November and have now lost four consecutive games with their recent loss to the Buffalo Sabres.
Now, this article is more due to the Maple Leafs’ slow start in their previous two seasons and how they responded. As I mentioned above, their start to the 2021-22 and 2022-23 seasons were pretty similar. In both years, they had points percentages of .500 and were pretty middle-of-the-pack through the first month of hockey. Fortunately, in both seasons, Toronto responded well in their next 20-plus games and turned their slow start into a hot stretch, picking up points left, right and center.
Here are the Maple Leafs’ numbers through their first 11 games played over the past three seasons (including this season)
2021-22: 6-4-1 – 2.45 goals per game – 2.72 goals against per game
2022-23: 5-4-2 – 2.90 goals per game – 2.90 goals against per game
2023-24: 5-4-2 – 3.27 goals per game – 3.36 goals against per game
It’s been similar, record-wise, at least, for the Maple Leafs over the past three years. However, one area where it’s much different is the goals per game and goals against per game. They are scoring at a higher rate this year through 11 games compared to the previous two seasons, but also allowing way more goals against than the other two seasons. And that was expected with Brad Treliving’s off-season additions.
Treliving’s off-season additions
Speaking of Brad Treliving’s off-season additions, the four notable additions he made this past summer have all been underwhelming. He spent $14 million on Bertuzzi, Domi, Klingberg and Reaves, and none of them have had more than one good game. Bertuzzi and Domi, who were brought in to help Toronto’s secondary scoring problem while adding a different element on the ice, have combined for only eight points in 11 games (two goals and six assists).
Klingberg, brought in to help make Toronto’s power play even better while adding more offence to the blue line, has been the worst addition by a mile that Treliving has made since being named Maple Leafs GM. Although he has five assists to his name in 11 games, his play away from the puck has been awful, and I know he is not known for his defence, but it’s been hard to watch him play.
Lastly, Reaves, who we all know why was brought into Toronto, hasn’t shown the reason why he was brought into Toronto since the first two games of the season. Outside of his eight hits and two fights in the first two games of the season, Reaves has just 14 hits and zero fights in his last nine games. Not to mention, his line has generated close to nothing offensively and always seems to be stuck in the defensive zone and allowing teams to score on them.
Optimism Maple Leafs can turn it around
Now, earlier, I showed Toronto’s starts through 11 games over the past three seasons and how they’re all pretty similar. Well, what if I told you that just like their slow starts in 2021-22 and 2022-23, they turned it around in their next 21 games?
2021-22: 16-4-1 – 3.85 goals per game – 2.29 goals against per game
2022-23: 14-3-4 – 3.38 goals per game – 2.19 goals against per game
After starting both seasons with records of 4-4-1 and 4-4-2, they responded with a winning percentage of .800 in their next 21 games during the 2021-22 season and .667 in the 2022-23 season. Also, it’s not just that they were winning more games after their slow start to the season. It’s how they were winning the games. In both years, Toronto not only increased their win total by a lot, but they also started to score at a higher rate and keep the puck out of their net more often.
In 2021-22, they went from averaging 2.45 goals per game in their first 11 games to 3.85 goals per game in their next 21, and for goals against, they went from 2.72 goals against per game – which is still very good – to 2.29 in their next 21.
And it’s the same story for the 2022-23 season. They went from 2.90 goals per game and 2.90 goals against per game in their first 11 games to 3.38 goals per game and an incredible 2.19 goals against per game in their next 21. They also did this last season with injuries to the blue line. Remember when the Maple Leafs lost Morgan Rielly, TJ Brodie and Jake Muzzin to injury, and they relied on a 39-year-old Mark Giordano to pick up the workload? It was an impressive run for the team, and they played great on both ends of the ice.
Currently, Toronto is without Timothy Liljegren, Conor Timmins and Jake McCabe – who might get back into the lineup soon – and it’s been a struggle for this team with their play away from the puck. However, just that reminder of how well this team played in the previous two seasons after a slow start gives me a little optimism that they can turn it around here soon. However, it starts with the team playing as one unit, and the secondary scorers have to start helping out more often because although the production from the core four has been good, they can’t carry this team every night.
(Stats from Hockey-Reference.com)
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