It’s time for the Maple Leafs captain to lead

Photo credit:Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports
Vicken Polatian
7 days ago
We’re approaching six years since that wonderful morning on July 1st, when this beautiful photo graced our timelines.
John Tavares chooses Toronto. Finally.
Leafs fans had heard the rumours before with guys like Rick Nash and Steven Stamkos, but this time it was real. A true superstar was coming home. Being named the 25th captain in team history seemed like the perfect fit.
Tavares was the quiet leader in the circus that is Toronto. Never too high, never too low, but with the inexperience of the rest of the “Core-Four” he had the biggest target on his back. It’s funny how things can change so much, in such a short time. It’s been a different year for the 33-year-old. He went pointless over a 9 game stretch in January, which caused a lot of concern throughout the fan base. He was moved down to the third line for a few games as a way to balance the offence.
A lot of the talk surrounding Tavares has been about 14 months from now when his contract is finally off the books, and the salary cap flexibility it will give General Manager Brad Treliving.
He’s lost a step. They should move him to the wing. They should’ve re-signed O’Reilly.
Sure, John Tavares had a down year by his standards, only 29 goals, but the underlying numbers were still eye-popping. Fourth in the NHL in expected goals behind only Zach Hyman, Auston Matthews, and Sam Reinhart. Numbers don’t tell the entire story, but the dip in production looks to simply be a case of bad luck. He’s shooting the puck as much, if not more, than in previous seasons, but his shooting percentage is at a career low. This may be a huge positive for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Ahead of their 4th playoff meeting with the Boston Bruins since 2013, the biggest question seems to be, “Who is facing the most pressure on the Toronto Maple Leafs’ team?” Whether it’s Mitch Marner, Ilya Samsonov, Auston Matthews, or Sheldon Keefe, for the first time in a long time, it feels like the Captain is flying under the radar and that’s exactly when he’s the most dangerous.
Boston will start the series with their two best defensemen playing together, presumably to shut down the Auston Matthews line. (With the gamesmanship we’ve seen already, we won’t actually know until puck drop.)
Charlie Coyle, and Pavel Zacha are very good players that fit the style Jim Montgomery wants to play and should actually be praised for the jobs they’ve done filling the massive holes left by Patrice Bergeron, and David Krejci. In fact, Coyle and Zacha BOTH scored more points than Bergeron, and Krejci did last season. Kudos to them. However, as well all know, Bergeron did so much more than just put up points. If we take a deeper look into some defensive/possession stats from Bergeron last season to what they are now, that’s where the drop-off is much more visible.
Puck possession (Corsi%):
Bergeron 62%
Zacha 52%
Coyle 47%
On-Ice Goals % (Difference):
Bergeron 73.8% (+71)
Zacha 58.8% (+30)
Coyle 47.6% (-8)
Boston has used Coyle much more in defensive role with 23% of his shifts starting in the defensive zone (Zacha 12%). He clearly hasn’t had the impact they were expecting. If Boston chooses to hard-match the two top lines, the Leafs have a real opportunity to take advantage of a clear mismatch. With a reconfigured top-line taking all the tougher matchups, no hall-of-fame defensive centre, and a fresh Mitch Marner riding shotgun on his wing, we should start to see exactly why the bold move was made to bring in a guy like Tavares in the first place.
If the Toronto Maple Leafs have any chance of winning this series, they have to dominate the minutes John Tavares is on the ice.
The Captain feeling no pressure, and a clean slate in the playoffs should be a scary thought for the Boston Bruins, as we all know what he’s capable of, even with the weight of the world on his shoulders.

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