What’s going right and what’s going wrong for the Leafs a quarter of the way through the season
Photo credit:Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
By Jon Steitzer1 year ago
The Leafs season has reached the quarter mark, and it’s been quintessentially Leafy. The Leafs stunk up October, reminded us that they are for real in November, and along the way have had five of their key defensemen and both of their NHL goaltenders miss a significant amount of time. In the spirit of the season being 1/4 over, I’ve asked the TLN crew what is their biggest positive and negative of the season so far. Here are their answers.
The biggest positive for me has been the play of John Tavares. I expected him to be a massive disappointment this season but he has been a pleasant surprise and is on pace for his most points since his first season in Toronto. I thought the speed of the game would pass him by but he just does all the little things right and continues to rack up the points.Although he has played fairly well in his four games the biggest disappointment is Matt Murray. Who would have thought a goalie who hasn’t made more than 30 starts since 2019-20 would run into injury issues? If he can somehow manage to stay healthy the move to acquire him might look okay but at this point, it’s a huge miss.
The biggest positive(s) are John Tavares, and the goaltending. Tavares has exceeded pretty much everyone’s expectations for him thus far. He is above a point per game and leads the team in goals. His face off percentage is 57%, and he’s getting it done on both sides of the ice. Nobody would have predicted that 1/4 way through, JT would be leading the Buds in goals. In terms of goaltending, both Murray and Samsonov have shown (in small samples) that they can be well above average NHL netminders this year. While their health hasn’t been stellar, both goalies have shown that when healthy – they can play. Would you rather have kept Campbell?From a negative standpoint, the health is my biggest takeaway. Murray and Samsonov have forced Kallgren into playing much more than anyone would have wanted. The back end is very concerning. Jake Muzzin could have played his last game, which is something nobody foresaw. We wish him all the best in his recovery. Rielly is out for some time, and Brodie is on the shelf as well. Having Mark Giordano and Justin Holl as your current top pairing is less than ideal. Hopefully, the forwards can stay healthy, and the d core/netminders find some consistency going forward.
A major positive for the Leafs this season has been goaltending. The tandem of Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov was expected to be a major weak spot for the team, but in a small sample size, those two have proved to be very capable NHL net minders when healthy, which brings me to the negative.This season has been a really difficult one for the Leafs in terms of health, just look at the blue line they rolled out for Wednesday’s game against the Devils. Morgan Rielly, TJ Brodie, and Jake Muzzin, all key cogs of the back end for the past few years, have missed games. Both of the Leafs’ two starters in Murray and Samsonov, not to mention number 3 goalie Joseph Woll, have also missed time, forcing Sheldon Keene to throw Erik Kallgren to the wolves. The team has coped well, but they have to hope the injury bug stops making its way through the team.
Positive: John Tavares = The furthest possible thing from “washed”
Another that I’ll toss a spotlight on since my fellow writers have pumped JT’s tires enough, the rediscovered magic of occasionally swapping Nylander and Marner, I don’t know why a coach who changes lines almost every game kept the Marner-Matthews, Nylander-Tavares duos locked together at the hip for so long, but now it’s an asset that he can use to freshen up the lineup in a meaningful way when a change is needed.Negative: Why can’t this team win in overtime? Make it make sense. They have the talent, just need some more practice reps.
A big positive for me has been the the play of the goaltending as a whole. While Erik Kallgren has been far from perfect, he has been able to turn in a few key saves to keep his team in the game and helped weather the storm when the Leafs were severely shorthanded in the crease. Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov have both run into injury troubles to begin the year, while also being exceptional when healthy. Toronto won a lot of their games last season in spite of their goaltending, now it’s one of their genuine strengths and it’s an encouraging sign early on.A major concern has been the lacklustre scoring totals. The big four have certainly done their jobs but the collective whole has simply not gotten enough offence generated. Some regression from the season prior was definitely expected after the previous year, but they certainly could use some more offensive pop (especially in overtime). They have been able to win in spite of it and have the talent to turn things around on that front, but the lack of offence from the team as a whole is a negative for sure.
The positive for me has to be the way Mark Giordano has stepped up with the absences of both Morgan Rielly and T.J. Brodie. The oldest (!!!) player in the NHL has averaged just under 19 minutes of ice-time per game this season. That’s only 3.5 minutes lower than his career average of 22.5 minutes per game.His leadership and play — along with the hometown discount he took this summer — make him my positive at the quarter mark of the season.The negative is Auston Matthews’ underwhelming start to the season. In past years, it’s felt like he could score a goal whenever he wanted to. But this season has felt far from that.Matthews is averaging a point-per-game, which is great. However, I would like to see him put pucks into the back of the net more often. Nine goals in 21 games just isn’t cutting it for me.
I don’t do positive particularly well, but there is still a lot to be happy about with the Leafs. In the spirit of being slightly different than some of the responses above, I’d say my positive is that William Nylander is living up to being the best version of William Nylander and demonstrating that he is the team’s premier puck carrier. Looking back at Nylander during the World Hockey Championships there was a lot of “why can’t Willy play like this all the time?” feedback, and he seems to be delivering on playing to that level every game. One of the biggest issues I had coming into this season was that too many Leafs had career years last season and it seemed unlikely that everyone was going to play up to that level this season. Nylander is one of the few who is exceeding his 2021-22 results.
As for the negative, I guess 21 games in I’m no closer to believing that Sheldon Keefe is anything better than an average coach who is getting to work with an elite roster. I don’t doubt that he understands how to identify the issues with the Leafs, but I don’t believe is the best at correcting what plagues the Leafs. The Leafs still struggle to break through the clogged high danger areas of the offensive zone. The Leafs still trip over their opponent’s blueline if their standard carry-ins are met with resistance, and Keefe seems lost with what to do with the few physical presences that find their way into the Leafs lineup. I’m not saying that Keefe can’t win me over. He just hasn’t yet.
Let us know in the comments, what have been your positives and negatives for the Leafs this year.
Recent articles from Jon Steitzer