Guest Post: What If The Leafs Biggest Problem Isn't Scoring Goals?
BY KYLE BOSLEY
How many times has it happened in this young season? The Leafs, with all the momentum heading into the final stages of a game, lose in less than impressive fashion.
Since their 4-0 start, they have gone 1-5-3. That record is eerily close to the record from the dreadful start of last season. So I think there is reason to be a little concerned right now.
But the reason for this current slump isn't just a lack of production. It is also terrible penalty killing.
Two of the last three games were lost as a direct result of a poor PK, which has plummeted from Top 10 all the way down to 21st in the league at 79.6 per cent. The PK bottomed out at 24th after the Washington game. Or consider this: In the Leafs last 9 games, only the Sabres and Rangers have been held without a power play goal.
Part of the problem has been a lack of truly brilliant goaltending, as both The Monster and Jiggy have been doing their best headless chicken impressions at times. Sure, on Alexander Semin's power play goal there were some strange bounces. But Monster wasn't even remotely close to making it back in time for a critical save.
With both goalies often caught out of position, you have to wonder why this is happening. The answer: The opposition have been allowed to move the puck around freely and with no pressure.
Early in the season, the Leafs did not allow any open passing lanes. But that changed with John Tavares’ OT winner and it has continued right through to the 3-2 loss to Ottawa when the Sens scored two power play goals in the second period.
Right now, opposing teams are granted time and space to cycle the puck at will and the result has been ugly. Not even cross-ice passes, through multiple defenders, are being stopped.
When the PK isn't to blame for a loss, it has put the Leafs behind early (Boston, October 28) or has brought talented teams right back into the game (Pittsburgh, October 13).
The most pitiful shorthanded performance by far came last Tuesday against the Senators as the Leaf penalty killers – possibly not expecting much from a team that considers Alex Kovalev to still be a major scoring threat – decided to play follow the leader.
Just watch how instead of reading a rather basic cycle, the defenders chase the puck from man to man. There was no serious pressure applied and no real attempt to cover the next pass.
With at least three games lost due to bad penalty killing this is where the Leafs need to focus on improvement right now. This was the Achilles heel of Toronto last year and has proven very costly so far this season.
To get the PK back on track, the Leafs need to:
1. Press the attackers, not the puck
2. Read the play, not just react
3. Disrupt the passing lanes
4. Block shots or get out of the way (goalies can't stop what they don't see)
With the Leafs taking on Tampa tonight, some simple alterations could help shut down the Lightning power play. This is a critical task when you're up against Steven Stamkos, a sniper who now leads the league in goals, points and power play goals.
However, if the PK current trend continues and improvements aren't soon made, this season may already be lost.
Kyle Bosley, born with blue in his veins and hockey in his heart, is the creator of The 5th Line Centre, a Leafs blog he runs while living in hostile Senators' territory.