The Toronto Maple Leafs have been on a tear as of late. They’ve gone 6-0-1 in their last seven games. They’ve played an entertaining brand of hockey during that span, scoring an abundance of goals, but their sloppy defensive play is troubling, to say the least.
Over the seven-game stretch, they have 36 GF (5.14 per game) and 23 GA (3.28 per game). The Leafs team GAA during the first 40 games of the season is 3.27. This means that their recent track record has been a trend since the start of the campaign.
It’s a well-known fact that the style of hockey during the regular season is different than the playoffs. During the season, there’s more leeway when it comes to run-and-gun offensive hockey, whereas in the playoffs, teams have to tighten things up and be more responsible defensively.
However, it has been encouraging to see their highest-paid forwards putting up big offensive numbers. This past week, John Tavares was the NHL’s “Third Star” of the Week, as he had seven points (two goals and five assists) in three games. Both Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner had ten points in their last five games. William Nylander had nine points over that period of time as well. Zach Hyman can’t be overlooked either, as he had seven points during the past five outings.
As for goaltending, the Leafs would be nowhere without Frederik Andersen, who’s the backbone of their team. He’s been relied on heavily to make spectacular saves after frequent defensive lapses. Andersen is 4-0-1 in his last five games. He was selected to play in the All-Star Game, which takes place in St. Louis on Jan. 25, along with Matthews. Even backup Michael Hutchinson has rebounded, with back-to-back wins after an abysmal 0-5-1 record to start the season. I think it’s safe to say that he got the chip off his shoulder.
In order for the Leafs to have success in the playoffs, they must improve their overall team defense. Once April rolls around, their offense can’t be expected to average five goals per game, it’s unrealistic. There will be games where they’ll have to win 3-2 or 2-1, in which there will be no room for error. Opposing players will elevate their performance level and will be eager to take advantage of the Leafs defensive deficiencies if they don’t get their act together before the playoffs start. As the saying goes, “defense wins championships.”
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