The Toronto Maple Leafs were predicted to be one of the best teams going into the NHL 2021-22 season, and have yet to put up the numbers that would be expected of a top team. While the teams’ performances haven’t been altogether bad, they have yet to show that they deserve the title of a top team in the league.
What’s Missing in the Team?
Currently, the team is missing star player Auston Matthews, who won the Maurice Richard Trophy last season. This is a notable absence, with the player getting consistent first-line minutes and is a huge driving force behind the teams’ success, putting up a massive number of points and really inspiring to the other forward players. However, this missing player shouldn’t break the entire team as they have no shortage of leadership and no shortage of star power. Between the forward prowess of John Tavares, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander, and the defensive force of Jake Muzzin, Morgan Rielly, and T.J. Brodie, the Leafs should still be strong even with a missing player.
This leaves the question still of what could the team really be missing? What seems to be missing is that spark to say that it is a new season. This spark is a crucial element to teams, as it is the drive to make it back and do better than they did last season and bounce back from the summer break.
How to Improve
The Leafs need to bounce back and show that they deserve their title as one of the best in the league. The team will need to look to stabilize in defence, helping to ease the pressure on their goalie. This will be especially important in back-to-back games, especially until Petr Mrazek recovers from a lower-body injury.
Overall, the loss of Mrazek really shortens out the goalie choices, however, this could be a star opportunity for Jack Campbell to once again show that he has what it takes to be the starter for the Leafs. The goalie made a stellar showing last season and worked hard in his starting position. If the goalie can maintain form, he will prove he is deserving of the starting position, and the Maple Leafs will have the opportunity to bring in someone younger who can grow into the starter position.
Further than just their goalies, the Leafs may need to try some new line pairings in defence, as their lines from last season were broken up, and Rasmus Sandin looks to claim his spot. With the current bottom line pairing being the two youngest defensemen in the team, the Leafs haven’t been rotating the defence as much and as such, there are more opportunities for offensive players to find open space and get a breakaway. If the team mixes these two young players into the lines with some league veterans, they might grow exponentially, and help the team feel more comfortable rotating the three lines.
In offence, the team just needs to find their legs and get more quality shots on the net. This may mean moving Tavares back to his usual spot on the second line and shifting forward another center to play between Nick Ritchie and Marner until Matthews returns. This could spice up the lines, as well as possibly finding more chemistry and instilling some confidence in the center that is chosen to play on the first line.
With all things considered, the Maple Leafs have a huge opportunity to turn it around and a lot of ways that they can do it, including a return to some of their powerful line pairings. Throughout the season there may be more points in which this situation will need to be reaccessed, and until the team finds their confidence, those top-of-the-league performances might not be an every-night expectation.
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