With the All-Star break coming up, it’s that time again. How are the Toronto Maple Leafs doing at the halfway point of the 2021-22 NHL season?
I’m going to start by saying this: the way last season ended was painfully gut-wrenching and heartbreaking. Changes needed to be made in the offseason, and they were. Albeit in a way that initially caused some leaf fans to scratch their heads, myself included. So, how are the leafs doing? Let’s start with:
Sheldon Keefe is still relatively new as the head coach of the Leafs; many people forget that This is technically his third season behind Toronto’s bench, but it’s his first full 82 game season with the Leafs. The 2021 training camp was his first at the NHL level, which means it was his first chance to implement his systems and shape the Leafs precisely as he wanted. Some think Keefe is a player’s coach, that he panders to his superstars, and honestly, I think that is one of the biggest misconceptions about him; he’s a coach that isn’t satisfied with regular-season success. He’s all about building a team that is a creature of habit, a group that won’t be satisfied until they make some noise in the playoffs; the way he carries himself and responds to the media after games make that very clear.
To start the season, many people panicked, and rightfully so. The big four of Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner and William Nylander were nowhere in the first seven games as the leads went 2-4-1. This led to questions from both the media and fans alike, and some were even calling for widespread changes within the organization. It all came to a head when the Leafs, largely made up of NHLers, took on a Pittsburgh Penguins roster that Covid-19 ravaged and out of necessity had to dress a roster made almost entirely of American Hockey League players, a game in which Toronto ended up losing 7-1.
Seven games into the season, and the sky was falling in Leaf Land; again, maybe a little early, but rightfully so. However, the offence and the big four would wake up soon after and lead Toronto to a 23-9-3 record through 35 games played this year, the best 35 game record in Toronto’s 104-year history. Lead by… you guessed it, the big four. Matthes is once again on a torrid goal-scoring pace with 24 goals in 35 games; he’s projected to finish with 60 in 79 games played. After a reasonably slow start goal-scoring-wise, Tavares is on a point-per-game game pace with 34 points in 34 games, including 20 goals.
Marner, who didn’t have an excellent start to the season, has 21 points in 26 games played, and Nylander, who has been arguably the most consistent forward on the Leafs, has 36 points in 35 games, including 16 goals. The resurgence of the core-four after the first seven games coupled with Kyle Dubas’s off-season signings have arguably made 2021-22 Leaf’s offence the most consistent in recent memory, despite a few bumps.
Like the offence, the Leaf’s defence struggled out of the gate, and they struggled mightily, especially the second pair of Justin Holl and Jake Muzzin. The pair through the first part of the season was a defensive liability every time they were on the ice, it seemed. These struggles were shocking given that Muzzin, in particular, had, until the first part of this season, been an excellent, consistent defenceman since coming to Toronto in 2020. However, with the emergence of both Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren, along with Morgan Rielly catching fire after signing a 7-year contract extension to stay a Leaf beyond this season, the d-core would eventually start to right the ship. in fact, to this point, they’ve tightened so much defensively, they’ve only allowed 86 goals against, which is good for fifth in the NHL
Coming into the season, many people wanted to see how Jack Campbell would perform given the starting reigns for an entire 82 game season. After the signing of Petr Mrazek, many thought that he might if given a chance, give Campbell a run for his money to keep the starting job. That hasn’t been the case as Campbell has taken the starting opportunity and been unbelievable. Posting Vezina calibre numbers across 27 games this year, he’s posted 18 wins, five losses, and three overtime losses, with four shutouts and a 9.35 save percentage, along with a sparkling 2.02 goals-against average. Campbell has arguably been the best goalie and most consistent goalie the Leafs have had in over a decade. however, that isn’t Mrazek’s fault, injuries have hampered the newly signed Leafs back-up to just four games with his new team this season.
Outside of a couple of disappointing games, the most recent being against the Arizona Coyotes a couple of nights ago, this is the most complete Leaf’s team we’ve seen in a long time, enjoy it while you can, take a deep breath every once in a while and know, this Toronto Maple Leaf’s team is very, very good. We’re all petrified for the playoffs, but before they come, enjoy the rest of the season.
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