Can we (finally) trust these Maple Leafs in the knockouts?

Coach Sheldon Keefe seemed to be grinding his teeth. He’s like a proud parent whose kids all got A’s all year but were forced to cut their grades. How can he be mad when the results are mostly so good all year?

And yet, he struggled to hide his disappointment after his Toronto Maple Leafs made a listless effort in a 4-2 home loss to the Buffalo Sabers on Tuesday.

“Games like these are why we’re still playing at home in the first round,” Keefe said. “We’ve been playing so well for most of the season against most of the teams in the league that nights like this are holding us back as well.”

“It looks like we don’t have a lot of energy on the bench, a lot of energy on the ice,” added center Auston Matthews.

So yes, the Leafs spawned last week and, puzzlingly, did so in three of four meetings with the rebuilding Buffalo Sabers, who just set an NHL record of missing 11 consecutive eliminations. direct. Perhaps the problem is that being locked into a playoff slot for so long it’s hard to get into a random match on Tuesday in April.

“Yes, there is definitely some of that at play,” Keefe said. “That’s why it was easy for me to get through this game because we played really well when the team was challenged. Wish we didn’t have nights like this. We could be a team competing for the Presidential Title. “

Even the strongest teams get the nights off, and the Leafs’ rate of .685 points, the second-best in their 104 seasons, makes it easy for them to beat the all-time record for points in the season. 105. But the expectation is unique for a team that is only weeks away from facing their Minotaur: the first round of the Stanley Cup knockouts, a monster that has beaten them five times in a row in the era. Matthews / Mitch Marner. As we head into the post-season, it’s natural to look for weak points in Toronto’s armor, heralding another downfall. This year “felt different”, with the Leafs always dominating, but last year “felt different too”, remember?

That’s why it can still sound a few small alarm bells when a Toronto team stacks up suggesting it could be brushed off by a non-playoff opponent. Will the Leafs win their sixth consecutive season in Round 1? Or is this team really different from other incarnations that have failed?

Let’s compare six teams of the Matthews/Marner era in several categories to look for signs of progress. As offense increases league-wide this season, we’ll be looking at league rankings rather than actual stats to better understand how Toronto has assessed its opponents.

Violation 5 out of 5

Season Goals / 60 Number of shots / 60 Chance to score / 60 Chance HD / 60 Expected target / 60
2016-17 5order 5order 2nd 11order 2nd
2017-18 2nd 16order 2nd 8order 6order
2018-19 2nd 7order firstst 5order 4order
2019-20 8order 7order 2nd 8order 5order
2020-21 3rd 9order 2nd 2nd 4order
2021-22 3rd 7order 2nd 3rd 3rd

No surprises here. The Leafs have been a wagon, on the offensive side, throughout the era, frequently among the league’s elite in creating not only opportunities in bulk but also high-quality opportunities. Having a skill set that includes Matthews, Marner, William Nylander, John Tavares and Morgan Rielly will do just that.

Defense 5 vs 5

Season Goals vs. / 60 Kickback / 60 Chance to score against / 60 Chance against HD / 60 Expected target vs /60
2016-17 23rd 27th 22nd 14order 25order
2017-18 14order 28order 23rd 19order 27order
2018-19 18order 29order 25order 18order 25order
2019-20 27order 18order 17order 21st 19order
2020-21 6order 6order 17order 9order tenorder
2021-22 24order twelfthorder 9order tenorder 8order

The first four seasons of the Matthews/Marner era, the Leafs were the NHL’s most high-profile event team, the embodiment of entertainment, matching their elite offensive play with shoddy defensive play. across a wide area. Last season, which was the first full campaign under coach Sheldon Keefe, saw a shift in the team’s identity, thanks in large part to the addition of mind-bending boss TJ Brodie. Leafs have gone from terrible defense to completely above average. For this season, their letdown target shows they’ve fallen behind, but check out the other categories. They are still ranked above average in limiting enemy attacks and really have the best expected head-to-head record of this era. It’s not too hard to see why they conceded 5 out of 5 while playing solid defense. That brings us to the next category…

Table hunting

Season Savings percentage 5 out of 5
2016-17 19order
2017-18 6order
2018-19 7order
2019-20 28order
2020-21 7order
2021-22 30th

Last season, the Leafs’ improved defensive discipline made a good marriage with Jack Campbell’s breakout season. This year, especially after the calendar moves to 2022, the ability to score goals is a major weakness. The Leafs have struggled more nights than not, but they won’t get far in the post-season if Campbell can’t figure out his game. Since he returned from a weeks absence with a rib injury, not much has changed. He has 0.891 saves, but is 3-0-1 in four appearances. It’s the perfect branding for this year’s Leafs.

Special team

Season Power game Killing penalty
2016-17 2nd tenorder
2017-18 2nd 11order
2018-19 8order 18order
2019-20 6order 21st
2020-21 16order 24order
2021-22 firstst Saturday

Here we see a noticeable difference between this year’s team compared to previous tournaments. Last season marked the five worst teams in the Matthews/Marner era, and Toronto’s power play disaster moved into the knockout stages, where they converted only a 13% chance. They made a concerted effort to improve their special teams for 2021-22, bringing in Spencer Carbery from AHL’s Hershey Bears to create a less predictable power play and Dean Chynoweth from Carolina Hurricanes to operating the PK.


In terms of quality, there is a case to be made that the Leafs are in a good amount of space as they approach the 2021-22 post-season. They are one of the most stable teams in the league. Together they made five winning streaks in five games or more. Their season-long losing streak is four games, and it happened once. They are 10-5-2 against seven teams currently occupying playoff spots in the Eastern Conference, including 5-1-1 against the Boston Bruins, Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning. They receive career years from a variety of players, most notably Matthews, whose 58 goals are already a franchise record a season with nine games remaining on the schedule. They have a beloved, veteran leader who added to their dressing room culture in blueliner Mark Giordano. And defender Jake Muzzin, their only major influence with Stanley Cup-winning experience (hats to Kyle Clifford), was invited to rejoin the squad on Thursday. The desperate attempt to get captain John Tavares replaced after a monstrous head injury ended his season in the 2021 knockout rounds, and there are plenty of motivational storylines that Leaf fans can cling to. .

So does that mean the 2021-22 Leafs are really “different”? Do not like, difference difference? We won’t know until we see them compete in the post-season. On paper, however, they have maintained most of their statistical gains over the past six years and show marked improvement in new areas. In the end, how far they can go down to how well their goalkeeper saves.

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