When Randy Carlyle took over the Leafs a year ago he reminded one and all that no team succeeds without stout defence.
Lately the difficulty has come in reminding his team.
Despite consistent goalscoring the Leafs’ play has veered from OK to great to poor this season.
The Maple Leafs undertake their 30th game of the season Wednesday when they host Tampa.
They are 15-12-2 overall and when you break down the season you get a picture of why the team hasn’t mustered a regulation win in their last five tries. Check the goals against.
|Record||Goals For||Average||Goals Against||Average|
The Leafs’ scoring has been stable enough. It was down as the team struggled with Carlyle’s defensive demands out of the gate. The scoring has been steady at just over three goals a game over the last 19 contests. Most nights that should be enough.
In Games 11-20 the Leafs scored one goal a game more and surrendered nearly half as many goals against as they had in Games 1-10. Now look at Games 20-29. The goals for stayed steady. Goals against ballooned.
Think about that for a moment. Despite the fretting over Phil Kessel, the loss of Joffrey Lupul and Matt Frattin to injury as well as scant production from Leo Komarov (one goal) and Nikolai Kulemin (three), the Leafs are seventh in goals for. Where they have slipped, dramatically, is goals against where they now sit 17th in the league. They were tied for 11th after 20 games.
Don’t blame the netminding. While James Reimer has gone 9-4-2 to Ben Scrivens 6-8, their goals against (2.63 for Scrivens, 2.70 for Reimer) and save percentage (.915 for Scrivens and .917 for Reimer) are all but identical.
The two have been exactly as advertised: good NHL goalies who are, like most goalies, as solid as the team in front of them.
The Leafs blue line play has certainly hit a plateau. Mike Kostka has been bumped in favour of John-Michael Liles and the scrutiny is now shifting to Korbinian Holzer. Carl Gunnarsson struggled in stretches during the team’s 5-4 shootout loss to Winnipeg. Certainly, the Leafs could benefit from an accomplished puck mover. When Jake Gardiner arrives to deliver that very commodity is anybody’s guess but the Leafs seem heavy on big bodies with, Holzer, Mark Fraser and Cody Franson. Gardiner would instantly become the most accomplished puck mover. You’ve got to admit that getting the puck consistently out of the defensive zone with purpose and panache would be a definite help.
The real culprits here are the 12 guys up front. It’s the nature of team defence that it’s hard to identify one particular player falling through the cracks. I won’t try.
It does, however, bear repeating. Carlyle doesn’t need his four lines to score more. He needs them to tighten down and lean in.