Winning just three of their past 10 games, The Leafs have entered the type of free-fall that they managed to avoid in last year’s lock-out shortened season.
Sunday’s 5-2 shellacking by the Boston Bruins showed that the Leafs have a lot to work on if they want to do better than another first round exit – if they even make it that far.
To make things even worse, Dion Phaneuf’s dangerous hit late in the Bruins’ game got him suspended for the next two Leafs’ games. Without Phaneuf, the Leafs’ defensive corps will be even weaker. The addition of John-Michael Liles took off some of the pressure for the Leafs, but they remain unable to keep the puck out of the net.
The Leafs eked out two wins, in overtime against Dallas and in a shootout against Ottawa. With Bozak injured again, Nazem Kadri has filled in with Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk. Kadri put up two goals against the Stars, Kessel and JVR both netted one against the Sens, but they still gave up a two goal lead.
The Leafs have been unable to get any secondary scoring from anyone other than Mason Raymond. David Clarkson has been unable to bury the puck much despite getting ample opportunities.
The Leafs have also come to rely on some scoring from the defensive corps that isn’t coming this year. Cody Franson leads the team with 14 points, but has yet to get a goal. Phaneuf only has two goals, and Jake Gardiner scored his first against Ottawa.
Proponents of advanced statistics have been forecasting this news for some time. For them it was clear that the Leafs’ numbers were unsustainably high in certain areas, like shooting percentage and their penalty kill, and too low in others, like number of games loss to injury.
As the Leafs’ numbers regress to the mean, the one thing the team has going for it has been their goaltending. Both Bernier and Reimer have faced 50 plus shots in games and have still put up pretty good numbers considering the team they are behind.
The Leafs’ penalty kill numbers have been troubling, falling to fifth-worst in the league after having the second best PK last year.
“Our PK just let us down again,” said Jay McClement after the game against Boston. “It’s a huge momentum builder for us and right now it’s going the other way. It’s killing our momentum.”
“We made a few mistakes on our penalty kill and that’s the difference against top teams,” said Phaneuf.
The question now becomes whether the Leafs need to reconsider keeping Randy Carlyle on as head coach. It does not seem like the Leafs have the personnel to play the style of hockey that Carlyle wants to coach, and he is slow to change his game plan.
If the Leafs insist on keeping Carlyle, they will likely have to make a move, shipping out Gardiner or Morgan Rielly for a more Carlyle-like defensemen. Carlyle’s fondness of Paul Ranger could show the type of player that he found prefer on the blue line over a fast-skating but small-in-stature defence like Gardiner.
The Leafs will need to work on their special teams, especially the PK if they want to keep their wild card spot. Fortunately for the Leafs, there are many other struggling teams in the Eastern conference, but there are others making ground so the Leafs have to turn their slump around and make sure they do not have any extended period of loses for the next couple months at least.
The Leafs’ next game will be tonight against the Los Angeles Kings. The Leafs traded Ben Scrivens and Matt Frattin to the Kings earlier this year in exchange for Bernier. The game is expected to begin at 7:30 p.m. It is the first time the two teams have faced each other.