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Cullen: The pressure on Ritchie to produce & the numbers to know (+)




Toronto Maple Leafs have struggled to score early in the season, raising questions about who goes where in the lineup. Will it affect Nick Ritchie and his left wing spot on the first line?

When the Maple Leafs lost Zach Hyman to the Edmonton Oilers via free agency, the Leafs focused on acquiring relatively inexpensive forwards that would give them flexibility on the wings.

That included signing Nick Ritchie, Michael Bunting, and Ondrej Kase, three forwards who have fit into the Maple Leafs’ top nine up front early this season.

The numbers

The Maple Leafs have scored five goals during 5-on-5 play through the first four games. Their 1.55 goals/60 ranks 25th, which is not befitting a lineup with this kind of talent. Even though the Maple Leafs are generating shots – 64.3 shot attempts per 60 minutes and 2.95 expected goals per 60 minutes both rank fifth – they are scoring on just 4.7% of their 5-on-5 shots, which ranks 26th. Last season, the Maple Leafs ranked fourth in the league with 2.88 goals per 60 minutes during 5-on-5 play.

That shooting percentage is unsustainably low so the goals should come. The longer that the Maple Leafs go without generating significant offence, the more there will be questions about those that are not producing. The veterans on the team have earned some leeway because of past production. It’s not the same for the newcomers.

With three points (2 G, 1 A) in four games, Bunting has done his part in terms of offensive contributions. Kase and Ritchie are sitting on goose-eggs through four games.

Nick Ritchie is a 6-foot-2, 230-pound power forward. He had a career-high 31 points (9 G, 22 A) in 60 games during the 2018-2019 season. He has accumulated 15 hits in four games for the Maple Leafs, so he is delivering the expected physical play. However, he has no points and just four shots on goal despite skating on the Maple Leafs’ top line.

For the first three games that was alongside John Tavares and Mitch Marner and then, of course, Auston Matthews returned to the first line centre spot in Monday’s overtime loss to the Rangers.

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