A win is a win and it is better than the alternative, but the Toronto Maple Leafs can’t be feeling great about Saturday’s 5-4 win against Chicago. It was a game in which the Maple Leafs had a 4-1 lead, squandered it, then ultimately won on a fluke play with 1:20 left in the third period.
“Winning is hard in this league,” said captain John Tavares. “You have to do it different ways sometimes and it’s not always the way you draw it up.”
“It’s hard to leave the rink tonight feeling too good about our game,” Tavares continued.
“I think we just lost track of our process and the way we want to play,” said William Nylander, who had a goal and two assists in the win. “I mean, give pucks away, don’t get pucks deep, and play behind their goalline, that’s what led to the game opening up.”
“It’s the same story that it’s been here,” said a frustrated Sheldon Keefe, the head coach of the winning team. “Too many chances against. Too many freebies, too many guys in behind us. The same issues that were hurting us when we weren’t winning games early in the season.”
“The fact that we won tonight is obviously a good thing,” Keefe continued. “We got a bit of a fortunate bounce there. To me, we win the game on special teams and goaltending and get outplayed pretty badly at 5-on-5.”
In terms of expected goals at 5-on-5, Chicago held an edge of 58.2% to 41.8%, so it is understandable that Keefe did not like his team’s performance during 5-on-5 play.
I’ve talked about how it is a first-world problem to be complaining about victories. If some of these issues don’t get cleaned up, the complaints won’t be coming after wins. Take the two points and get ready for some challenging games in Western Canada.
To the takeaways…
1. Maple Leafs power play is humming
The Maple Leafs scored two power play goals for the fifth straight game. With 11.84 goals per 60 minutes of 5-on-4 play, the Leafs have the second most productive power play in the league. Entering Saturday’s game, the Edmonton Oilers have 12.11 goals per 60 minutes of 5-on-4 play.
A couple of things to note about this power play. First, it wallpapers over some flaws. Toronto’s 5-on-5 struggles are not getting critiqued as much because these power play goals help the team win games.
Secondly, this recent run for the power play has been happening with Mitch Marner out of the lineup. It does not mean that the Leafs don’t need Marner but it does mean that they can still get the job done without him on the power play. That shouldn’t be a surprise – there is still ample talent on this team.
2. Sloppy defensive play
For as talented as this team is, they are not playing very well without the puck and that showed itself against Chicago, but it has been a theme throughout the season.
Toronto 5-on-5 ranks:
15th in shot attempts against per 60 (54.7)
19th in shots against per 60 (31.0)
13th in expected goals against per 60 (2.33)
21st in scoring chances against per 60 (28.5)
22nd in high danger chances against per 60 (11.6)
Goaltending has saved them too often and those are not the numbers of a team that is a legitimate contender.
3. Muzzin and Holl have a tough time apart!
Toronto’s shutdown pairing has been split up. Timothy Liljegren has joined Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl is now playing with rookie Kristians Rubins.
Against Chicago, Holl had okay possession numbers (54.2 CF%, 52.0 xGF%) but was on the ice for one goal for and three against during 5-on-5 play.
Muzzin had Toronto’s worst possession numbers against Chicago (34.6 CF%, 19.8 xGF%).
4. Mrazek coming out of the game healthy
The Maple Leafs had hopes for a strong goaltending tandem this season. Petr Mrazek was expected to challenge Jack Campbell for playing time in the Toronto crease. Injuries have prevented Mrazek from having much of an impact and 31 saves on 35 shots against Chicago is hardly an earth-shattering performance. But the bottom line for Toronto is that Mrazek is healthy and that gives Toronto more stability between the pipes.
“It’s not the start I wanted,” said Mrazek about allowing a goal to Jonathan Toews on the first shot, “But that’s how hockey is sometimes. I think I settled pretty well after that.”
5. I don’t want to complain about wins, but…
It might seem unnecessary to complain about wins for a team with a 19-8-2 record, but the Toronto Maple Leafs have had their share of wins that are less than inspiring. They aren’t all going to be picture-perfect, but when wins against lesser teams feel like an escape, that is not very encouraging about long-term success.
CHI 2.45 TOR 1.73
Advanced stats via Natural Stat Trick