Suddenly – really in less than two weeks – the Toronto Maple Leafs find themselves in an unexpected and disappointing position. After their first-round series win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, they met the team that most Toronto fans hoped they would meet in Round 2 – the Florida Panthers.
Surprise, the Panthers have proven too much for the Maple Leafs. As a result, the team finds itself in a deep hole. They lost the first three games of the second-round series. Now they face elimination as early as tonight on foreign ice in Game 4.
Obviously, this is not a good situation for the Maple Leafs to be in. As well, after such a high with the Round 1 victory, the current three-game-to-zero deficit against the Panthers has brought back some harsh memories of past playoff disappointments. [Think the team’s collapse against the Montreal Canadiens in the bubble a couple of years back.]
In this blog, I’ll explore three key points regarding the Maple Leafs’ troubles and propose some creative lineup thinking to help them recover.
Related: Maple Leafs Should Move Marner to the Third Line for Game 4
Quick Hit One: The Disappointment and Blame Game
The unexpected outcome for the team has led to huge and understandable disappointment for fans. I feel it, and I’m not usually a downer about such things. However, the team is facing widespread criticism about just about everything. Really, I get it. While it’s clear the team is down three games to zero, it’s really quite challenging to identify a single factor why that is the case.
Along with the deep hole the team finds itself in, there’s also the barrage of criticism thrown from all corners and from a number of different sources. Those sources include the media and fans. As well, because the issues are multifaceted, every one of the team’s perceived shortcomings is up for mention. That includes the coaching, the lack of offensive production, mistakes on defence, the goaltending, and even past trades.
Quick Hit Two: The Team Right Now Needs Some Strategic Decision-Making
If the Maple Leafs have any chance to dig out from the hole they’re in, they must emphasize and focus on the importance of the immediate future and work systematically to determine the best course of action. The decisions that need to be made would highlight the significance of putting the best 18 players the team has into the most efficacious positions. In other words, where will each player have the best chance of succeeding?
The job right now for the coaching staff is to figure out a plan for the best player deployment that helps ensure their best performance. Those decisions include team chemistry and the kind of matchups – for or against – that promise to generate the most production.
One thing that is apparently not up for change is the goalie situation. Today, it was reported that Ilya Samsonov would NOT be able to start between the pipes for tonight’s game. That means that the net is Joseph Woll’s. Given his youth and lack of game-hardened experience, we just can’t know how he’ll respond. There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding his level of play. That said, I’m hopeful.
Related: The Maple Leafs’ Postseason: What a Revolting Development
Quick Hit Three: Some Creative Lineup Thinking Makes Sense
However, perhaps the biggest weight the team is carrying is the lack of production from the team’s top players. Not a member of the team’s Core Four has scored a single goal in this series. In fact, the group has only four assists in three games thus far.
That’s far from good enough. The result is that some line juggling is probably needed. In an post earlier today on The Hockey Writers‘ site, my often co-author Stan Smith and I proposed that Mitch Marner should be moved to the third line.
Such a move might tend to mediate some of Marner’s lack of production; or, it might even encourage him to produce more. He just seems to need a reset.
The Bottom Line
The Maple Leafs are facing a challenging situation, but the way out is simple to consider but more difficult to enact successfully. The only way to success is for the team to rally together and focus on one game at a time.
As noted above, there’s a need for strategic decision-making, creative lineup tinkering, and continuing to believe in the team’s abilities. Obviously, when a team is three games down, there is no quick fix or magical solution.
However, there is considered analysis of the situation, then a need to make necessary adjustments, and finally the will to execute a successful game plan. If the Maple Leafs can do these three things, there’s a chance they can begin to overcome the challenges they face.
Related: Somehow this Maple Leafs Mess Seems So Much Worse
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May 9, 2023 at 9:27 pm
Hi the old prof and Mr.Smith need to take a breath, Marner on the 3rd line will not help, the only thing that will help is making the 2nd line unbeatable by adding O’Reilly with Nylander anjd Tavares. The other two lines can check decently and if they are neytral GF and GA then leafs should win. The coach should of done this from the 1st game in the series but he is not a good coach.
May 10, 2023 at 5:25 am
This is NOT sudden or unexpected AT ALL! This so called core 5 have been 2nd rate with a lack of determination and heart for 7 years of playoffs while a chunk of people including this writer have given them every excuse possible over and over and endlessly. While the non-core has been fairly good including contributing all of the goals in this 2nd round, this team failure is all on that core 5 and the sub-par coach YET AGAIN. The Leafs were substantially outplayed in 5 out of 6 games in round 1 but lucked out to even find themselves in round 2. To spite this being pointed out, many people ignore it and go on with their ridiculous dreamland so then it’s a surprise. The best thing for the Leafs is to lose this game in order to make it abundantly obvious and harsh, what needed getting done with this team a few years ago, in order to get the necessary changes finally done in this off-season.
May 10, 2023 at 5:31 am
Over the past 7 years of playoffs, this so called core 5 have never shown any ability to be resilient, dig in and get the job done. NONE. They have shown the opposite however such as being up 3-1 and blowing it! The time to pick it up was in game 3, down 2 games to 0 but everyone saw what they did instead.
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