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.
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.
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.
/ 2 hours ago
With the Florida Panthers clearing some money off their books via waivers, did they...
/ 6 hours ago
Yesterday afternoon, the Toronto Maple Leafs the Chicago Blackhawks came back to win the...
/ 7 hours ago
The more news that comes out about Patrick Kane, the more rumors suggest he's...
/ 7 hours ago
If the Edmonton Oilers consider a trade of their first-round pick, they're going to...
/ 22 hours ago
Winnipeg Jets' coach Rick Bowness resumes coaching duties after taking a month-long leave to...
/ 1 day ago
The Arizona Coyotes are said to be early trade deadline buyers, already making calls...
/ 2 days ago
According to a report, Patrick Kane has potentially narrowed down his free agent choices...
/ 2 days ago
Things may have reached a boiling point in Columbus where Patrik Laine might want...
/ 2 days ago
The Edmonton Oilers are having a touch season so far. Can they still make...
/ 2 days ago
Should the Oilers Consider a Trade For Corey Perry? If things are going south...