Maple Leafs Carrying Momentum Into Western Road Trip

The Toronto Maple Leafs are coming off a big 5-2 win over the reigning Stanley Cup champions, St. Louis Blues this past Saturday night. It was a much-needed victory after the Maple Leafs dropped three of their last four games. The Leafs will now travel to Western Canada, where they will face the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday night. It will be the first of three road games, and they will hope to build off their win and gain some ground in a very competitive Eastern Conference.

Sheldon Keefe now has a 5-3 record with the Maple Leafs since taking over coaching duties on Nov.21st. There has been plenty of positivity surrounding the team ever since Mike Babcock was fired, and the team seems to have been re-energized. Keefe is placing an emphasis on what the Leafs are, not what they aren’t. He realizes the incredible talent on the roster, and wants to utilize it to its full potential. It is evident that small systematic changes have already paid immediate dividends to the team.

Improved Special Teams
Ever since Keefe took over, the Leafs have gone 18 for 20 on the penalty-kill, which is top in the league since that time. Key players such as Zach Hyman and Mitch Marner have returned from their injuries and have contributed in a huge way. Not to mention,

rookie PierreEngvall, who Keefe used to coach with the Marlies last season, has looked great with his unique combination of excellent skating ability and size.

The power play has also improved considerably since Keefe’s tenure. The Maple Leafs have gone 5 for 12 on the power play since Nov.21st, which is second best in the league since that time. He has helped the Leafs climb to 10th overall in the league in power play percentage – now clicking at a 20.9 percent rate. One of the things Keefe has done to improve the PP, has been moving defenseman Tyson Barrie to the first unit. Barrie was having a down-year until Keefe took over, and scored in Keefe’s first two NHL games behind the bench. Auston Matthews also scored a power play goal on Saturday, as he finished with two to break out of his mini five-game goal-less drought.

Top Scoring Line Re-united
The top scoring line from last year of Zach Hyman, John Tavares, and Mitch Marner has been re-united by coach Keefe. Marner led the entire Leafs’ team in points last season with 94, and Tavares had an excellent first season with the team, scoring 47 goals along with 41 assists. This line was the catalyst for the squad last season, and took pressure off the Auston Matthews’ line. Hyman had a big game on Saturday night, and looked awesome with his former linemates. Hyman had a pair of goals vs. the Blues, and has now scored in back-to-back games.

Andersen Continues Strong Play in Goal
The real MVP for this Maple Leafs team has been their goalie, Frederik Andersen. He has gone 14-7-3 with a 2.54 goals-against-average and a .918 save-percentage. He had another strong performance versus the Blues, making several incredible saves on numerous grade A chances. The backup goalies for the Leafs this year have gone a combined 0-6-1, and there has been solution to the problem. Michael Hutchinson will likely get a start at some point this road trip, and the Maple Leafs will need him to come through with some consistent play if they are going to be able to make a run soon.

The Time is Now
Currently fifth in the Atlantic division with a 14-13-4 record, the Maple Leafs are 14 games back of the division-leading Boston Bruins, and five points back of a wild-card playoff birth. In their remaining 51 games, the Leafs will likely need to win at least 33 of them to make the playoffs. The magic number is usually anywhere from 94-100 points for a playoff birth. The pressure to win is already becoming high for Toronto, and they will need to put together a good winning streak sooner than later.

References
Fox, L. (2019 December 9) Why the Maple Leafs’ Special Teams Hold Key to Turnaround | Sportsnet. Retrieved from

https://www.sportsnet.ca/hockey/nhl/maple-leafs-special-teams-hold-key-turnaround/

Koshan, T. (2019 December 8) Five areas that come to mind as Maple Leafs settle further into Keefe era | Toronto Sun. Retrieved from

https://torontosun.com/sports/hockey/nhl/toronto-maple-leafs/five-areas-that-come-to-mind-as-maple-leafs-settle-further-in-keefe-era

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