The Toronto Maple Leafs have restored the ship after a minor slump heading into NHL All-Star Weekend. Since the break, the Leafs have gone 3-0-0, including two big road victories in Nashville and Dallas. They have gotten themselves back into the playoff picture, currently third in the Atlantic division with 63 points. However, the Florida Panthers are only two points behind them, and have two games in hand. It will be dogfight over the final 30 games for the Maple Leafs, which is why they must continue to put up points and gain separation in the Eastern Conference.
After suffering key injuries to defensemen Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin, the Maple Leafs really struggled for a stretch in January. Sloppy defensive play and poor goaltending during a six game stretch led them to a 1-3-2 record and put them out of playoff contention for a short period of time.
Things started to turn around for the Leafs after the All-Star break. Defenseman Jake Muzzin returned to the lineup from a broken foot and gave them a huge boost on the back end. First round pick Rasmus Sandin was called up from the Marlies and has looked sensational ever since. He scored his first career goal against Nashville on January 27th, and has recorded three points in his last three games. If you watched the World Junior Hockey Championships, you may recall Sandin won best defenseman of the tournament playing for his home nation, Sweden.
Rasmus Sandin, now the owner of a shiney, brand-new, first NHL goal pic.twitter.com/mmboo96r6B
— Yahoo Sports Canada (@YahooCASports) January 28, 2020
If one thing has remained consistent for the Maple Leafs this season, it has been their dynamic offensive attack. They are first in goals scored per game since Sheldon Keefe took over coaching duties in November. Young superstar Auston Matthews continues to score at a very high clip. He has 36 goals in only 52 games, which is only four goals behind his personal career best of 40 he put up in his rookie season.
Another Maple Leaf that is generating a lot of buzz with the media this year is the polarizing William Nylander. He has really played phenomenal hockey this year. Currently in the midst of a seven game point streak, Nylander looks like a completely different player than last season. He has already surpassed his career-high goal total of 22, set in 2016-17. With 24 goals and 23 assists in 52 games so far, Nylander is looking like the player the Maple Leafs knew he could be.
There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic over the final 30 games of the season for the Maple Leafs. For one, we can all agree that the Leafs finally have a coach that has them playing the right way and can utilize the tremendous talent on the roster properly. Secondly, stud defenseman Morgan Rielly is on the mend and should return to the lineup within the next few weeks. He is still recovering from a fractured foot, but adding a player of his caliber to the defence can only help them down the final stretch.
With the NHL trade deadline fast approaching on February 24th, the Leafs will have to decide if they require any change to improve their playoff chances. Unfortunately, the Leafs are very limited with their salary cap space, so GM Kyle Dubas would have to move a talented forward from the roster if he intends on strengthening the defence. The Leafs are 24th in the league in goals allowed per game, 24th in shots allowed per game, and 25th in penalty kill percentage. It is evident that the back end is a glaring weakness that needs addressed.
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) January 27, 2020