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Are the 2021-22 Toronto Maple Leafs taking part in gradual hockey?


For those who had solicited criticisms of the Toronto Maple Leafs over the previous few seasons — and also you didn’t at all times must solicit them to return throughout them — they might’ve centred round two points. Some thought they didn’t defend effectively sufficient and others thought they lacked grit. You may discover different takes, those that didn’t like Freddy Andersen or questioned their depth, however the most typical (and I’d argue most legitimate) criticisms have been about defending and an absence of edge.

What nearly everybody agreed upon although, was that the crew was expert and will rating, and that they have been quick. It wasn’t simply their core 4 guys who have been expert and moved effectively on the market, they’d depth guys like Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson and sure, the straight-line pursuit of Zach Hyman. Farther down the lineup you have been extra more likely to discover a identify like Trevor Moore (or Nic Petan, or Nick Robertson in a single playoff spherical) than a plodder.

Even the place chances are you’ll quibble and say “these guys weren’t that quick,” they’d the kind of talent that zipped the puck round and made the group really feel quick. No matter it was, it was in stark distinction to how the fourth line of Nick Ritchie, Jason Spezza and Wayne Simmonds might make you are feeling this season.

We had Leafs radio color man Jim Ralph on Actual Kyper and Bourne after the Carolina sport, the place he stated this:

“One of many issues that’s perplexing about them is, everytime you heard different coaches speaking in regards to the Leafs, they might at all times say ‘they’re quick, you actually gotta watch their pace.’ They gave up, what, 4 or 5 odd-man rushes, and I believe the Kerfoot/Marner rush shorthanded was the one one they’d for. I believe that’s what’s form of mind-boggling is, the place’s the pace? The primary cross out of the zone by no means appears to be on anyone’s tape, then they create little or no off the frenzy, and so they’ve by no means been an awesome crew scoring the ugly objectives off rebounds and redirections, however that different component has simply disappeared at this level. You wish to suppose they’ve a pair good video games and get their swagger again in some unspecified time in the future.”

To Ralphy’s level, the Leafs have nonetheless been dominant in most “underlying” offensive statistical classes, however rush likelihood is the place they’re routinely getting smoked. They’ve given up extra odd-man rushes (47) than they’ve earned on the season (38), however even their whole there may be deceptive, given they’d 20 over their first three video games with Montreal and Ottawa. They’ve solely had 18 within the 5 video games since, and one ended up within the Tavares purpose which began Wednesday’s comeback.

It is a crew constructed to create whereas the defence is in motion, making them much less positive of the place everyone seems to be. As a crew they’ve been elite in creating possibilities off O-zone possessions, however I don’t suppose it’s a coincidence that these kind of possibilities have resulted in much less precise objectives for the Leafs than their “anticipated objectives.” They’re higher with issues in motion (a man like Marner, who’s not-so-coincidentally struggled to provide, particularly).

Ralphie talked about that passes out of the D-zone have been missing, and that lack of transition pace has been evident. I believe it’s honest to marvel if the idea of being a proficient crew that desires to take care of possession is a good suggestion on paper, however perhaps not in observe with no completely elite lineup. You bear in mind Mike Babcock’s obsession with “taking part in quick,” which was simply transferring the puck up as quick as you possibly can, then getting it in and going after it. He simply wished to play on the different crew’s finish of the rink. The dearth of north/south play this yr has at instances left me saying “transfer it” greater than I recall in earlier years. There’s a steadiness to be struck between the 2 competing colleges of thought.

Down 2-1 within the second interval of the Chicago sport, we had this clip of Auston Matthews watching Justin Holl benefit from the firm of the puck for too lengthy, resulting in this lamentation, which lip-reading reveals to be “We’re taking part in so fluffing gradual” or one thing thereabouts.

After every sport I check out the Leafs stats (through SportLogiq) to see what would possibly want extra consideration, and because the season has gone on there’s been a pattern which will simply be a blip … or perhaps it’s not. They not often join on any significant measure of stretch passes, and their particular person zone exit numbers are low. It’s simply all just a little perplexing from a crew we had considered a fast strike transition group.

A part of it may merely be the best way groups play them now, which Sheldon Keefe talked about has been a strategic problem. Opponents keep proper over high of their forwards on breakouts, slowing everybody down each step of the best way. However there’s additionally the higher situation of personnel.

The adjustments they made this low season alone don’t appear to make them a lot slower, however you possibly can speak your self into it in the event you look shut sufficient. Ritchie in and Hyman out slows them down. There could also be some growing older happening from Simmonds or Spezza or Tavares or Muzzin or any of the opposite older gamers. There’s additionally the damage to Ilya Mikheyev, a top-nine ahead who skates effectively.

Greater than something although, this appears to me like an issue of their play up to now — and I believe belief — moderately than foot pace. It’s not onerous to see a world the place the Leafs discover their belief in each other and begin merely reacting faster. That implies that when there’s going to be a teammate touching it within the D-zone, taking off and trusting that they’re going to get it out and get it to you. Meaning D-men leaping into the offence sooner as a result of they belief {that a} ahead goes to cowl for them. Meaning leaping to trigger a turnover moderately than holding place figuring out everybody else is offering back-up. Velocity and belief are tied collectively, and it’s straightforward to overlook that there was significant turnover to the offence, with all of Ritchie and Bunting and Kase and Kampf being dropped on this season, and it will probably take a while to study new teammates’ tendencies, preferences and timing.

I don’t suppose the Leafs are immediately gradual, per se, however up to now this season they’ve performed gradual, and in the event that they hope to get again to being the crew that gained its division final season, they’re going to have to seek out their tempo once more. Velocity within the NHL solely goes in a single route, and also you don’t wanna be the crew standing nonetheless.

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