Here’s another number of significance: five. That’s how far back the Leafs sit behind the Bruins for first place in the Atlantic Division at the time of writing. While it’s true that Boston has two games in hand and could easily extend the gap, the fact that Toronto is within striking range of catching the red-hot Bruins is a testament to how well the Leafs have done since their mediocre start to the campaign. .
The Leafs would sit one point behind Boston if half of their overtime results go in their favor. Had they been lucky and remained unbeaten after 60 minutes, they would have had two points ahead Instead of the Bruins, it’s now been more than a month since Toronto last won after 60 minutes, with their most recent win over the Stars on October 20th.
All of this is to say that the Leafs need to change their fortunes in extra frames and quickly because it’s costing them crucial points that could make the difference between playing a wild card team or a rematch against the Lightning.
Speaking of Tampa Bay, they were responsible for the Leafs’ most recent loss in overtime which came just 30 seconds after kickoff. They couldn’t create scoring chances as their downfall was to surrender a goal from a bad angle with turnovers at the blue line.
This play represents a microcosm of the Leafs’ struggles in OT earlier in the year. Despite having some of the most talented offensive players in the league, they are making mistakes that shoot themselves in the foot and make things more difficult for themselves.
I understand why Auston Matthews picked the pass as Rasmus Sandin was wide, but instead Matthews should have tried to skate a little and then either try to feed Mitch Marner or go for it himself. The reason was that he was surrounded by three Lightning players and the pass he made was susceptible to turnovers. Also, that Alex Killorn goal is what Matt Murray wants back.
Before William Nylander turned the puck over, he was able to get on top of the loose puck and use his speed to create a scoring opportunity. Erik Karlsson was able to catch Nylander and block the shot so Nylander decided to stop and wait for Sandin, who would have had a good chance at a sharp angle when he got the puck.
That pass was intercepted by Timo Meier and Karlsson smartly ran the other way and past John Tavares for the break. Tavares is very slow to react to shifts and would have been able to make things more difficult for Carlson if he had started backchecking a second earlier.
The Leafs decided to play aggressively here and it backfired due to slow reaction times. Although you want Nylander to make a good pass, Sandin did his compatriots no favors with his positioning.
Nylander misses the faceoff and the Leafs are immediately in trouble when two ducks slip and create a two-on-one scoring opportunity. The good news is that Alex Kerfoot jumps enough to stay within range of Trevor Zegrass. However, it’s not enough to slow him down or make the shot harder to pull off as Zegrass is able to roof it.
It was one where Kerfoot’s position after the faceoff caused him to take a step back and Kalgren let a stopped shot past him.
This one is hard to see. All three Leafs skaters aren’t in good position here and make it too easy for the Golden Knights after the stop at the blue line. Marner has to have his man because he lets Riley Smith fly unchallenged and doesn’t get back in time to slow him down.
Mathews could have been the hero blocking the pass and hitting one, but didn’t get a piece of it. I understand that Morgan Reilly would have left his man open if he decided to go after Smith, but his reaction time in this sequence was also abhorrent.
You would have loved to see Kahlgren bail out his teammates and come up with a key stop, but that falls largely on the skaters because of what their poor defensive effort does to them.
Here a brutal gift from Tavares led straight to Yegor Scharangovic’s winner just seconds later. What the replay didn’t show was that the Leafs didn’t touch the puck at all before Tavares blocked a pass and was completely overwhelmed by the Devils’ speed.
While Tavares did well on the interception and had the right intention to send the puck to Marner who probably could have gotten past the defense, that pass should not have happened when it did. Not only is Jake Hughes around to negate it, but Tavares also passes the puck up the ice making it very easy to take away. He could either wait an extra second and spread the defense or try to advance the puck to prevent Hughes from collecting the puck.
Scharangovich subsequently has too much real estate around him and doesn’t get back in time to disrupt the Leafs scoring opportunity. You want to see Marner try to get into the lane instead of throwing Hughes, which might be a tripping call if the puck doesn’t go in.
Simply put, Colgren needs to stop it. His glove positioning is subpar and allows Anthony Beauvillier to get ahead of him. It didn’t help that he made a bone-headed play behind him in the third period that resulted in a tipping goal.
What isn’t shown in the replay above is that before the Islanders’ goal, Matthews correctly directed his linemates to track down Beauvillier. Michael Bunting and Justin Hall decided to swap goals here due to their on-ice positions, but Hall wasn’t able to jump enough to get into Beauvillier’s path. Ultimately, the goalie has to step up and Kalgren just didn’t on this play.
After watching six overtime losses to start the season, there are four general trends I’ve noticed in all of them:
- Pass times and quality are subpar
- Their slow reaction time results in surrendering dangerous scoring opportunities
- Defensive functions quickly disintegrate
- Goalies aren’t getting enough support and aren’t doing themselves any favors
Four of those goals came in the first minute of the extra frame, with the Golden Knights scoring 23 seconds into the first. They have not recorded a single shot in a loss, the only exception being the game against the Ducks where they had two shots on net. Defensively, the Leafs have averaged two shots in OT and have a .500 SV% in those six losses.
Now compare them all to their only win in overtime courtesy of Nick Robertson:
It’s true that Robertson made a risky play that could have easily backfired if Jamie Benn got past him, but Robertson was able to steal the puck and start another breakout. Riley picks up the loose puck and springs free to Robertson who heads the rush the other way. He decides to give it to Matthews who decides to return it to Robertson who makes no mistake.
Here, they were solid defensively in support of their goalkeeper, had a good reaction time to initiate counterattacks, and produced good passes that resulted in the winning tally. Such sequences have not been common since and they have to follow a similar approach (aside from Robertson’s high-stakes game) to turn the tide and produce better results.
Line matchups are also important, especially when the opposition is quick and very opportunistic as was the case in the Devils and Golden Knights game. Sheldon Keefe obviously has little control over what happens after he delivers his lines, but creating different combinations can make a big difference. For example, in the game against New Jersey, Tavares was wrong because of his foot speed, and Matthews and Nylander should have been chosen to start instead of Keefe.
The Leafs need to be smarter in their decision making because more open ice will make their mistakes more glaring. They seem at their best when they are more methodical with the puck and go for smart plays instead of risky ones. Simplifying their approach can help improve their fortunes.
After all, Toronto needs to do better to support their goaltenders on the defensive end. Kalgren may be responsible for four losses so far, but the Leafs haven’t been good enough to make his life easy when it comes to stopping the puck. But when he, Matt Murray, or Ilya Samsonov become the last line of defense, an occasional save would be nice.
In short, the Leafs are struggling in overtime due to poor decision-making with pass and defensive coverage, poor support for the netminders, and countless odd-man rushes.
With no three-on-three overtimes approaching the playoffs, the Leafs will have to figure out how to improve their fortunes in extra frames and quickly.