SNAPSHOTS: Maple Leafs vow to fix power play - Toronto Sun
|Toronto Sun 09 Nov 2019 at 08:35|
The Leafs were a late Auston Matthews’ snipe away from an 0-for-6 night and likely loss against the Knights on Thursday, while a slump of 3-for-33 since a two-goal game against Minnesota nearly a month ago remains cause for concern.
With Matthews, Mitch Marner and John Tavares headlining the first unit and William Nylander and new defenceman Tyson Barrie on the other, wasn’t this supposed to be the hammer for the Leafs’ offence?
And wasn’t the hiring of Florida Panthers assistant Paul McFarland expected to reflect that club’s success with the man advantage?
Head coach Mike Babcock and his staff needed the second intermission and a TV timeout to finally get the group settled on Thursday night.
“Go out there and breathe,” was his advice before Matthews finally scored to stop the SBA crowd’s bellyaching in an eventual 2-1 overtime win. “Just lighten up fellas, do what you’re supposed to do.
“The biggest thing is we’re getting to know each other. I’ve said it a number of times — I don’t know if anyone believes that — it’s easier to play with people you know.”
The Leafs used to have a penchant for dropping pucks back to a rushing member of the unit to gain speed through the neutral zone to set up, but that now seems to involve a more complicated weave that throws off their pace, and making it easy for foes to dissect. Yet Marner denies they’re discombobulated, pointing to how better puck movement is once they gain the blueline.
“I thought we were getting good entries and that was a big goal. Mats has said it before, just keep moving it around with the skill we have. In the O-zone it’s going to screw up a lot of PKs. That’s what gave us our opportunity there, you had guys running all over the place. It helped having a guy with no stick (two Vegas players lost lumber on that shift), but we were moving the puck well and moving bodies around.”
Matthews, the team leader with four power-play goals, said the Leafs eventually found a relaxed mindset.
“In the third, we pretty much said, ‘what do you have to lose’? Let’s move around, get the penalty kill thinking more. We did a really good job of different guys going to different areas and reacting, playing off our instincts. Not just drawn-up plays, but reacting off one another. We spread them out a bit and were able to score.”
Forward Nic Petan’s latest drop through NHL waivers saw him moved to the Marlies on Friday, while defenceman Martin Marincin went unclaimed as well, but remains with the Leafs for now.
That still leaves Toronto one man to cut off the main roster to allow Zach Hyman back under the salary cap, but with Babcock saying Hyman won’t return until next week, that decision can be put off through the back-to-back games against Philadelphia and Chicago.
Though it has not been a work of art, the Leafs are in position for their first four-game win streak since Feb. 2-9 of last season — if they get past the Flyers at home on Saturday for a third straight SBA triumph.
“We’ve stood our ground, haven’t forced too many problems for ourselves,” Marner said of the week to date. “We’ve stayed above people, made it hard to get into our zone. (Versus Vegas) we did a good job supporting each other in the slot.”
He and others have pointed to eight of the next 10 games being away as badly needed bonding time.
“We really haven’t gone on a road trip,” Marner said of one-game jaunts. “We’re all excited. The Halloween party definitely helped (acquaint a number of newer Leafs). As our team gets more time outside of the rink, we’ll be better.”
Babcock hears more gregarious chirping in the room these days, helped no doubt by the team finally getting its record over .500.
“I see more abuse, which I think that’s a great thing.”
POINT AND CLICK
In his second game back after missing a few weeks with a broken finger, it was very encouraging to see Tavares make seven shot attempts on Thursday and have four hit the net, including the winning goal. The assist on the Matthews’ marker represented the captain’s first multi-point game since Oct. 4.
“Timing was a little better, handling the puck, all those things,” Tavares said. “The finger is continuing to get better. If I’m out there, I expect to play at a high level (not take it easy).”
Toronto hoped to grow team toughness during the season to augment their fire wagon style, but have been physically tested a lot lately. “We’ve been in a lot of these (grind) games it hasn’t maybe been as fluid or pretty as it can be with our skill and our depth,” said Tavares. “But we have to continue to build our game. We’re getting (points) and that’s crucial” … The Leafs have played short-handed at least once in three consecutive overtimes, but killed the penalty in two of them and won … Thursday marked the sixth time a Matthews goal has tied the game for Toronto this season. The rest of the team has 12 … Toronto was charged with 18 giveaways on Thursday.