Oct. 28, 2016
Toronto Maple Leafs Areas for Focus vs Panthers
The Toronto Maple Leafs (1-2-3) are set for another home clash this Thursday, welcoming the Florida Panthers (3-2-1) to the Air Canada Centre.
The Leafs will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing 7-3 loss to another Florida team, the Tampa Bay Lightning, and need to work hard against a team featuring former Leafs goalie James Reimer.
The Panthers are led offensively by Jonathan Marchessault (3G, 5A) and Aleksander Barkov (2G, 3A) while also coming face-to-face with top young defenceman Aaron Ekblad and experienced goalies Roberto Luongo and Reimer.
So how can the Leafs start turning things around and pick up their second win of the season?
KEEP OFFENSIVE STYLE
The Leafs have come out of the gate roaring on offence, led by star youngsters Auston Matthews and William Nylander.
Matthews leads the Leafs in goals (6) and total points (10), while Nylander is the team’s leader for assists with five.
The Leafs have let their youngsters loose on the league and it has reaped plenty of high-paced, exciting attacking plays that places the team 5th in goals per game average, with 3.5.
If the Leafs are going to have a chance of claiming their second win of the season, they will need to keep their offence performing the way it has so far.
Matthews, Nylander, Mitchell Marner, Connor Brown and Zach Hyman are leading the Leafs’ youth revolution while veterans such as James Van Riemsdyk and Nazem Kadri are continuing to provide support and strong plays to give the team the best chances to take the lead.
According to some reports, it appears that Mike Babcock is giving fans what they’re asking for in the form of changes along the blue-line.
Reports are suggesting that Frank Corrado is now playing on a line with Roman Polak while Matt Hunwick has been taking reps with Martin Marincin, who is working back from an injury.
Now, it is unclear if that means the Leafs will have Polak/Corrado against the Panthers or if it will be Hunwick/Marincin.
Fans have been calling out for Corrado to be given a chance and the fact that Polak and Hunwick have been separated will be music to their ears.
Changes must happen defensively if the Leafs are to improve their current record, having conceded 26 goals so far this season, and it starts with the team’s defensive pairings.
In addition to the Polak/Hunwick separation, it appears that Nikita Zaitsev is being pegged as Morgan Rielly’s top-pairing partner.
The right-handed Russian has performed well since joining the team as a free agent and should fit well alongside the naturally left-sided Rielly.
Frederik Andersen is the Leafs’ guy, but he is struggling with confidence and could still have lingering effects from the lower-body injury he suffered in the summer.
One option for the Leafs would be to give Andersen a rest, giving backup Jhonas Enroth an opportunity in net for the first time at home.
Another would be to keep Andersen in net, showing faith in a goalie that is struggling with confidence and needs to find a way to shake himself out of the funk he is in.
Andersen has a poor record this season and needs support from his defencemen to grow in confidence and get back to the way he was when playing in Anaheim.
He has shown brief flashes of his true ability, making some impressive saves before being let down by defensive errors, screens and a weakness being exploited just above his shoulder.
The Leafs have decisions to make in goal and need to come up with a solution if they are to keep goals out.
Enroth will be determined to get an opportunity to impress, but replacing Andersen could have a negative effect on his confidence and lead to further problems in net.
The Leafs have a lot of work to do, but do have positives on offence that they can work with to fight for another win.
If the Leafs can get better defensive play and goaltending, their offence will have the chance to give the team more goals and push them towards a much-needed 2 points.
The team are still in a rebuild, something that could be easily forgotten with the strong performances of the youngsters, so it will take time for the team to get to the level that fans hope they can reach.
Things will change over the course of the season and the sky is the limit with the pieces the team has in its system.
But for now, the team must focus on the Panthers.