After approximately one-quarter of their season, the 2021-22 Toronto Maple Leafs have shown us a few things: First, the Leafs are a better-than-average defensive group. Only the Calgary Flames and Carolina Hurricanes have better goals-against numbers than the Leafs’ 2.25 mark.
Part of the reason for that is the phenomenal performance in net by Jack Campbell, who has posted a 10-4-1 record and a .944 save percentage thus far this year. Another part of it has been the steady play of their blueliners, who’ve helped Campbell out by limiting second-chance, point-blank rebounds in front of Toronto’s net. But one of the key reasons is one new to Toronto: the success in combination of two first-year Leafs – center David Kampf and winger Ondrej Kaše – at both ends of the ice.
Both Kaše and Kampf have drastically improved the Leafs’ third-line contributions, on offense (Kaše is fourth among all Toronto goal-scorers, with five in 20 GP; and Kampf has two goals and four points in his past five games-played), as well as defense (Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe is not hesitant to play them in defensive-zone draws). The two Czech forwards have worked out about as well as Toronto could’ve hoped for when they brought them in on team-friendly deals this past summer, and Keefe can ease up on some of the minutes to the Leafs’ core-four forwards safe in the knowledge Kampf and Kaše give them fast-paced, smart, minutes far more often than not.
Another thing about this Leafs team through 20 games: their offense hasn’t nearly been as productive as one with this much skill at its employ. Toronto has the league’s sixth-worst goals-for average – but the Leafs also have the NHL’s seventh-best power play at 23.2 percent, and of their six losses this year, five have come when they scored only two or fewer goals. It doesn’t matter how good your defense is if your offense isn’t generating at least three goals per game.
Ep 12: Biting, Montreal, COVID, and Penguins Sale Updateby Full Press Coverage on December 1, 2021 at 5:52 pm
Mike, Jim, and Chris […]
Now, some of those lower offensive numbers can be blamed on Matthews missing Toronto’s first three regular-season games this year. But that brings us to another important element of the Leafs’ very good start to the season: By-and-large, they’ve been fortunate when it comes to injuries.
Yes, Matthews missed a few games, and yes, captain John Tavares missed a single game, but other than that (and with the notable exception of veteran goalie Petr Mrazek, who has appeared in only two games), the Leafs have indeed been lucky to escape the fangs of the injury bug. Other teams have not been so fortunate, and their season has been effectively derailed just when it was trying to get off to a good start (see Canadiens, Montreal). Just having a similar lineup game-in and game-out has made it easier on Keefe to get the chemistry where it should be, on as many lines as it can be.
The addition last week of veteran winger Kyle Clifford should start to deliver results when Toronto goes through a California road swing this week. The Leafs then host the rapidly-improving Colorado Avalanche before a shorter road trip takes them to Minnesota and Winnipeg. And right after that, the Buds host Columbus, Tampa Bay and Chicago. That’s a nine-game span overall where Toronto needs to be in top form.
That’s not going to be easy, and that’s why good health matters so much. You won’t get past the Avs or the Bolts unless all of your pistons are firing. This modern NHL Era has so many teams that can produce a stretch or two of top-shelf play in any given game; the only question is which of those teams can produce enough extended stretches to secure themselves a playoff berth.