Yesterday, we looked at the Toronto Maple Leafs’ 2021-22 season to this point, and assigned individual player grades for all of the team’s regulars. Today, we’re looking at the Leafs as a unit, and assigning grades to a number of areas. A reminder – the fact Toronto is challenging the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning for top spot in the Atlantic Division is reflected in the very good grades you’ll read about below. Expectations for them have been high, but for the most part, they’ve played up to them. Head coach Sheldon Keefe and GM Kyle Dubas have put together a fast, skilled lineup that can beat any team in the league when it is at its best.
Offense. Grade: A. Toronto’s top two lines of forwards have done much of the heavy lifting on offense this year, with core stars Auston Matthews, William Nylander and John Tavares all putting up at least 31 points, and fellow core stars Mitch Marner (21 points in 24 GP) and top D-man Morgan Rielly (26 points in 30 GP) also have produced offense at a great rate. But the Leafs also have had help on offense from center Jason Spezza (seven goals and 11 points in 26 games on Toronto’s fourth line) and wingers Ondrej Kase (eight goals and 15 points in 27 GP) and Michael Bunting (seven goals and 19 points in 30 GP), the latter two of who were off-season acquisitions. Offense shouldn’t be an issue for this group, and up until the holiday break, it wasn’t.
Defense. Grade: A-. Many people who’ve watched the Leafs struggle on defense in recent years likely were shocked that, 30 games into this season, Toronto has the NHL’s fourth-best defense, with an average of 2.50 goals-against per game. But thanks to the superb efforts of goalie Jack Campbell, the Buds haven’t needed to score five or six goals per game to have a good shot at winning. They can play tight games, hold onto a lead, and minimize opponents’ second-chance scoring opportunities in close. Many Leafs teams in recent years have struggled in all of those areas, but there’s a deeper sense of maturity around this squad.
Special Teams. Grade: A. Toronto has the NHL’s second-best power play (at 30.6 percent efficiency), and the league’s 10th-best penalty kill (82.1 percent). Still some room for improvement, for sure, but let’s give credit where due – the Leafs haven’t been hurt by their special teams, and they often use their power play to punish opponents in a way most teams can’t.
Goaltending. Grade: A-. Campbell was, by-and-large, superb for Toronto, with a sparkling 15-5-2 record, a .937 save percentage, and a 1.94 goals-against average – and the Leafs have needed to use his services more often than they ideally wanted to. That’s because off-season acquisition Petr Mrazek has been limited by injury to just three games. As a result, Keefe turned to rookie goaltender Joseph Woll to spell off Campbell, and the 23-year-old posted solid individual numbers (3-1-0 record, .911 SP, 2.76 G.A.A.) before returning to the American League’s Toronto Marlies. The Leafs would prefer Mrazek comes back and justifies his $3.8-million salary, but if Campbell continues to hold the hot hand, management will not hesitate to ride him as long as they can. This is not a season in which they have time and excuses for sub-par netminding.
Coaching. Grade: A. Keefe had to work out the Leafs’ kinks early in the season, but since a Nov. 6 loss to the Los Angeles Kings, Toronto has got a record of 13-3-1. That’s a huge credit to Keefe’s guidance. He’s had mostly good luck on the injury front, but he hasn’t risen to this level by luck. Keefe has the confidence of Dubas, and the trust of his players. He still needs to produce playoff wins very soon, of course, but it’s hard to find fault with his efforts right now.
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