5 Weaknesses the Toronto Maple Leafs Must Address During 2012-2013 Season
That optimism must be tempered with the fact that the blueprint of the win was much like a Maple Leaf win of a season ago. It came with shaky, yet reliable goaltending and just enough offense on the power play to sneak away with a win.
The Leafs had a great start to last season, going 4-0-1 in their first five games out of the gate, and were in a playoff position until mid January when the wheels completely fell off.
They will have to continue to show improvement in many key areas to make this season a success.
Here are five weaknesses the Maple Leafs need to address during this season.
The Penalty Kill
The Leafs weren't heavily penalized last year compared to other teams in the league, but when they were, they were scored on. Their penalty killing finished 28th overall in the league.
It has long been said that your goaltender has to be your best penalty killer, and we'll specifically address that a bit later in this list.
That said, there are many things that can improve before the puck even reaches your last line of defense.
The forwards were a bit too timid to get out in the lanes. The soldiers that did charge out sustained injuries with ill-styled blocks. Combine that with the inability to close the gaps on opposing skill forwards, a lack of quickness on the back end and you have a recipe for disaster.
The Leafs' coaching staff has to stress blocking the shooting lanes, blocking shots correctly and closing the gaps on skill forwards as the cure for the ailing kill.
Early Goals Against
The biggest culprit in the Leafs' worst stretch last season was giving up the early goal.
I attended two games in one week last season during their worst part of the collapse. Both times the Leafs were down by a goal in the first minute of the game. The boo birds came out right away and it sapped any type of home-ice advantage.
When your team comes out of the gate tentative or flat, it is clearly a case of not being mentally focused. While every player is responsible for getting ready for the game, the Leafs must have better coaching and leadership to stress the importance of the start and every single shift to follow.
Defensive Zone Coverage
The Leafs' defensive system last year under Ron Wilson drew a large resemblance to basketball's man-to-man. The problem with the man-to-man coverage on the Leafs is that once the first man was beaten, no help was ever waiting in the wings.
The Leafs did not have the players to succeed in such a system and an episode of "Keystone Cops" was on display night after night.
Randy Carlyle has already changed the system to a two-man, on-the-puck support system and it should pay immediate dividends. The Leafs need two guys on the scene to outnumber opponents in order to win most puck battles.
It is a bit of a surprise to see that the Leafs were one of the highest-scoring teams in the league last year, finishing No. 10 in goals scored.
A deeper look exposes the fact that the Leafs' offense lived or died by the power play and they were No. 26 in five-on-five goals for and against.
Simply put, the Leafs need more offense at full strength and need to get away from relying on the man advantage to win games.
Say what you want about how bad the Leafs were defensively last season, a majority of the issue stands right in the blue paint between the posts.
Never mind the big save at the key time of a hockey game, too many times last season the Leafs didn't get any saves at all of any significance. The shaky goaltending permeated the lineup, leading to fragile confidence and fret at every scoring chance.
James Reimer was the biggest culprit last year, and he is still being counted on to improve and deliver the goods. Jonas Gustavsson let in his share as well, but he is now gone.
Ben Scrivens was the goaltender of the year in the AHL last season and is ready to take the reins if Reimer totally falters.
Scrivens was solid in the opener, and whomever is between the pipes for the Leafs this season must provide consistent and strong goaltending to at least give them a chance.