3 Areas of Concern Toronto Maple Leafs Need to Address Before the Playoffs
As we see the quick 48-game season come to a close, the Toronto Maple Leafs are in an unfamiliar position heading into the final weeks of the season.
They are in fifth place and have a fairly firm grip on that position. They are in the playoffs, and if they make it, they will make the playoffs for the first time since the institution of the salary cap, which came after the 2004-05 lockout.
They have battled through adversity, immense pressure, another trade deadline and of course, the firing of their former GM Brian Burke. This is essentially the team Brian Burke built, minus a few small pieces like Ryan O'Byrne and Frazer McLaren.
However, there are a few areas the Leafs still need to address before heading into the playoffs.
Here they are..
Defensive Depth: Who's In? Who's Out?
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It's a nice problem to have in most cases, but when the Leafs can run out 10 NHL-quality defenseman on any given night, the guys would like to know who the regulars are.
Right now, it's safe to assume Dion Phaneuf, Carl Gunnarsson, Cody Franson and Mark Fraser are all regulars for the Leafs. Ryan O'Byrne is looking like a regular as well.
However, Jake Gardiner, John-Michael Liles, Mike Kostka, Korbinian Holzer and even Mike Komisarek are all on the outside looking in.
Liles appears to be the most likely candidate for the sixth defensive position, however, Gardiner is another good choice.
Needless to say, the Leafs will need to address this playing time issue. Whether it's this season, or the offseason, I expect some movement on the defensive end. You need stability on the back-end, you can't have defenders afraid to make a mistake because the threat of being removed and placed in the press-box still remains.
With a veteran club that may work, but with the young Leafs, that tactic might not be the best option.
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It's the problem that has been plaguing them all season. It's turnovers. Whether it's in the offensive zone, or in their own zone, the Leafs ability to take care of the puck has been a sore spot for them.
Turnovers are generally the way most goals are scored in the NHL, but with the Leafs, their turnovers seem to be avoidable.
Call them young mistakes, but for whatever reason, when the Leafs have opportunities to clear the puck quickly, they seem to fumble the puck or make a bad pass that results in a turnover.
The game they lost against the Flyers was a classic example of what turnovers can do to a team.
If the Leafs can limit their bad turnovers, look for them to surprise a few teams in the playoffs.
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Shootouts are not used as a tiebreakers in the playoffs, but in all seriousness, the Leafs need to figure out a way to get better at them.
They may have to change their shooters, but I think if they can win a shootout before the season is finished, it would do wonders for a team that has no confidence in the shootout.
You lose a point in a shootout if you lose it, and if they were a bit better in it, they would have already secured a playoff spot with the points they've left on the board.
If they still have the shootout next year, which I hope they don't, the Leafs will need to get better at it because it could decide if they make the playoffs or not.