Locked on Leafs: Playoff woes

Looking back at the past can be the best indication for what is yet to come. For the Toronto Maple Leafs, the past five games have been a mixed bag of success and failure, but what does this mean for their future?

The first game back from the All-Star break had the feel of a playoff game. Both teams were playing well in an intense, back-and-forth game that Mitch Marner won for the Leafs in overtime. Marner, known as a playmaker, has finally discovered his scoring touch with 11 goals in his last 11 games. Head coach Sheldon Keefe had high praise for his star forward.

Sometimes you coach really smart players who don’t have the abilities to act on that intelligence,” said Keefe. “If you get a player who has both, you end up with Mitch Marner.”

Marner has struggled to score in the playoffs, scoring his last playoff goal three years ago. However, in the last month, Marner has shown that he can persevere through his scoring struggles and lead the Leafs past the first round this year. 

Their next game against the Calgary Flames was much more concerning. The Leafs got steamrolled by the heavier and tougher Flames, reminding fans of how the Bruins beat the Leafs twice in the playoffs a few years ago. The Bruins were a more physical team, starting scrums and bullying the Leafs into losing. 

The Flames did something very similar, and the Leafs folded. The Leafs need to be able to change their style of play to be successful in the playoffs. As one of the best offensive teams in the league, the Leafs need to learn not only how to play defense, but how to hold leads, how to fight back against bigger and tougher teams, and how to find a way to win, regardless of the team in front of them.

The following game against the Canucks also proved to remind fans of the team’s playoff woes. Vancouver scored twice in the first ten minutes of play, forcing Toronto to play catchup. Justin Holl, a defenseman who has been the subject of much debate surrounding the team, ran into his goaltender, allowing Vancouver to score less than two minutes into the game. 

Following the Canucks gaining a two-goal lead, the Leafs were clearly the better team. The Leafs tied the game, but Vancouver’s goaltender Thatcher Demko made 51 saves, sealing his team’s one goal victory.

Some fans may look at this game and say the Leafs lost because of an amazing goalie, but looking deeper, if the Leafs had cleaned up their defensive play in the first ten minutes, they would have won this game 2–0. Defensively, the Leafs put themselves in a position to lose, a position that their offense could not get them out of. 

Their next game was against the Seattle Kraken. The Leafs dominated Seattle, who have struggles defensively and in net. Thus, this game was not as telling for the Leafs as the other games. However, previous iterations of the Leafs would likely take a night off against a weak team like Seattle, indicating some growth in the Leafs in how they won’t take their foot off the gas, even when they might have some inclination to do so.

Looking back at these four games, the Leafs highlighted their history as a highflying, offensive team, who needs to be better defensively and learn how to adapt their game to other teams. What this can say about the future is that their playoff woes have not been solved yet and unless there is a dramatic change on the blue line or a shift in mindset, the Leafs will likely see history repeating itself.

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