We are a little over halfway through the shortened 2020-21 season and the Toronto Maple Leafs have three big questions facing them.
Everything was going the Toronto Maple Leafs’ way for the first 24 games of the season. A 18-4-2 record saw them high above the rest of the North Division and it seemed like they were poised to run away with it.
However, the Leafs are 4-6-0 in their last 10 outings and are currently in a three-way tie with the Winnipeg Jets and the Edmonton Oilers for first place in the division. As the Leafs try to get back on track, here are three big questions facing the team in the final 24 games of the season.
Three Big Questions facing the Toronto Maple Leafs down the stretch
1. Will Frederik Andersen get back to his regular self?
The biggest reason for their latest skid is the deterioration of Frederik Andersen‘s play. He’s currently day-to-day with a lower body injury and, according to Sheldon Keefe, it will take him at least a week to heal. While he’s out of the lineup now, he’s been dealing with a nagging problem all season long.
The big question is: will Andersen ever find his dominant old self? Or has his age (31-years-old), combined with the hard minutes he’s played his whole tenure with the Leafs, finally caught up to him? Sure, Jack Campbell is currently doing well but he’s been dealing with various injuries as well. If he were to go down, is Keefe and Kyle Dubas comfortable with giving Michael Hutchinson the net? The Maple Leafs need Andersen to get back to his regular self but is that past him now?
2. Can Special Teams improve?
The Maple Leafs had one of the top power plays in the league at the beginning of the season, but they have been struggling as of late. They’re still fourth in the league (27.7 percent) but have just one goal on the man advantage in their last eight games. A big reason for this is the lack of production from their star goalscorer in Auston Matthews. Matthews may still be on the top unit, but it’s apparent to literally everyone that he can’t shoot the way he used to given his current wrist injury. That completely eliminates the top unit’s biggest threat and has been a big factor behind their power play woes.
The penalty kill has been mediocre at best all season long. They kill 76.1 percent of their penalties, which puts them at 21st in the entire league. Considering the fact that this team barely takes any penalties (they average 3.36 penalties a game, 20th in the league), that is a massive momentum killer.
The Leafs have already been bitten by special teams in past Playoff performances. Last year in the Play-In Round they managed just two power play goals all series against the Columbus Blue Jackets. In 2019 against the Boston Bruins, the Leafs gave up 7 shorthanded goals while only scoring 3 on the power play. The Toronto Maple Leafs desperately need to see their special teams perform well on a consistent basis if they want to do well down the stretch and in the postseason.
3. Is Auston Matthews’ health a long-term issue?
The million dollar question. Auston Matthews has been dealing with a nagging wrist injury all season long but that didn’t stop him from scoring 18 goals in 18 games. Everything seemed manageable until he was checked into the boards by Calgary Flames’ Rasmus Andersson. His wrist got messed up and he missed a few games. In the nine games he’s been back, he has just three goals and hasn’t scored in his last four games.
A wrist injury is so tough for a goalscorer and it’s been apparent that he has lost the accuracy that he used to have. He’s still making good passes and is strong defensively, but losing his biggest weapon is concerning for both him and the team. It makes you wonder, is it better for him to continue playing and potentially make the injury worse or to give him proper rest so that he can properly heal?
With the Oilers and the Jets hot on the Toronto Maple Leafs’ heals, there’s no time for mistakes. This team needs to get back on track and answer these three questions if they want regular and postseason success.