Maple Leafs’ lackluster power play continues to hurt team confidence

Maple Leafs’ lackluster power play continues to hurt team confidence

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TORONTO – An optimist would find some comfort in the fact that referees usually start hiding their whistles by the time the playoffs arrive.

Because at this point, the only thing that could make the Toronto Maple Leafs feel good about their power play is the prospect of having less.

On Thursday, the punchless PP was the main culprit in a 5-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets – bringing a nagging itch to the surface. They have managed to string together a lot of wins while going 1 for 42 with the man advantage since March 9 due to excellent even-matched results.

But there will be times when you can’t get past this level of futility. In close matches against quality opponents, special teams often make the difference.

“I think the impact that the power play could have had on today’s game and [we] failed to do so, ”said Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe.

They’ve tried a bit of everything while scoring a power play goal in the last 17 games. Different staff, different alignments, two balanced units, one group of stars. Recently, at one point, Keefe told reporters that the coaching staff decided to stop changing anything – only to see injuries and absences force more change.

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We’ve reached the point where everyone is openly admitting that the problem has grown so big that it rests between the ears of the collective consciousness of the team. It has become a matter of trust.

“I would say about 100 percent,” Keefe said earlier this week.

“It didn’t give us a lot of momentum tonight,” said captain John Tavares after the loss to Winnipeg reduced his team’s North Division lead to three points.

The Leafs actually enjoyed their start against the Jets. They took a 1-0 lead on an early goal from Alex Galchenyuk and continued to push against an opponent who was playing for the second night in a row, shooting two minor penalties in quick succession.

Assistant coach Manny Malhotra, who is tasked with overseeing power play tasks, gathered the players on the bench with a whiteboard during a timeout to plot the 5-on-3 to follow. Then Winnipeg got two quick clears, Galchenyuk took a shot from the post, and the Leafs failed to muster enough control to create any real pressure.

Instead of taking a 2-0 lead, Toronto saw the rope slip quickly – starting with a faceoff loss in the defensive zone to start a power play in Winnipeg and a Nikolaj Ehlers shot that went through Jack. Campbell. This was followed by two more quick strikes in transition, from Kyle Connor and Mark Scheifele, and the Jets had dealt a blow to the Toronto psyche.

“The 5 on 3, our power play in general, and the fact that they win a faceoff on their power play and score immediately. It was really tough for us, ”Keefe said. “Obviously, we didn’t respond well to that. We just lost the structure to the benefit of their best players. Basically two breakaways, or a 2v1 and a breakaway, to their best associates. These are gifts, gifts that they did not give us.

“That is, in the end, the difference in the game.”

The Leafs missed two more power play chances – one to start the third period while trailing 3-2 and the other shortly after poor communication between Mitch Marner and David Rittich saw Ehlers go 4-2.

A goal either way could have produced a different result on a night where Toronto controlled 57% of shooting attempts and tied 54% of expected goals.

“I mean you can just feel that even on the bench, the guys who aren’t there [on the power play], every shot, every time the puck is in and around the net, the guys are trying to knock it out, ”said Keefe. “The guys who are out there right now are pushing it, they’re thinking about it too much, but that’s where we’re at and that’s what we’ve done here to ourselves, so we’ve got to find a way out of it. go out.

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The job was made more difficult by the fact that Auston Matthews sat down with a hand / wrist issue while William Nylander completed his last day in the COVID protocol, but the underlying issues predate those absences. .

What must make this stretch so frustrating is how dramatically the fortunes of the team have changed. The Leafs were the NHL’s most capable power play team at the start of the season – scoring 43.3% of chances while scoring 13 home goals with the man advantage in 10 games.

They have now slipped to 11th overall in the league at 21.8% and could soon fall below the middle of the pack if they don’t find a way to stop taking the water.

“The power play is an important part of winning hockey games,” said Marner. “You know we’ve been talking about this for a long time now. We have [12] There are games left until the playoffs and he can win a lot of big games for you, so we have to make sure we tune in… and make sure we’re doing the right things.

“Ultimately, we will be rewarded.”

It’s hope, anyway.

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