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FTB: Can the Leafs hold leads? Yes and no.

The Leafs contain multitudes.

NHL: JAN 15 Maple Leafs at Blues

The Toronto Maple Leafs beat the St. Louis Blues last night after blowing a 3-1 lead in the second period. But can you even call that a blown lead? It’s the second period, the game is happening, and no team in their right mind would give up offense and just try to hold a lead for two periods (unless you’re the Islanders). So the Leafs didn’t “blow” a lead, but they did give up two leads to the Blues and had to mount a small comeback of their own to end up winning. So I guess you could call it a small blown lead.

The Leafs, unfortunately, have had a habit of blowing leads, so the reputation is merited. Excluding expansion teams, the Leafs have blown the most three-goal leads since 2007. Micah has the data on this, so I can’t argue with that.

However, I think there’s reason to believe the Leafs are no longer doing what their past selves did and have figured out how to protect a lead late in the game. Looking at this season’s stats, the Leafs defensively with one and three-plus goal leads is quite good. Two goal leads are below average, but not terrible. I mean, comparing them to the Edmonton Oilers and they’re downright masters at defense. Speaking of the Oilers, they blew another lead last night, but we’ll get to that later. (via Hockey Viz)

So yes, the Leafs are famously the team that has had comeback after comeback mounted against them. But I have reason to believe they are getting better — the Colorado OTL is the only time this year the Leafs have blown a third period lead of any kind. And when the team had to shut down the Blues for three minutes in the third, they did so, and they did it pretty well. They cut off passing lanes, smothered the front of the net, and they blocked shots. What more could you want? Okay, maybe not a delay of game penalty with six seconds left to increase the tension, but Kampf won the crucial faceoff and it all worked out.

Of course, the team will continue to be tested throughout the year and into the playoffs, but I’ve liked what I’ve seen. Even in a game where the Leafs made a lot of mistakes defensively, they still found a way to pull it together at the end. I’d say that’s progress.


Various Leafs and Branches

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Sheldon Keefe stole the GIF show last night with the full range of his bench expressions. Here are three of our favourite.

Here was him when the Rielly penalty happened with six seconds left in the game.

Here he was when the Leafs blew the lead in the second period.

When all the penalty shenanigans went down.

And finally, when Mikheyev scored the winner.

After the game, Keefe seemed to not notice that Timothy Liljegren scored his first career NHL goal until someone told him. I’m glad Keefe thought Liljegren had a good game. He had some shortcomings (that I detailed in the recap) but he also did a lot right, including defending the final minute of the game, so he clearly has Keefe’s trust.

Last up, an update on Kyle Clifford, who took a hard blocked shot, possibly to the head. He was in concussion protocol, hence why he didn’t play in the third period. That said, he wouldn’t have played anyway as Keefe shortened the bench to only three lines.

Lastly, the Edmonton Oilers. They blew a 3-1 lead within 10 minutes of the third period against the Oilers, tied it again thanks to Darnell Nurse, but then lost it with three minutes to go on Josh Norris’ second of the night. The Oilers have now lost eight of their last 10, sit behind the Detroit Red Wings in the league standings and sixth in the weak Pacific, and Connor McDavid continues to look utterly defeated for yet another season.

Ignore what he’s saying, we’ve heard it before. But the utter dejection on his face. That man is broken. The 18-wheeler has been falling off the cliff for him year after year after year in Edmonton, and I’m shocked he’s still there.

The CBC broadcast after the game talked about what the Oilers need to do to change things, and Friedman suggested focusing completely on defense and making sure they can at least do that. I think his quote was, “the effort is there, even if the results are not.” And if you think about that quote for just a second, the conclusion one must draw from that is that this team does not have the talent to do that.

They are built like a glass cannon. Draisaitl, Ceci, Keith, Barrie, Smith. Half the defense, the star forward, and the goalie are all glass cannons in their own way. And the rest of the roster is downright Sens level. I don’t think any coach can get that team to succeed at defense. I know defense can be coached, but you need to have some awareness skills and puck-moving ability within each player, not split between two like Ceci and Barrie. Seriously, if Ceci and Barrie had a baby, it would probably be a pretty good defenseman.

And finally, some reports on the trade front.