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Thursday FTB: how the Leafs are trending heading into the Winter Break

and what to do with the NHL Playoffs

Tampa Bay Lightning v Toronto Maple Leafs
TORONTO, CANADA - DECEMBER 20: Pierre Engvall #47 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates a goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the third period of an NHL game at Scotiabank Arena on December 20, 2022 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Maple Leafs defeated the Lightning 4-1.
Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images

We all know the point of the regular season is to position oneself for the playoffs. It decides the matchups, and tells teams whether they are good or bad and by how much.

33 games into the season for the Leafs, we can tell the Leafs are very good. Especially defensively where they are top-10 in shots against and expected goals against, and second in goals against behind only the Bruins. Offensively they have been much more pedestrian (around the upper-middle of the league in shots and goals), but they are improving.

William Nylander leads the Leafs in goals with 19 in 33 games, with Matthews caught up with 18, both are at a 45+ goal pace. And after a sluggish start to the season for the bottom six, new lines, new faces, and a trade shows the Leafs are going in the right direction.

And those improvements with the depth bear out in the numbers. In the team’s first 20-ish games without the Big-Four forwards on the ice, the Leafs supporting cast was 49% shots, 47% expected goals, and 44% goals while on the ice. In their last 20 games they have been 50% in shot share, 51% in goals and expected goals. In their last 10 they are 53% shots, 74% goals, and 54% expected goals. A big improvement for a team who’s salary cap assumes terrible depth. Via NST

The third line of Kerfoot-Kämpf-Engvall has been especially good of late, far out-performing the third line on the other team. The fourth line has seen a jump with Pontus Holmberg bounding onto the scene, as well as a new face in Dryden Hunt.

All this is to say the Leafs are very good and they’re getting better. And I hope this doesn’t happen, but their play is beginning to insulate the spectacular goaltending the team has been getting this season. Samsonov and Murray have been excellent, but as you have to always expect with goalies, it might not last. If it doesn’t, like we saw last January, the skaters are in a good position to make up for it.

It is a team game after all, and the Leafs as a whole are set up to run better than the sum of their parts. Whatever happens in the new year, the Leafs will be ready for it.

Various Leafs and Branches

Mikhail Sergachev fined for slashing Michael Bunting | by: Katya

Tracking the Investigations into Team Canada sexual assault allegations | by: Katya

Leafs Notebook: Why Morgan Rielly remains critical to the team’s Cup chances | by: MLHS

‘He knows nothing is given’: Meet Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Fraser Minten | by: Daily Faceoff

Why the Maple Leafs must be more aggressive than ever at trade deadline | by: Sportsnet [they really don’t have to be, but they are in a position to be aggressive]

Another Leafs curse? Why the Atlantic Division is once again the NHL’s Group of Death | by: Toronto Star [The correct answer here is just abolish the division format]

Poll

What do you do with the playoffs?

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    Keep it exactly the way it is, it’s great hockey
    (24 votes)
  • 88%
    Abolish the divisional format, go back to 1-8 conferences
    (309 votes)
  • 4%
    Expand the wild card to four teams with a play-in for teams 7-10
    (15 votes)
348 votes total Vote Now

Congrats to Alex Biega for a a great career, including his two games with the Leafs and 31 with the Marlies. He retires at the age of 34.

I don’t have much interest in watching the WJC since there’s literally no Leafs prospect and a very low likelihood of future Leafs. Canada might still be worth cheering for, I am a fan of Shane Wright. Finland is a fun choice because of the blue and white factor. But might I suggest cheering for Sweden this year? The Leafs have five Swedes on their roster, also maybe do it this year for Börje?

Roman Josi is now the all-time points leader in Nashville Predators history, passing David Legwand.

George Bell Arena, near Runnymede Road and St. Clair Avenue West, will be shutting down for several months starting on Friday due to emergency roof repairs. [City News]