I’m going to bring up a comparison a lot of people won’t like, but then I’ll fix my mistake by explaining why they’re different. Remember when the Edmonton Oilers went on their annual cratering slump where they couldn’t buy a win? There was a lot of confusion as to what the problem was with them this time. A lot had been written, but I think the result came from a combination of bad goaltending, no primary scoring, no secondary scoring, and the team structure in the defensive end just gave up yet again (and the coach was fired).

Now, to the Toronto Maple Leafs. They haven’t lost nearly as many games as the Oilers, but the losses have been frustrating and lifeless. Looking at the issues that compounded the Oilers, the Leafs haven’t had a problem with primary scoring at all, just look at yesterday’s FTB. The secondary scoring has been a bit of a problem as the second line has been underwater in the past 25 games, but the third line is doing pretty well. As for the coach getting fired, I don’t think we’re anywhere near that time with Sheldon Keefe, but ask me again in three months.

So once again, we get back to goaltending. Whether it’s been consistent costly mistakes by the goalies themselves, or something like what we saw last night where the defenders were just missing their assignments, the Leafs goaltending is the worst in the league — and has been there for a while. Can it be fixed? Not really. Can it be insulated in any way? Maybe?

In terms of insulating goalies, there’s a couple ways to do it. First, shoot the lights out. Thanks, Auston, Mitch, and Michael for the brilliant demonstration. Even with bad goaltending, you can still win games when the big boys shoot the lights out. The Leafs have done that by outscoring their opponents even when all hope is lost. Unfortunately, streaks come to an end just as often as goalies cool down, so it’s hard to rely on it when the goaltending is anything worse than mediocre.

The second way to insulate goalies is by beefing up the defense. I don’t mean Ben Chiarot, but with guys who can actually defend well. Rasmus Sandin has been doing his darndest, but he’s just not ready to be taking on big minutes. Timothy Liljegren was chewed up and spit out next to Morgan Rielly as well, as the team tried to create a workable second pair with TJ Brodie. It’s not that the Leafs need a different kind of defender, they just need more competent ones. With Muzzin and a passable version of Justin Holl next to him, Brodie can’t do it all on his own. Ilya Lyubushkin has been decent, but he’s not playing up in the lineup.

So until Jake Muzzin comes back, whatever version of that we get, the team needs help on the back end. They need a steady presence or two that can stop the nightly tire fire on the second pair. A Mark Giordano would be great right now, or Adam Larsson. Please send this article to Seattle, we need some of their defensemen. I wouldn’t scoff at the prices for John Klingberg or Hampus Lindholm anymore, either.

And going back to Tavares, here’s an unfortunate graph of his shooting percentage over the past several seasons. As you can see this year, he’s in the middle of a 14-game goalless streak, having gotten stuck at 17 goals. In those games he has accumulated 10 assists, which is pretty good, but with Nylander, Kerfoot, and the power play all struggling to a lesser extent than he is, things are just not going well for the captain.

Lucky for him, there’s nowhere to go but up, and he has plenty of time left in this 82 game season to turn things around. I don’t believe for a second Tavares has forgotten how to scoring, and his scoring chance and expected goal numbers are still up there with his 47-goal season. He was expected to score 38 goals that year, and this year his expected goals rate should get him to 35. If he can get some shooting luck, he should still finish with a 30-goal, 80-point season.

The Leafs have clearly tried to get Kerfoot away from Tavares in an attempt to bring some more options into the offensive zone, if Ondřej Kaše can come back from his illness I think he would do the trick. I think Tavares also just needs to get one and the floodgates will open. No one shoots from where he does and gets as little as he’s getting, like last year when he had a big bounceback second half.

Various Leafs and Branches

Maple Leafs disappoint a full arena for the first time, just like old times | by: Seldo

Is there really a playoff race in the east now? | by: Katya

The Leafs are going to be spending March flipping the script and looking at the flipside of hockey. I’m very excited for these initiatives.

Something that also showed up yesterday was an instagram post from Martha Stewart with Justin Bieber in a Leafs jersey we haven’t seen before. This screenshot was taken from Chris Creamer’s article at SportsLogos.net, link below. Could this be a special jersey the Leafs have lined up for March? It looks to be a black jersey with a very dark blue logo with what could be gold or yellow trim. The proportions don’t exactly match the “Drew House” design the Leafs and Bieber collaborated on, but it could be one for the ice.

Honest opinions, it’s another Leafs logo, there’s nothing that can be done with it, but they picked some pretty washed out and boring colours if that’s what they chose. Why not bright yellow jerseys? Or purple jerseys? Why navy blue on black?

Toronto Six defender, Saroya Tinker, has collaborated with Nike to design her own Air Force 1 shoe. Wow!

The CHL has paused their original plan to ban Russian and Belarusian junior players from their import draft, instead postponing it to an unknown date. The ban was reported on Tuesday before the presumed backtrack ahead of yesterday’s announcement, which was delayed by almost two hours.

And finally, Alex Stalock is headed from Edmonton to San Jose in a trade for future considerations. Some background on this trade: Stalock was initially out for the season due to a heart condition caused by COVID-19. That was in September of last year. He made his return at the end of January and has played five AHL games for Bakersfield. The other piece of news is that James Reimer is hurt for the Sharks and they probably need a backup goalie right now, so Stalock was the one they got. Nice to see him come back, COVID is no joke.

Oilers’ Stalock Nearing Return From Heart Condition - The Hockey News
Don’t call it a comeback | AHL on the Beat