It is very NHL, and specifically very Toronto Maple Leafs, to make a big deal out of changing their goal song for the season, and then having to change it after one game. The lesson, kids, is that you never cross Hall & Oates. The Greeks knew it, the Carthaginians knew it, and now the Six knows it. It’s also very hockey to try and update one’s goal song to something released this century, figure out after the fact that it might offend some altacocker, and then have to switch back to the mid-80s (not that proper Van Halen is ever unwelcome).
But that’s not why the Leafs are hilarious.
It’s been an adventure of a start for the Leafs, who are a certainly acceptable 2-1-0 on the year after opening with a three-game homestand. It’s just how they’ve gone about that start that already has their coach calling out their top players, which is a keen strategy in a town that pretty much has nothing else to do but sharpen knives for a generationally talented group of players that they’ve wanted to see traded for three seasons at least.
The Leafs ate it at home last night to the Blackhawks 4-1, and the Hawks were every bit worthy of that win. They were faster all over the ice, won most of the loose pucks, and limited the Leafs’ big guns to one Auston Matthews goal at the end of the game and not much else. And that’s with new hotness Connor Bedard not even registering a point. This followed giving up five goals to the Habs on opening night, needing two Hail Marys with the goalie pulled to get it to extra time, and giving up four goals to the Wild in a 7-4 win. Both of those were given cover by Auston Matthews’s dueling hat tricks.
Three games in was enough for coach Sheldon Keefe to press the red button. The Leafs have had a habit of playing to the level of their competition the past few years, and certainly starting the season with the decidedly rotten Canadiens and Hawks and the Wild (who are supposedly an NHL team but no one’s ever heard of them) was a cue to start loosely. And sure, maybe the top six could have played a little tighter to not give the Hawks an opening and belief.
But Keefe is missing the point, or rather he can’t address the real problem yet, if at all. Some numbers for you:
- John Klingberg – 39.7 xGF percentage
- Jake McCabe – 40.3 xGF percentage
- TJ Brodie – 42.0 Corsi percentage
Those were the numbers they put up last night. The Hawks aren’t terribly skilled, especially on the wings, but they are fast everywhere. And they skulled the Leafs d-men below Morgan Rielly. Here’s McCabe trying to “defend” McKenzie Entwhistle last night for the opening goal, and keep in mind that Entwhistle very likely won’t play an NHL game beyond this season when the Hawks become a serious team and the other 31 clubs wonder just how the hell he ever drew an NHL paycheck:
That was also Klingberg not really doing anything to keep that pass from getting to Entwhistle, and here’s a pretty excellent summation of the rest of his night:
Klingberg and McCabe have been woeful for the first three games, carrying xGF percentages below 40 percent in the three games while playing second-pairing minutes. It would help if the Leafs had been bailed out by either of their goalies, but they’ve given up 12 goals (one empty-netter) in three games on 86 shots (.860 save percentage).
Perhaps Keefe solves this by promoting his one d-man with plus-mobility, Timothy Liljegren, onto the second pairing to aid either of the two that are already on their second oxygen tank of the season. But it was already suspected that this Leafs defense couldn’t keep up with any grouping of quick forwards facing them. The Habs and Hawks have made that look so. What happens when the Devils or Canes show up?
Obviously, three games in is no time to be making sweeping judgments. October hockey is generally more open as the good teams try to collect regulation wins to get in the playoff positions as soon as possible and the bad teams haven’t been stripped for parts yet and are still under the guise of “trying to surprise.” You see more 7-5 games in the season’s opening throes.
Keefe can’t throw his defense under the bus, yet, or his goalies, because there’s nowhere to go. This is what his GM gave him, whereas his best forwards have another gear or two to move through. They’re also already under the microscope given the playoff flameouts already on the books, and Keefe probably figures more isn’t going to change much.
But the defense will require a midseason overhaul, and if something has to be done about the goalies then Keefe is putting the crippling glare of the Toronto spotlight on one or two guys who aren’t supposed to be anywhere near it instead of the five who have been shouldering it for years anyway. It’s just delightful it only took three games to get here, because what’s he going to do if the Leafs hit a rut in December or January?
But it’s OK Ryan Reaves, like, yelled at a guy. A guy who scored a goal while Reeves played six minutes. That’s clearly what Buds All Day has been missing all this time.
Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate and on Bluesky @Felsgate.bsky.social
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