It Might be Time to Hold Onto Your Maple Leafs Futures
The Toronto Maple Leafs were the lone club behind the Colorado Avalanche to win the 2023 Stanley Cup. After a 4-3 defeat at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night, it might be time to pause on such short odds.
The Maple Leafs played fine, but the hungry, young, heavily-dogged Habs came out to play on home ice and dealt their division rival a defeat, even if it was only with 20 seconds left in regulation. The Canadiens continually put their opponent under pressure, whether at even strength or on the power play, and a Leafs team that was upwards of -250 moneyline favorites ended up faltering in their season-opener.
While the Maple Leafs remain one of the league’s better clubs in consensus, are they worthy of their +750 odds to reach the pinnacle of hockey’s greatness?
Defensive Miscues Remain a Mystery
For years, the Maple Leafs failed on the back end, not on the front. During their rebuild, they certainly failed to score enough goals to win, but that was expected of a young team outwardly of high-octane players. That is no longer the excuse after finishing among the top teams in goal-scoring over the last several campaigns.
Last season, the Maple Leafs took a step forward in terms of preventing goals. Their 19th overall ranking in terms of overall defense was not indicative of their work on the back end. Disastrous goaltending was.
Believe it or not, Natural Stat Trick had the buds ranked fifth in terms of expected goals against/60 at 5v5 and ninth in high-danger chances against/60 at 5v5. They also owned the league’s eighth-ranked penalty kill at 82.1%. The problem? They also ranked 27th in 5v5 save percentage with a measly .909 mark. That simply doesn’t get it done.
The Maple Leafs deserved a better fate in the defensive department last season, plain and simple.
Season-Opener a Concern
While the Maple Leafs’ back end performed admirably a season ago, Wednesday night was a different story.
While Natural Stack Trick has them at an even 50% in terms of high-danger chances surrendered at 5v5 action on Wednesday, the eye test disagrees. It sure seemed as if netminder Matt Murray was under more duress than his counterpart Jake Allen at the other end of the ice as the Habs’ young guns were able to give the veteran Maple Leafs’ back end more than they could handle in their season-opening loss.
It’s early. There will be more than enough sloppy play across the league for a number of weeks. While most expected more than three goals of offense against what was expected to be a soft Montreal back end, it was Toronto’s blueline that underperformed in their season opener.
They’ll need to be far better to capitalize on their short odds to win the 2023 Stanley Cup. At least, their veteran group of defenders needs to gain their chemistry in a hurry if it’s willing to keep up in what expects to be a tough Atlantic division once again.
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