Toronto Maple Leafs fans shouldn’t worry, yet
By Neil Becker
Not surprisingly, there seems to be some growing concern in Leafs nation.
Entering the 2021/2022 season full of high expectations, the Toronto Maple Leafs have gotten off to a 2-3-1 start which has raised some concerned eyebrows. The absolute low point came on Saturday, October 23rd, when on Hockey Night In Canada, they dropped a 7-1 decision in Pittsburgh against a Penguins team who were missing such players as captain Sidney Crosby, forwards Evgeni Malkin, Jeff Carter, and defenceman Kris Letang.
“I have a lot of thoughts, obviously. Not many good ones,” Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe told NHL.com. “It’s tough playing from behind. (We’ve) been doing it too much lately. But Pittsburgh, full marks. They were fast and competitive all through the game. They don’t make it easy on you.”
So far, Leafs forwards Mitch Marner, Austin Matthews, and John Tavares have taken some heat in the media after getting off to bumpy starts. Marner, who played 55 games last year and produced 20 goals and 67 points, has totaled only an assist and is -3 after 6 games this year.
Star centerman Austin Matthews who Toronto selected first overall in the 2016 draft is still looking for his first point and is a -1 after 3 games. Matthews’s slow start shouldn’t be unexpected given that he had wrist surgery in August and missed training camp. The reigning Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy winner has been getting lots of opportunities and has hit a few posts and crossbars. Every Leafs fan should realize that it’s only a matter of time before they go in.
Meanwhile, John Tavares who totaled 19 goals and 50 points in last year’s COVID-19 shortened campaign, has scored only 1 goal and 3 points in 6 games this year with a -2 plus/minus rating.
Also taking some heat is newly acquired left-winger Nick Ritchie who a night before the Penguins game, saw his ice time drastically reduced in what was a 5-3 home loss to the San Jose Sharks. Ritchie, who last year with the Boston Bruins had 15 goals and 26 points, is after 6 games still looking for his first point and is a -3.
The Leafs have so far had some major defensive masques which have resulted in goals against. Veteran defenceman Jake Muzzin is an ugly -6 after 6 games and partner Justin Holl is a -6 after 5 games played.
Meanwhile, goalie Jack Campbell has a 2.22 GAA and a .916 save percentage but is coming off a bad start against Pittsburgh where he was pulled. Backup Petr Mrazek was injured early and Michael Hutchison has struggled.
Despite this negativity, Toronto media and fans alike should take a deep breath and realize it’s only October. The Leafs are a deep talented team who are young. When Christmas rolls around, chances are this slow start will be long forgotten and they will be sitting comfortably in a playoff spot. That being said, Leafs know the success or failure of this season doesn’t lie in the regular season but rather how far they go once playoffs roll around. Toronto fans, management and media alike are expecting a deep playoff run and perhaps a Stanley Cup celebration in June.