The key to the Maple Leafs' success on offense is getting to the tough areas in front of the net for their scoring chances. They haven't been doing that enough, which has resulted in one heck of a scoring slump - the Chicago game notwithstanding.
After his Toronto Maple Leafs sleepwalked through a 3-1 loss to the Florida Panthers Dec. 17, coach Randy Carlyle chalked his team’s many mental mistakes up to the fatigue of a five-games-in-seven-nights schedule. One of the major problems he saw with his players was a lack of compete and an unwillingness to drive the net.
“It seemed like we got shots, but they were one and out,” said Carlyle.
Boy, was he right. And boy, is he in for more of the same. Despite a 2-1 win over the equally goal-challenged Phoenix Coyotes Dec. 19, Carlyle’s Leafs show few signs of breaking out of their offensive slump.
Looking back at shooter locations on the ice over the Leafs’ past few games, it becomes pretty clear this team isn't scoring off the rush and needs to get pressure below the hash marks and in front of the net to be successful.
In the Florida game, for example, they had just four shots from inside the hash marks, one of which was a tip by Mason Raymond at the top of the crease that found the back of the net. The rest of their 29 shots were from the perimeter, either outside the faceoff circles or from the blueline.
As a point of comparison, the Leafs scored all seven of their goals from the hash marks/faceoff dots or below in their 7-3 drubbing of Chicago Dec. 14 and had nine more shots on net from that area. That’s 16 of 32 shots on net from in tight.
Against Phoenix, the Leafs scored their lone goal on a rebound at the goalmouth. Ten of 27 pucks they put on net were from inside the hashmarks, which coincided with an overall renewed sense of urgency in the Leafs’ game.
Even in their 3-1 loss Dec. 11 to the L.A. Kings - a game Carlyle called “our best effort in the last couple months” – they were mucking it up down low for their chances. Of the 39 pucks they fired at Martin Jones, 22 of them came from the faceoff dots or lower. Fourteen of those were right at the crease. Their one goal came out of the corner, almost along the goal line.
Compare that to losses against St. Louis and Pittsburgh and it’s clear how important it is for the Leafs to get in close. All three goals against the Blues came from the faceoff dots or the slot and Toronto had six more shots from that area in the game. Against the Pens, the Leafs put up 14 from in close before Morgan Rielly scored from just inside the top of the faceoff circle.
That’s one goal from the perimeter in the past five games, or one out of 13 goals scored from far out. Eliminating the Chicago game as a one-off, Toronto has scored just six goals in four games.
It’s pretty tough to win with a 1.5 goals-per-game average.
If the Leafs are going to return to their early-season high-flying ways, they need to return to the front of the net and start doing some dirty work.