There was a lot to like about the Maple Leafs’ recent five-game win streak.
But as the game that ended showed, there is a lot to “work out,” as coach Sheldon Keefe put it, after Monday night’s 5-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings.
Keefe says his team “plays great one night” and then “goes out to the next game and it’s not the same group.”
As they headed to Philadelphia for Wednesday night’s date with the Flyers, only two parts of their game seemed safe:
- The Core Four, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander, can score. The greats have the last 14 goals and the power play has six goals in the last 12 chances.
- Monday’s loss aside, goalkeeper Jack Campbell has earned all the accolades that have come to him.
But what about the rest of the lineup?
The last six forwards are scoreless, but since Oct. 25, when Nick Ritchie joined the fourth row, his offense has dried up. The line of David Kämpf, Ondrej Kase and Pierre Engvall has combined for a goal and an assist in the last seven games. Jason Spezza, Wayne Simmonds and Ritchie are scoreless and have two assists in that span.
“We need to get contributions from those guys for sure now,” Keefe said. “There was a time when we received contributions from those lines and the best players weren’t scoring. We would like it to coincide with where everyone is shooting at the same time. It doesn’t always work that way. “
Tuesday’s practice hinted at changes, but not because of production.
Tavares and Kase sat down, and Keefe said they were both beaten up a bit after Monday’s game. They will be decisions at game time on Wednesday night.
In his absence, Ritchie practiced with Alex Kerfoot, in the place of Tavares in the center, and Marner, while Joey Anderson took the place of Kase with Kämpf and Engvall. Kirill Semyonov took over Ritchie’s fourth-line duties.
Justin Holl, meanwhile, will be back on the blue line against the Flyers, with Travis Dermott set to be eliminated.
“What we’ve learned throughout this exercise in the last five games is that we have seven defenders who can play, who can help us, and that’s a very positive thing for us,” Keefe said.
Ritchie’s scoring struggles are the most baffling. He set a career-high with 15 goals last season in Boston, but has none in 13 games in Toronto.
“Obviously it’s a bit frustrating,” Ritchie said. “You want to help as much as you can, but I think that as long as you are on the net and you have a chance here and there, it makes you feel better, it gives you confidence that something is going to happen soon.”
Forward Michael Bunting has three goals in his first season as Leaf, but none since he moved to the top line, although he has contributed in other ways, chipping out with an aggressive forecheck.
“I’ve had quite a few great opportunities and they just aren’t going to help me,” Bunting said. “I feel like if I didn’t have those great opportunities, I would be a little worried about my game. It’s only a matter of time … Then the floodgates will open for me. “
Meanwhile, Jake Muzzin is the only blueliner with a goal after 13 games.
“I’d say it’s a little weird,” Keefe said. “Something that we have looked at over the last year is simply: How can we engage our defense more consistently?
“We think we have some guys that have the ability to score and we have opportunities that have yet to come in. We have to find ways to engage our defense and engage it offensively … Sometimes for defense, it’s not about whether the goal goes into the net, but rather that a goal can be created for someone else by throwing the puck at the goalkeeper. , or shoot the puck off a stick. That kind of thing creates chaos.
“As we get to that, more offenses will come.”
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