Did the Penguins and Islanders Exploit a Toronto Maple Leafs Weakness?

Toronto Maple Leafs tower of pucks (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
Toronto Maple Leafs tower of pucks (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Maple Leafs are coming off an impressive win over the New York Islanders.

It was a contest that saw rookie goaltender Joseph Woll pick up his second NHL wins in as many tries. It was also his first ever big league shutout. While there is a lot to celebrate, the Toronto Maple Leafs need  to do some  video work after exposing a weakness.

Though the Isles didn’t have much success in the game, they did manage to earn a small victory. They kept the Maple Leafs from scoring on the powerplay and they did so using the same effective plan their advanced scouts saw in action on Saturday night.

The strategy used to quell the Leafs onslaught while they had a man-advantage was seen over the past pair of games. The Pittsburgh Penguins took four minor penalties (which included a two-man advantage for Toronto), giving the Toronto Maple Leafs special teams plenty of opportunity to work. In order to ensure that the Buds didn’t do any damage on the powerplay, the Penguins played extremely aggressively at their zone entry point.

Toronto Maple Leafs Exposed

The Pens attacked right at the blue line, making it very difficult for the Leafs to gain the zone. In doing so, it forced Toronto to relinquish the possession of the puck by dumping it in and having footraces to retrieve it. The advantage goes to the defender and it eats into valuable powerplay time.

Once the Toronto Maple Leafs manage to get setup in the offensive zone, they are very dangerous. This season, they have scored in 23.21-percent of their powerplays, which ranks as the eighth best rate in the NHL. That’s why it makes sense for teams to delay the Leafs from getting themselves into a favorable position.

With the penalty killing strategy working so effectively for both the Penguins and Islanders, expect to see other teams exploit Toronto’s struggles against it. That should continue until the Maple Leafs prove that they can break through this defensive style. To get there, Sheldon Keefe must work with his coaching staff to break down game footage and work through replicated situations during on-ice practices.

The best way that the   Leafs can adjust the way their opponents kill penalties, is to prove that the highly aggressive style doesn’t work. For that to happen, Toronto is going to need to find ways to get their players behind opposition defenders and to get their forwards the puck once they’ve gained position. Ultimately, the Leafs need to start scoring against the penalty and force other clubs to re-strategize.

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Pay close attention next game when the Toronto Maple Leafs travel out west to play the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday. Watch for the Kings to use the same playbook as both the Penguins and Islanders while on special teams. It will be interesting to see what Keefe’s squad does to counter, disrupt, and break through to push for powerplay goals.