The Toronto Maple Leafs aren’t about to start winning games solely on defense, but the defensive concerns seem to be over-played.
Defensively, the Toronto Maple Leafs rank 16th in the league based solely on Goals Against. This must be framed though against a league fifth-best goal differential.
Essentially, the Leafs don’t need to rely solely on shutting teams out to win games, because they have enough offensive firepower to out-score opponents. In fact, they’re have a third-best Goals For in the entire league.
It’s a bit of a fine balance, but in recent games there seems to be a lot more pushback defensively from the group.
The Toronto Maple Leafs Defense
It doesn’t feel justified to continue with the levels of concern that Leafs fans might’ve been showing earlier this season. Perhaps the most telling difference in recent times is the arrival of veteran defenseman Mark Giordano from the Seattle Kraken.
Across his five games with the Maple Leafs, the team have limited their opponents to 30 shots or less in all but one of those games. In four of the five games, the Leafs were absolutely dominant when Giordano was on the ice.
In fact, they’re limiting their opponents to just 25.8 shots per game in the games since Giordano arrived. Those five games included fixtures against the high-flying Florida Panthers and the Boston Bruins on their home ice.
Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that the Leafs lost Rasmus Sandin to injury, followed by Justin Holl and Igor Lyubushkin leaving the Boston game early.
Lyubushkin himself has been quite the revelation since arriving from the Arizona Coyotes. He plays a heavy-hitting physical game that has been missing in recent times. Think a slightly more talented Roman Polak.
In times gone by, two injuries on the blue-line in a feisty road game against Boston no less, would’ve seen the defense essentially capitulate. Instead, the remaining four defensemen pulled the team through, even with a rookie goalie behind them.
This one result alone, coupled with limiting Florida to just two goals, suggests that the defensive concerns really are overblown.
Against the Winnipeg Jets, the Toronto Maple Leafs may have conceded three goals, but they managed to slot Carl Dahlstrom into the line-up in place of an injured Lyubushkin, without it majorly impacting their defensive play.
Likewise, Timothy Liljegren has been the scapegoat at times this season with some questionable decision-making. It turns out that statistically, he’s the Leafs best defenseman, with a 62% expected-goals rating, and a 56% percent goals-for rating.
To think that the Leafs are yet to welcome back Jake Muzzin and Rasmus Sandin; the defense actually could still improve prior to the playoffs!
All in all, the clamor around the defensive weaknesses seems not necessarily to be a false narrative; after all the defense is not perfect.
However, it’s seems to be a narrative that fails to recognize just how much of a difference the new additions are making to the team’s defense.
With any luck, the returns of Muzzin and Sandin can happen without upsetting the chemistry of the group. If that occurs, suddenly you’re looking at a Toronto Maple Leafs defense that has eight very viable NHL-ready options.