3 major X-Factors that will make or break the rest of the Maple Leafs season

We are in the back half of February, and the Toronto Maple Leafs are holding onto a wild card, so what will ultimately determine whether they return to the playoffs?

Feb 15, 2024; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (34) scores his
Feb 15, 2024; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (34) scores his / Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
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Since Auston Matthews arrived in Toronto, the Maple Leafs have been one of the most relevant and fun hockey teams to follow. While their success in the playoffs hasn’t been what fans are looking for, Toronto is in contention each season, and they are routinely one of the best regular season teams in the NHL.

But through mid-February, the Maple Leafs have seen more than their fair share of turbulence. They haven’t looked good on the penalty kill, and one major reason has come from their so-so ability to play sound defense and their struggling goaltenders. 

Given these struggles, Toronto has had to rely on their biggest playmakers offensively, including Matthews, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner. Ideally, improvements to the PK, and by extension, defense and goaltending, will take pressure off Toronto’s biggest scorers. And they are the primary X-Factors that will make or break the final two months of the Maple Leafs season. 

The Maple Leafs penalty kill continues to put forth pedestrian results

The Maple Leafs have been a below-average team defensively all season, and that has affected their special teams. While Toronto’s power play has converted a remarkable 26.35 percent of their opportunities into goals, the penalty kill has been an entirely different story. 

Through February 16th, Toronto has stifled an opponent’s power play just 78.23 percent of the time. This is nearly 1.5 percent lower than the league average and it ranks 22nd in the NHL. Among the 16 teams currently in a playoff spot, Toronto’s PK unit ranks 15th, ahead of only the Winnipeg Jets (77.7). 

They are also one of just three teams currently in a playoff spot who rank in the bottom half of the league, with the St. Louis Blues being the third team on that list. These statistics tell us something important: If you want to maximize your chances of making the playoffs, you need a sound penalty kill.