Toronto Maple Leafs Tighten Up Defensively In Win Over Capitals

The Toronto Maple Leafs closed out the three game season series against the Washington Capitals last night at home in Scotiabank Arena. The Toronto Maple Leafs were looking to bounce back from a loss to the Carolina Hurricanes that Sheldon Keefe called immature and careless.

Washington Capitals v Toronto Maple Leafs
Washington Capitals v Toronto Maple Leafs / Claus Andersen/GettyImages
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The Washington Capitals made their first and only trip to Scotiabank Arena this season last night for the final matchup of the season with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

This was a big game for both teams as the Capitals are fighting for their playoff lives and the Toronto Maple Leafs were looking to bounce back after the 6-3 loss to the New Jersey Devils, one of the their worst losses of the season.

Much like the game against the Devils, the Leafs came out on fire against the Capitals, they put up 19 shots in the first period. But instead of disengaging from the hockey game after the first 20 minutes, they stayed locked in and played a full 60 minutes of hockey against the Capitals, winning 5-1 while putting up 48 shots on goal.

While this was an impressive offensive performance from the Maple Leafs, all eyes were focused on the defensive side of the puck, and the Maple Leafs goaltending after Tuesday's nights loss to the Devils.

The Leafs were missing Morgan Rielly, Timothy Liljegren and Joel Edmundson, as well as Marner and Jarnkrok. That's five regulars and three of their top-six. Mark Giordano made a supririsng and glorious return to the lineup.

Toronto Maple Leafs Tighten Up Defensively In Win Over Capitals

The Toronto Maple Leafs were much more responsible defensively in this one winning the expected goals battle 3.94-1.70 and only gave up nine high-danger scoring chances as opposed to the 14 high-danger chances and 3.88 expected goals they allowed against the Devils (via NaturalStatTrick).

Outside of the game against the Devils, the Leafs have been very good defensively over the last week only allowing three five-on-five goals in the three games before Tuesday night. The area of concern recently has been the Maple Leafs penalty kill which had given up 10 goals in the eight games before the Devils loss.

Mitch Marner's absence is taking a big toll on the penalty kill unit, but something has seemed to click over the last two games killing off four straight penalties. In last night's game against the Capitals the Leafs completely shut down the Capitals powerplay giving two shots and zero high-danger chances in the four minutes they spent on the penalty kill (via NaturalStatTrick).

Although it is only four penalties the Leafs have killed off in the last two games it is encouraging to see Connor Dewar finally getting comfortable on the penalty kill alongside David Kamph after being brought in at the trade deadline as a 'penalty kill specialist'. Once Mitch Marner returns to the lineup, they should have two serviceable penalty kill units. If they keep pressuring loose pucks as they did last night, they should not have an issue in the future.

Leafs Continue To Get Depth Scoring

How many times this season have the Leafs scored five goals in a game this season and none of them were scored by one of the core four? It can't be many right? Well, last night Tyler Bertuzzi put two in the back of the net to bring his total on the year up to 18, Bobby McMann got his 14th of the year, Connor Dewar got his first in a Leafs uniform and Marc Giordano got his second of the year in his first game back from injury.

Despite all the issues the Maple Leafs have had this season, they are the third highest scoring offence at five-on-five this year and with 10 games remaining the Maple Leafs sit with 91 points. If they can find 14 points over these next 10 games they would finish the year right in line with most sportsbook projections for their season point total.

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For what has felt like an underwhelming season, the Leafs are playing pretty close to the pace they were projected to before the year. Suppose they can get Mitch Marner, Calle Jarnkrok, Timothy Liljegren, Morgan Reilly and Joel Edmundson all back healthy going into the playoffs. In that case, this team will be a tough out for anybody in the league if they can defend for 60 minutes consistently.