Is “getting better” good enough for the Leafs right now?

The Leafs lost what ended up being a lot closer of a game than the score line suggests. 3-0 to Nashville isn’t flattering, but they did look better. Is that enough of a consolation prize at this point in the season?

It was a tale of three periods as Toronto fell to the heavily equipped Nashville predators. One period of bad play, one period of good defensive play, and one period of solid offensive play. The problem? The Maple Leafs can’t seem to put together a full 60 minute game.

The Usual First Period

Can this team start on time please? Even with the start time pushed an hour, the Leafs failed to get the memo that the first period is still required to be played.

What would a Toronto goal against be without poor defensive play, right? Jake Muzzin, the man under fire since Gardiner’s injury, committed a brutal turnover in his own zone that saw Nashville jump out to an early lead.

It’s getting increasingly difficult to defend Muzzin’s recent play, that being said the injuries that have impacted the back end cannot be ignored here. As well, it’s clear Babcock isn’t trusting his bottom pairing, as they played just over 13 minutes with the top-four defensemen playing 22:00+ minutes each.

This could be seen as a coaching issue as it relates to preparedness and motivation for the team, but what could Babcock say to his team to change this sudden drop off in early performance? The players need to start taking ownership of their poor first periods.

A Strong Second

No goals against, and extremely tight defensive play in the second completely shut down the Nashville offense. Barring a shot that hit the post from Ryan Johansen, Toronto kept the Preds to the outside in the second, restricting them to just two shots on goal in the frame.

It showed what the Leafs can do against some elite competition. Sure, Nashville are a defense-first team, but their D also contribute a lot offensively. Also, Johansen, Forsberg, Simmonds, Arvidsson, and Smith are more than capable of pelting the net consistently.

The Leafs kept Nashville to just 17 shots on goal in this game which should be celebrated as a silver lining, but that is something we should expect from a Cup contender.

Flurry in the Third… like Usual

This team always seems motivated to get back into the game in the third, but unfortunately this time it was too late. It worked against Philadelphia, blasting the doors off Brian Elliot, but Pekka Rinne put on a show in this one. Toronto out-shot Nashville in this game, but only marginally (22-17) which simply isn’t enough.

There was improved possession, better offensive pressure, and more shots on goal, but no end result. If the Leafs brought a similar effort in the first period this game could have been much different. Wear out the goalie early, then continue to raise the speed and pressure with more shots and scoring chances.

Nashville’s elite D did bail out their goalie, but it was a symbiotic relationship in this one. It was too little too late for the Leafs.

Upon Further Review…

To me, the Leafs ‘showing improvement’ and getting back on track right now is something we really shouldn’t be seeing from a team with so much talent. Of course, injuries slow things down and change the course, but good teams take those challenges and persevere – Toronto has not done that.

Maybe the transgressions of this season are akin to those of Tampa Bay’s two seasons ago when they missed the playoffs. A hard lesson to learn but one the young core needs to pay attention to nonetheless.

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