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Leafs searching for solutions after sluggish start

November 14, 2019, 8:12 PM ET [415 Comments]
Mike Augello
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The Toronto Maple Leafs are looking for answers as to why they continue to struggle after a 5-4 loss to the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum on Wednesday. The club is a disappointing 9-7-4 after 20 games, with six regulation victories against the NHL's bottom dwellers in Los Angeles, Detroit, San Jose, Ottawa, Columbus, and Minnesota.

“We’ve had some stretches where we haven’t done what we wanted to do. We’ve had stretches where we’ve dominated games — even stretches last night in New York, where we showed ourselves and everybody else what we’re fully capable of.” Leafs GM Kyle Dubas said at the club’s practice facility on Thursday. “It is just trying to continue to carve out a way that we can do that more often. I don’t think we are too far off of doing that by any stretch.”

While the Leafs have benefited from some good individual performances (Auston Matthews, Frederik Andersen, rookie Ilya Mikheyev), others like newcomer Tyson Barrie and backup Michael Hutchinson have disappointed. The biggest issue for the club has been their lack of improvement defensively. Toronto is second in the NHL with 68 goals scored, but has squandered that by allowing 67 goals (tied for 27th).



Another critical factor has been the substandard play of the Leafs special teams. After going 0-for-2 and not registering a shot-on-goal on the power play against the Islanders, Toronto is ranked 20th overall with the man advantage at 17.6%. Their penalty killing has been less effective, allowing two goals on Wednesday and is currently 24th in the NHL at 75.3%.

“I think when something doesn’t go our way and the puck bounces and it goes in our net, it’s just not getting back on our heels and continuing to stay on our toes and staying on attack mode to deal with that stuff.” Dubas said. “I think a lot of the other stuff — with special teams and otherwise — is largely percentage driven and as long as we are continuing to work at it as a collective, that’ll improve.”

Dubas indicated that he is not actively searching for a backup goaltender to replace Hutchinson and will give the recently recalled Kasimir Kaskisuo a chance before exploring outside options, and came to the defense of Barrie and Cody Ceci, who were added over the summer to provide an upgrade on the blueline.

“(Ceci) seems to be a really polarizing player. I think it has been interesting — even when everything underlying about him has been relatively solid, especially when you consider his usage, it seems that every tiny thing he does becomes the referendum on whether he is good or not.” Dubas said. (Barrie has) shown signs of what his form can be. We knew when we were acquiring him we just wanted him to continue to work and be comfortable here and find that. In the last number of games, he has shown more and more of that. I am excited about the rest of the season from him because we obviously know the player he is.”

The Leafs GM exuded patience and confidence that his club will turn things around in the second quarter, which starts with a difficult back-to-back against Boston on Friday and in Pittsburgh on Saturday.

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