The Maple Leafs are 11 games into the NHL season, and a 5-4-2 record is not what they planned.
The Leafs are 2-4-2 against teams that managed at least 96 points last year. They have key injuries and have faced a particularly tough schedule. But every team faces adversity, and so far the Leafs aren’t facing it well.
They take too many penalties, they trail too often, they’re weak in the third period. They don’t earn enough power plays — just 2.8 a game (the league average is 3.3) — where their top stars could shine.
The Leafs’ best players have not been at their best. Their depth players have been pulling their weight.
Help may well be on the way. Both Travis Dermott (shoulder) and Zach Hyman (knee) are eligible to come off long-term injured reserve as early as Friday’s game against San Jose. Given the coach’s recent comments and how they’ve been practising, Dermott is more likely to return than Hyman.
Here are the individual report cards.
Auston Matthews: He focused on developing a one-timer over the summer to add to his offensive arsenal. And no one is complaining about eight goals. We might quibble over three assists. We’ll certainly quibble about indifferent play in his own zone. He wants to be the best player in the league. His possession numbers are great (58 per cent), but he mainly starts in the offensive zone, so he surrenders territory. He has taken far too many shots (34 of 41) from beyond 15 feet. Grade: C
John Tavares: He was injured (broken finger) just as his game was rounding into form. And his injury has coincided with the team’s recent slide (1-1-1). So perhaps he escapes the recency bias, but a better start would have helped. When things go bad, that’s when a captain is needed the most. Hoping for a speedy return. Grade: B
Mitch Marner: He’s shooting more. Why? He is the best playmaker on the team and can make others around him better when he dishes the puck. He has three points in five-on-five situations, and is tied for a team-worst minus-5. His shooting percentage is at 5.33, worst on the team. He doesn’t have a great shot. He continues to use it. He does a lot of other things well, including killing penalties. But he has yet to be so dangerous that an opponent has needed to trip, hook or hold him. Grade: B
William Nylander: Remember he was going to dominate the NHL? Those were his words. That was his prediction. Now, he’s got a good stick and, oh my, those zone entries. But, really, he has to be more of a presence. He gets credit for leading the team in even-strength shots from 15 feet or closer (eight). He’s not close to the player he says he wants to be. Grade: C
Alexander Kerfoot: Early returns suggest the Leafs got two better players than the one they gave up in the Nazem Kadri trade. Kerfoot has four goals, three assists, speed and more grit than Mike Babcock was expecting. He should take fewer penalties, though. Grade: B
Andreas Johnsson: He really hasn’t taken off offensively, even playing regularly with Matthews. And he’s hurt the team a great deal, taking silly penalties in the neutral and offensive zones. He leads the team with 12 penalty minutes, and has yet to score a five-on-five goal. Grade: D
Kasperi Kapanen: A bad start, perhaps he is ill-fitted to left wing. Kapanen has thrived on Kerfoot’s right side, scoring short-handed (a godsend for a team that takes too many penalties). His work ethic is not a problem, and he uses his speed wisely. Grade: B
Ilya Mikheyev: Soup Man to the rescue. Big, fast, skilled and can score. A real find. No matter that the player he essentially replaced — Par Lindholm, now with the Bruins — scored a dagger against Toronto on Tuesday. Kills penalties, but maybe not as well as he could. He’s been on the ice for four short-handed goals against. Grade: B
Trevor Moore: Seems to fit on any line, seems to fit any role, never seems to wear out his welcome. Any more like him? Grade: B
Nic Petan: The frequent healthy scratch has a lot of believers out there. Babcock doesn’t appear to be one of them. Neither was Paul Maurice in Winnipeg. But he shows flashes of playmaking ability and fourth-line grit. The Leafs have him signed beyond this year. Hockey Night In Canada reported the Leafs would be interested in moving him to a team that would give him more of a chance. Grade: C
Nick Shore: No one has more five-on-five defensive zone starts than Shore (49), and has a 60 per cent success rate in the faceoff circle. Offence isn’t his thing (one goal, no assists). The GM wants a fourth line that can score (think Jason Spezza). The coach wants one that can hold the other team even. Shore is helping do that. Yet to be on the ice for a short-handed goal against. Grade: B
Jason Spezza: Not sure how the veteran ended up in Babcock’s doghouse so quickly. He is the epitome of the kind of player hockey promotes: kind, funny, approachable, gentlemanly. But one assist in five games. Grade: C
Dmytro Timashov: No complaints about Timashov, who adds energy, puck-protection ability and decent playmaking to the fourth line. Grade: B
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Frederik Gauthier: The Goat has won over the skeptics and earned the trust of the coach, who used him as third-line centre Tuesday. He has two goals, and given his (lack of) hands, that might be it for the season. But he’s a trusted presence. Don’t be fooled by his possession numbers (46 per cent). He has started 46 times in the defensive zone, compared to twice in the offensive zone. He gets the puck moving the other way. Grade: B
Morgan Rielly: Has made a number of uncustomary foolish plays. Has looked out of sorts defensively, and — outside of a four-point second period — hasn’t contributed the offence required. He is far and away the team’s minutes leader (25:01). Grade: C
Tyson Barrie: Perhaps playing second fiddle to Rielly (who’s on the first power play) is hurting the offensive numbers expected. The key player in the Kadri trade hasn’t lived up to the hype but is far from being the problem. Grade: B
Jake Muzzin: Brings his A-game every night. Gets beat occasionally, sure. But he plays with passion. He knows what it takes to win. Hopefully he’s telling his teammates. And hopefully, they’re listening. Grade: A
Cody Ceci: Little was expected. Came with a bad reputation. Has exceeded expectations and earned Babcock’s trust. There might not be much more to his game than has been evidenced. The issue of the Rielly-Ceci pairing is more Rielly’s issue than Ceci’s. Leads the team with 25 blocked shots. Grade: B
Justin Holl: Emerging as a nice surprise. Still has a limited role, but is doing what Frankie Corrado and others who were in healthy-scratch purgatory could never do: free himself. He’s plus-4, while averaging 12:54 of ice time. Grade: C
Martin Marincin: The defenceman with nine lives may finally be wearing out his welcome. Decent in short spurts, but not a reliable every day NHLer. Grade: C
Frederik Andersen: Slow start, as usual, but he’s been the best Leaf lately, the reason they’ve earned points. Have we gone from wanting to manage his load to wondering if he can play every game? Grade: B
Michael Hutchinson: Like Garret Sparks before him, he’s no Curtis McElhinney. Grade: D
Mike Babcock: Are they listening? Are they doing what you tell them to do? Is your system working? Credit for moving guys around, for giving the Matthews-Marner pairing a go, and for having a fresh look at Holl. Grade: C