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Maple Leafs’ power play has cratered when it matters most

Toronto Maple Leafs Max Domi and John Tavares - The Canadian Press

The Toronto Maple Leafs’ power play is horrifyingly bad. Though it’s just one of many reasons why Sheldon Keefe’s team is facing elimination on Tuesday night in Boston, it’s the most concerning development. By a mile.

You can spend an awful lot of time reconciling what’s went wrong over the first four games, but the reality is the weaknesses across this Toronto lineup have been exposed by Bruins coach Jim Montgomery.

Toronto knew they would be in a goaltending disadvantage in this series, and Ilya Samsonov has still underwhelmed relative to those expectations. The rebuilt blueline continues to be exposed by Boston’s forecheck, willing to turn it over in key spots and incapable of transitioning the puck. And you have the stars seemingly arguing with one another. It’s mostly all bad.

But the power play. Oh, the power play.

I’m having an extraordinarily difficult time reconciling just how ineffective Toronto’s man advantage has been this spring. Say what you will about this Leafs roster, but there is plenty of top-end skill, hallmarked by one of the best goal scorers the NHL has ever seen. It’s all the weaponry that Guy Boucher, hired to run the power play last summer, could ask for and then some. In a parallel universe, this team looks like the Ovechkin era Washington Capitals

Instead, it’s the most lifeless, punchless attack you could possibly imagine. Toronto has managed just one power-play goal this postseason. And while we see serious volatility in special teams performance every playoffs, this is just a continuance of an uglier two-month trend – one that’s marginalized a core strength of the Maple Leafs over the years:

That is a colossal drop-off and it’s been a story since at least the trade deadline. And what’s important to note here is it’s not just a stunningly bad run of puck luck that’s driven Toronto’s scoring off the cliff – shot volumes have decisively dried up in lockstep, indicative of units that are ineffective at gaining and sustaining the offensive zone, which is all you see when you watch tape of this team.

From a personnel standpoint, the Leafs deployment strategy hasn’t changed much from the regular season. John Tavares, Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, and Tyler Bertuzzi have absorbed the lion’s share of the forward minutes, with Morgan Rielly serving as the team’s lone defenceman. The one wrinkle you could point to that’s different this postseason is, with the exception of Game 4, William Nylander has been unavailable. That’s meant additional minutes for a forward like Calle Jarnkrok.

But to a player, the numbers are startling. If you look at each regular power-play skater’s individual shot rates this postseason in relation to their prior three seasons on the power play, every single skater is off by an astonishing amount. And while the sampling data is small, that’s precisely the issue – it’s a seven-game series at absolute most, and the Leafs can ill afford such ineffective play in these moments.

The six skaters this postseason relative to what we have been accustomed to:

Those are startling drop-offs across the board. And the juxtaposition of the Maple Leafs’ punchless power play against that of the Bruins tells you just about everything you need to know about this first-round matchup, and why Keefe’s team is facing elimination.

Just look at the shot charts in Game 4 to understand how much daylight exists between the two sides. Courtesy HockeyViz, consider Toronto’s shot profile on the power play versus that of Boston. It’s night and day:

Toronto has a whale of a time gaining the zone and setting up against the Boston kill, and in the fleeting moments where they are successful, it’s a lot of activity from the perimeter. It’s also a lot of activity from forwards like Jarnkrok and Nick Robertson. Not ideal. For Boston, a different story – flurries of chances from inside of the circles and the low slot, generally from their most skilled attackers.

I would be remiss to not mention some of the health issues across the top of Toronto’s lineup. If Nylander’s absence wasn’t distressing enough, the health of Matthews is also of concern. A fully healthy Toronto team is already up against it to beat Boston in a seven-game series.

If Toronto doesn’t win three straight and salvage this series, I think this organization could be headed for a significant retooling. At some point, the early playoff exits supersede the routinely great regular seasons, and changes will be made.

As for how they mount a comeback against this calibre an opponent with this rancid of a power play? Your guess is as good as mine.       

Data via Natural Stat Trick,, Evolving Hockey, Hockey Reference