The Toronto Maple Leafs are heading into the all-star break nowhere close to where anyone expected them to be.
This team was lauded to be the next offensive powerhouse and even with their mid-season coaching change, Toronto is left outside of the playoffs and have over a week to ponder on its disappointing position.
Head coach Sheldon Keefe’s introduction was needed to jumpstart the Leafs and get them playing the style they were designed to play by general manager Kyle Dubas. Unfortunately for them, despite the immediate impact the rookie coach was able to bring they have won only four of their last 10 games.
They are a vastly improved team under Keefe and there is no doubt they made the correct decision when they parted ways with Mike Babcock. But with the long-time coach out of the picture, who is to blame for their recent downfall?
With a .869 save percentage through this 4-3-3 run of mediocrity, goaltender Frederik Andersen could be an easy sell. His play has not been what’s expected of a championship-calibre starter, especially coming out of the 6-2 loss to the Florida Panthers where Andersen allowed four goals on just 12 shots before he was eventually pulled.
Unfortunately for easy criticism, the abysmal save percentage doesn’t tell the whole story of what has gone on during this disappointing stretch of losses.
It has its own effect of course — especially considering there has been no significant change in shot quality compared to the rest of the season — but there has been other factors than just Andersen losing games for the Leafs.
The players playing in front of the 30-year-old netminder matter as well.
Andersen’s save percentage has taken a decline, but so has the team’s overall shooting percentage and the ability to simply score some goals. A team that has been reliant on their shooting talent has seen their percentage drop dramatically.
Through this slump, the Leafs have been forced into a losing battle against regression and they have come out with disappointing results.
Looking over this entire season for Andersen, it’s clear there has been a sudden increase in the rate at which he allows goals at 5-on-5, indicated by the surge of red around this recent stretch. This jump is not just because of his personal performance — the team overall has contributed to their failure.
The Leafs have allowed the fourth-highest goals against rate (3.22 GA/60) since Dec. 28 and only the Ottawa Senators have a higher adjusted shot against rate at 5-on-5. This team is just letting the opposition get shots on net and with Andersen not stealing the show, the losses were able to pile up with ease.
Throughout this entire season, Toronto has been able to provide Andersen with an improved defence but has been still below league average.
Over the course of the season, the quality chances against have decreased and the Leafs have made Andersen’s job relatively easier. But they are still giving their opposition some prime area in between the two faceoff circles, more than league average.
They will never become the Minnesota Wild and just suffocate the offence in their own zone, but they could still do some work in front of Andersen.
The Leafs have suffered losses to the hands of hockey’s greatest enemy — regression. A combination of multiple things that usually go their way have come crashing down to the league average and they were unable to win more games than they lost during a small part of the season.
Heading into the all-star break and their bye week is most likely the worst case scenario for timing, but given their talent they should return to their normal with Andersen between the pipes.
It’s easy to blame the goaltender for losses, but context is always needed.
All stats used from Evolving-Hockey or HockeyViz.
More Maple Leafs coverage from Yahoo Sports