Sports

Leafs share NHL's worst record over last eight games: McGran

A focus on defence has backfired as Maple Leafs sacrifice their identity as an offensive juggernaut

Matt Martin #15 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates his goal on the Los Angeles Kings with teammates Roman Polak #46, Andreas Borgman #55 and Mitch Marner #16 during the first period at the Air Canada Centre on October 23, 2017 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

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Matt Martin #15 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates his goal on the Los Angeles Kings with teammates Roman Polak #46, Andreas Borgman #55 and Mitch Marner #16 during the first period at the Air Canada Centre on October 23, 2017 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Question: Which team has the worst record since Oct. 21, the Toronto Maple Leafs or Arizona Coyotes?

Answer: It was a trick question. They both do. They're tied for the worst record, 2-6-0. Just four points. (Carolina also amassed only four points on a 1-4-2 record.)

This is not the kind of company the Maple Leafs thought they would keep in the standings this year.

But this is what happens when the cockiness of the first three weeks of the season -— fuelled by offensive — morphs into self doubt when a team is told to play defence or else.

Part of the Leafs poor record is a 2-4-0 run against Western Conference teams. And they will get a respite from the West later this week. Tonight the Leafs are at home to Vegas and Wednesday at home to Minnesota.

Then, finally, it's back to the East, starting with a home-and-home with Boston — Friday in Toronto for the Hall of Fame game, Saturday in Boston.

The change in the schedule might make a small difference.

A change in mindset would make a huge difference.

Somewhere along the line the Leafs lost their mojo, they lost the idea of what made them good, what made them different.

Then the coaching staff got this idea they should be as defensively sound as, say, the Senators.

They are not. The Leafs are an outstanding offensive team. That is their identity. They need to find it again. Perhaps they should just open things up, and try to win some 7-5 games if only to get that feeling of confidence back.

Teaching Mitch Marner to play defence? Seemed like a good idea at the time, when all cylinders were rolling offensively.

Maybe unleash him — and the rest — and revisit the idea of defence a month or two if need be.

All those turnovers and giveaways — soft passes through the neutral zone— are a symptom of a team that doesn't know what to do with the puck, a team that is thinking too much, a team afraid to make a mistake lest they suffer the wrath of the coach.

Playing defensively they fall behind. Unleashed in desperate attempts to rally — they play incredibly fun third periods.

Unleash them. For now, anyway. Come back to the defence lesson later.

GOT A QUESTION? Email me at askkevinmcgran@gmail.com and I'll answer it in Friday's mailbag.

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