The Toronto Maple Leafs find themselves in a 2-0 hole despite playing fairly well through the first leg of their second-round series against the Florida Panthers. A critical Game 3 is set for Sunday in Sunrise, Florida. Here are four ways the Leafs – who must win four of the next five games – can salvage their season.
Let Nylander cook
Listen, William Nylander can be a frustrating player. He can occasionally space out on defense, missing an assignment or putting forth little effort, as he did at points in Game 1. He can make the odd head-scratching decision with the puck, too, as he did at points in Games 1 and 2. For example, he inexplicably passed on a wide-open lane to Florida's net in the second period of Game 1.
Nylander can also be an exhilarating player. The boxscore might not reflect it, but he's overwhelmed the Panthers all series, pressing the speed-boost button in the neutral zone countless times over 38 minutes of action. The smooth-skating Swede's been weaving through Florida's defensive shell, completing clean zone entries, and shooting from high-leverage scoring areas.
The results, Part 1: a series-high 13 shots on goal, and the second-highest individual expected goals generation, at 1.66, according to Natural Stat Trick.
The results, Part 2: zero points.
Sergei Bobrovsky, a .901 goalie in the regular season, has turned aside 69 of 73 Toronto shots on goal for a series-tilting .945 save percentage. The two-time Vezina Trophy winner has been nothing short of phenomenal, already saving a cool 4.28 goals above expected, per Natural Stat Trick.
On one hand, Nylander's lack of finishing is unacceptable. There are no moral victories in the playoffs, and it's not as if Nylander and his teammates are throwing everything possible at Bobrovsky. He isn't battling tricky deflections and tips, or being screened.
On the other hand, no Leafs player is feeling it right now quite like Nylander, and Sheldon Keefe knows this better than anyone. The Leafs coach must take the bad with the good and feed the explosive winger and his center, John Tavares, with offensive-zone starts. Doubling down should lead to goals.