On a hectic Thursday night filled with attention-grabbing moments, usually highlighted by a player in blue and white bracing his glove in the face of an opposing player in white and blue, a dull moment went unnoticed.
The Leafs received another Too Many Men penalty on the ice, which was their 13ththe so far this season, a staggering total that “leads” the NHL right now. Most of the league has half as many bench minors (or less) as the Leafs.
I think back to last season’s Maple Leafs, where the team’s power play struggled down the stretch (OK, the last two-thirds of the season) and the consensus seemed to be “Ah, they’ll figure it out when the playoffs start, they have too much talent for it not to work”…only for him to keep fighting. It was a problem, and in the end it hurt them. Trends don’t usually go away when the playoffs start.
This Too Many Men thing is a problem, so there needs to be at least some consideration for him to come back to bite them at the wrong time in the playoffs.
I wanted to know if there has been a trend in how or why they’ve given away so many power plays this way, so I’ve gone through each of their Too Many Men (“TMM” in the future) calls this season and determined that there are, in fact, a few trends.
First, they’ve struggled with the long changeup, not getting their forwards off the ice, but their defenders. That makes sense. When their D can only switch to the offensive side of center, they often have to make tough decisions (“Do I have time to get off the ice here, or will that expose us defensively?”). Of course, that challenge exists for every team, and the Leafs have fallen behind here.
Toronto TMM calls by period:
twoNorth Dakota: 6
Four of the six TMM penalties they have received in the second period involved a defenseman trying to get off the court. To be more specific, Morgan Rielly has struggled with this, as on four occasions he has been involved in mix-ups, either fighting his way out or jumping his way up. You can see him in this clip below, lower right, running across the ice from the weak side to switch when he worries the puck will come back to the Leafs terribly fast.
Interestingly, the biggest offenders have been the people you’d most expect to know what proper line-change execution looks like, and captain John Tavares has also been involved four times, even more directly than Rielly. More on this in a second.
The other main trend is linked to lost the ball. This is my strongest hunch as to why the Leafs have been busted more than any other team. Too Many Men calls most often occur when the puck is near the dugout area while players are in the middle of a changeup and are forced to decide whether or not to play the puck. When the puck is about to change players, it draws the umpires’ attention, and they take the play out much quicker than when the puck is elsewhere. Players never change when the puck is around their bench, or when it’s going to be around their bench… at least they don’t. by the way. That means this pucks-on-the-bench-switching mishap comes as a surprise, and usually after a fumble.
The Leafs are a very good team to protect the puck in terms of speed, as they don’t turn it over as often compared to how often they have it. They’re eighth in the NHL, in speed, in turnovers. But because they have it so much, they’re second in possession in the NHL, they have 29the in the NHL in total turnovers, giving up the puck 105.6 times per game, according to Sportlogiq.
I should also note that they rank second in the NHL in ace rate, which means there are a lot of surprise changes of possessions in Toronto games, creating more opportunities for line changes to be exposed. When the puck remains on one end, umpires rarely call a player who jumps onto the ice five or even 10 feet early a TMM.
So Toronto needs to be even more cautious on every switch, given the likelihood of the puck surprisingly changing direction in their games. The Leafs players who hit the ice have been too eager to jump, but it’s hard to blame them. those players when you see what some of the guys coming off the ice are doing.
That brings us back to Tavares, starting with the match against Rayo. If he’s not sure he’s going to change, maybe he won’t wave to the bench he’s getting off of? In the top left of the screen at the beginning of this GIF is 91 in white (slightly hidden behind a teammate), who removes a hand from the top of his baton and signals the bench to indicate a change (had been out for a full shift already). The Leafs then turn him around and he course-corrects back into the play. His teammate saw him wave, saw the fumble, and ran onto the ice.
Tavares did it again against Seattle. Nick Robertson hands it off quickly, Seattle gets it, and Tavares is at the end of a shift. He raises his cane toward the bench to start saying “I’m coming,” but Seattle plays right in that area, and an overeager Leafs player with a leg on the boards fell and got in the way. to play.
At the beginning of the year you will see Tavares do it against Vegas as well. He’s in the middle of the screen and the center ice dot here in blue, and he gives the “Yeah, one for me” one-arm elevation change move to the bench before noticing a pair charge into Las Vegas players. Vegas and changes course back to the play. In all these situations, you can see how he would be a little bit obscured (behind players or in a crowd) for the player coming to follow him, and the guys just trust that because he has signaled that he is coming out.
Speaking of veterans, watch Jason Spezza do it here, too, against the Flames. He is in the top right of the white screen, behind the play (at the beginning). This one is atrocious, as he beckons, stands up straight, then sees an opportunity to join a race and he…stays on the ice.
All I know is that it is common to see coaches blamed for TMM calls, and there are times when they are certainly to blame. Sometimes a coach tells four guys they’re going in instead of three, or they don’t communicate clearly, or he calls two left wingers and no right wingers, so two guys switch for one. These things happen.
After an audit of TMM’s 13 calls against Toronto this season, I saw one time I couldn’t figure out what happened and I think Keefe said “my fault” after the replay. I don’t see this problem as being in the coach. This is a pretty simple thing that Leafs players need to communicate like a minor hockey team. Shout out your change, make sure the change is coming out, and for God’s sake don’t touch the puck the moment it jumps if the other guy isn’t off.
It’s just one of those little “details” you hear analysts talk about on a regular basis, and should never be a general issue for a team.
But when you’re taking TMM penalties at a per-game rate that implies it could happen in the postseason, it might be one of those details worth quickly mentioning and focusing on when preparing for the games that matter most.