On Saturday night, captain John Tavares scored two power-play goals on the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Winnipeg Jets by a score of 4-1. The Maple Leafs’ captain’s first power-play goal was a beautiful move, backhand to forehand, then up and over Connor Hellebuyck’s right shoulder. On his second goal, Tavares set up in the tough space in front of the crease and was ready to tip on an Auston Matthews shot.
Tavares still has amazing hand/eye coordination and puts himself in the right places at the right times. In fact, part of the reason that the team’s power play was so successful last season was that it has elite players. Tavares is no exception.
Tavares Is Great on the Power Play
Recently, Tavares’ game has come under critique because he’s thought to be losing his speed. Perhaps. But, the second-line center still retains his hands of gold. This season, each of his three goals has come with the man advantage. He’s thriving on the power-play unit.
Since Tavares was the first-overall draft pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, in his 13 NHL seasons, he has scored 119 career power-play goals. If he continues this pace this season, there’s no reason the Maple Leafs’ captain will hit another point-a-game pace for the first time since his first season with the team.
The Difference on Saturday Night in Winnipeg
However, Tavares’ success aside, until the team’s success Saturday, the power play had been struggling. On Thursday night against the Dallas Stars, the team only scored on one of eight power-play chances. That goal came from the team’s second-unit power play. Earlier in the week, the team lost to the Arizona Coyotes. In part, they could not convert when they had the man advantage – going only one for five.
So what made the difference on Saturday? Tavares responded to that question in a recent interview with TSN’s Mark Masters. He noted: “We were a little more direct and just competing hard and winning pucks back.”
Tavares also noted that the Maple Leafs’ “second and third opportunities allow us to break them (the opposition) down. Just being direct, taking what’s there and attacking the net and letting our skill sets come out that way instead of trying to be set and looking for certain options all the time.”
Coach Keefe Shared an Additional Reason: Intuition
Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe shared one reason why he liked his team’s power play (usually): “There are a lot of power plays in the league that their structure is very obvious. You can see it and many of their goals look the same. I don’t think that’s the case with our group necessarily.”
Keefe noted that, when the Maple Leafs’ power play was working, it relied on skill and intuition. Auston Matthews shared, “You work on the stuff in practice; but, in the end, it’s kind of just instinct and trying to read off each other out there and communicating and making the right plays.”
The Maple Leafs Need to Avoid “Hack-a-Shaq”
Talk aside, the bottom line is that the Maple Leafs need to improve their power play. If they do not, other teams will play “Hack-a-Shaq” with them. As sports fans know, “Hack-a-Shaq” was an NBA defensive strategy that involved purposely committing fouls as a way to lower opponents’ scoring.
Given that the Maple Leafs’ strength is its offence and not its physicality, one way to keep other teams from beating on you is to score with the man advantage. It’s an area the team must improve to have success over this regular season.
Power play conversion is one area to watch with this team. Last season, the Maple Leafs were the top power play in the NHL, converting at 27.27 percent. The team ranked 21st in power plays on the season. It just makes sense that teams will hesitate to commit penalties against teams that are likely to convert with the man advantage.
That should be the Maple Leafs.