The Toronto Maple Leafs began the year with one of their best starts ever. Having such an incredible power play helped them have such a strong start. They were second in the NHL in xGF/60 on the power play until the end of February. The Leafs were converting on 32.4% of their chances on the power play. Something switched in March though. Since then, the Leafs have only scored on 4 of their 32 opportunities. While the Toronto Maple Leafs power play was expected to regress, this drop in production is more than anyone could have predicted. Let’s look at how the Toronto Maple Leafs power play can be fixed.
Adjusting the Toronto Maple Leafs Power Play
Including Nylander on the Power Play
We’ve written about the Toronto Maple Leafs power play before, and one of my suggestions remains the same. William Nylander needs to be on the top power play unit. Since Wayne Simmonds returned, Nylander’s time on the top power play unit has been sparse at best and that needs to end. Nylander is one of the best players on the Leafs at entering the zone with control (albeit at 5-on-5, but it speaks to his skill at it). Having him on the power play with Mitch Marner, who is historically a good player at entering the zone, would allow them to have two options to enter the zone from the drop pass. While the Leafs have been very effective at gaining the zone at 5v4 this season, (64% according to Corey Sznajder) adding Nylander back to the unit could help improve that further.
Data and visuals from HockeyViz
Second, Nylander is fantastic offensively on the power play. As we can see above, the power play is so much more effective with Nylander than without. He can assist in generating chances. So far this season, Nylander is third league-wide in xGF/60 on the power play. Nylander’s strength truly lies in his passing. He is third in the NHL in high danger passes/60 (again, at 5v5, though the skill translates). Putting Nylander with such a dangerous shooter like Auston Matthews should be a no-brainer.
Switching Up the Gameplan
The Leafs have still been first league-wide in xGF/60 on the power play from March 1st to March 31st. Their quality of play hasn’t suffered as much. It’s their shooting percentage that has plummeted. This could be as a result of Matthews’ wrist injury. If this is the case, switching the focus to John Tavares on the power-play as the goalscorer could be an effective alternative. Tavares has the highest ixG on the Leafs on the power play. Higher than even Matthews. While this likely comes from his location being so close to the net, he is still an effective power play player. And more importantly, he has a healthy wrist.
If the wrist injury is healed or healing (which it seemingly is based on recent performances), then keeping Matthews as the primary shooter can remain the plan for the Leafs. A healthy wrist will hopefully help the shooting percentage.
Changing the Defenceman
T.J. Brodie should be on the top power play unit over Morgan Rielly. Hear me out. We have made my thoughts very clear about how we think defencemen should operate on the power play. Ever since the Tyson Barrie experiment, some have been yelling (along with many others) that defencemen should not shoot on the power play. Rielly does that way too much for some people’s liking. The chances defencemen take often get blocked, and when they don’t they’re low percentage chances from the point. Rielly has the most shots blocked on the power play on the Leafs. His iCF is 35 whereas his iFF is 19. And off these shots, he doesn’t generate a high-quality shot, with only a 1.12 ixG on the power play.
Brodie, on the other hand, is a much more “pass first” minded defenceman. His style of play is more desirable for the Maple Leafs based on the elite forwards they have. Brodie, while in a smaller sample size, has had strong results on the power play.
Data and visuals from Evolving-Hockey
Brodie has been outperforming Rielly this season on the power play. While the sample size is very key to keep in mind when evaluating the performances, I believe Brodie has warranted at least a look at the point player on the top unit.
The Leafs have one of the best power plays in the league still. They generate chances but are struggling to bury them. There are tweaks they can make to optimize the power play, and alter their plan as Matthews’ wrist recovers.
Embed from Getty Images