Maple Leafs need to address struggling penalty kill if they want to rebound


Awful April weather has wreaked havoc on travel plans far and wide, from flights across time zones to everyday commutes into work.

“I almost blew a tire myself,” joked Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock.

You might expect Babcock’s spirits to be just as low as those grounded in airports by sideways sleet, but the difference between the two is Babcock — who was upbeat and direct on Sunday afternoon — clearly believes there are answers to the problems facing his club, which dropped two games each by four goals to the Boston Bruins to open the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“We’re down 0-2 and we haven’t been as good as we’re capable of being,” Babcock said. “The way I look at it, there are so many things we can do better.”

One area you can expect the Leafs to zoom in on is the penalty kill. Boston went three-for-six on the power play in Game 1 and two-for-four with the man advantage in Game 2, meaning the Bruins are smoking along at a 50-per cent conversation rate. A number of those tallies — including David Backes’s game-winner in the opener and Jake DeBrusk’s first-period tally on Saturday night that put the Leafs down 2-0 before the halfway mark of the first period — have come from the lip of the crease, where Black and Gold bodies have had their way.

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“We’ve got to keep them off our net,” said defenceman Morgan Rielly. “We went over their goals this morning, they’re all from in tight, so they’re getting to our net. We’ve got to do a better job of boxing them out and blocking shots.”

That’s actually been true for longer than the past few days. While the Leafs’ PK killed 81.4 per cent of the power plays it faced in the regular season — good for a respectable top-half ranking of 11th in the NHL — that number dropped significantly over the course of the final six weeks of the year. From March 1 through the end of the regular season calendar, Toronto managed to succeed short-handed just 71.4 per cent of the time. That’s a worse mark than all but seven clubs during that stretch and indicates there was trouble in the water long before David Pastrnak and Co. came along.

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