The Toronto Maple Leafs have been lacking depth and quality at the defense position for a couple of seasons, but now it's really starting to cost them important games.
This past Thursday night, the Leafs were defeated by the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning. The final score was 4 to 1 in favor of the Lightning, thanks to their three goals in the second period.
Two of those three goals coming in the last 40 seconds of that period and the Leafs' defense is what lost them this game. Their offense did all it could by outshooting the Lightning by 49 to 21. But, the Lightning's goaltender, Andrei Vasilevskiy, made a number of fantastic saves to keep the Leafs off of the score-sheet for the majority of the game.
The goaltending advantage part did not age well pic.twitter.com/8eqLtzaZ0k— Jake (@goaltending3131) December 14, 2018
Those two goals in the last 40 seconds of the second period show how dysfunctional the Leafs' defense is. Even though they have one of the best offense's in the league, their defense is the thing that is holding them back from complete success.
Their top-two defensemen are without a doubt Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner, but that duo isn't performing well enough, especially to get them past the first round in the playoffs this season. They will need to acquire more defensive defensemen to improve their defensive game.
Other than Travis Dermott, the Leafs don't have much quality behind their two top defensemen. What would really solve their problems, would be to acquire the much sought after number one defenseman.
The Leafs general manager, Kyle Dubas, had trade discussions about trading for a defenseman like that, before William Nylander ended his holdout. But now with him signed, the likelihood of that happening is very low.
Still, the Leafs need to make an upgrade on the defensive end, so they won't be giving up comfortable leads or allowing multiple goals late in periods anymore. This game against the Lightning isn't the only time the Leafs have struggled defensively either.
The last example was last Saturday night against the Boston Bruins. It was the lack of skill they have on their defense that cost them the game again. The Bruins scored in every period of the game and ultimately won by a score of 6 to 3.
Just because you have one of the best offenses in the league, doesn't mean you don't also need quality players on defense. Which, following this loss, the Leafs are starting to believe. They will need to find a way to fix this problem, or they may find themselves losing too many games to keep them in the playoff race.
What This Means
This loss should come as a wake-up call to everyone in the Leafs organization. For the past couple of seasons, they have focused on outscoring their opponents, rather than out defending them.
But, this Leafs team is good enough to be capable to do both of those, if they just add a top-defensemen. If the Leafs were able to do this, then they would be able to pair Rielly with a partner to match his style of play. All of this would likely lead to the Leafs actually becoming a championship contending team.