The Toronto Maple Leafs have lost 3 straight games for the first time since October - this losing streak includes their first shutout loss of the season. They simply haven't been able to score in Auston Matthews' absence, and with their most utilized defenseman in Nikita Zaitsev sidelined with a foot injury for multiple weeks, they have a new obstacle to face.
The Leafs have 10 goals in 7 games in the month of December. 3 of those games are wins. One was a shootout victory, and the other two were the results of spectacular performances by Freddie Andersen and Curtis McElhinney.
They've been bleeding shots at an extraordinarily bad rate and haven't been able to match them like they did at the beginning of the season. When the year started, the Leafs were scoring at a torrid pace, and that was because the young guns were playing to their strengths - speed, skill and creativity were all at the forefront, and while they were allowing more goals than they would have liked, they were winning, and were fun as heck to watch.
To contrast to this 7 game stretch, the Leafs had 34 goals in their first 7 back in October. While they did let in more goals, they only lost one game, and looked like the scariest team in the NHL.
Now, the Detroit Red Wings, one of the weakest teams in the league, handily beat Toronto this past Friday.
So what needs to be changed? Well, we alluded to it already - Mike Babcock needs to let the players off their leash and let them make some mistakes. Those mistakes will generally happen when they make high-risk, high-reward plays. The thing is, with the skill this team possesses, that risk gets mitigated by the sheer talent and execution by players such as William Nylander and Mitch Marner who are currently on goal scoring slumps.
Babcock needs to stop playing Leo Komarov more than anyone else on the team as he does not drive offense or define the identity of this team, and Roman Polak needs to not be relied on more than a puck-moving defenseman like Connor Carrick who has been a regular healthy scratch as of late. Carrick will at least get back into the lineup as a product of Zaitsev's injury.
Any way you shake it, this team needs to find a way to produce without Matthews, as he may not come back for at least a few more games. With the parity of this league, a few losses can make you slide right out of a playoff spot in a matter of days. The Leafs have a small cushion right now and they'd be best to stop the bleeding before it's completely gone.