An interesting theory as to why the Leafs haven't looked like themselves lately

Published January 14, 2022 at 6:59 PM
BY BEN HODGSON
The Leafs haven't been themselves since the COVID-induced break in the schedule. Despite only having 1 regulation loss since coming back, they haven't looked like the Leafs we've become accustomed to this season. At this point, every Leaf not named Michael Bunting or Auston Matthews has had to deal with the Omicron variant.

We haven't seen the Leafs play their usual dominant style of hockey. They've blown 2 multi-goal leads in the third period, looking gassed and sloppy late in games. At first, I chalked it up to rust. Being off the ice for as long as they were certainly didn't help with crispness or conditioning. But they've played 5 games since then and have had plenty of time off, minus the back-to-back this week in Vegas/Arizona. They still don't look like the team they were before the break, Jack Campbell excluded.

After the loss to the Coyotes, Sheldon Keefe mused about their conditioning, but top-tier athletes don't just stop being in shape and this is too big a change from what we've witnessed so far this season to simply be caused by the pause. Nevertheless, here's what happened at yesterday's practice.




It appears, to my eyes, that for many of the Leafs, their bouts with COVID-19 are having lingering effects. What really stood out to me was just how much better the top line has been than the rest of the team the last few games. Bunting, Matthews and Kase have all managed to avoid COVID this season (Kase entered protocol earlier today), and they seemed to be the only line that's really firing on all cylinders. John Tavares specifically has looked different since his bout with COVID.

While we don't know for sure that members of the Leafs are suffering from a «COVID hangover», it really does seem like they are. Here's hoping that as time goes on, they are able to overcome any lingering effects and get back to playing like themselves.

The St. Louis Blues are next on the schedule for the Leafs. This will mark the first meeting of the season between the Leafs and the 2019 Stanley Cup Champions. A good test to see how the team is recovering, especially since the Blues are 12-0-1 in their last 13.
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