With the Toronto Maple Leafs‘ penalty-kill struggling lately, Tyler Bozak’s return couldn’t happen at a better time.
What was once a top-three penalty-kill unit in the league has dramatically slipped to 16th overall, after giving up eight power-play goals in the past eight games. Considering Bozak hasn’t played since Oct. 25 and Dave Bolland has been out since Nov. 2, Toronto has been without two of their best penalty-killers for close to a month.
Due to the injuries to the key members of the team’s penalty-kill unit, it’s easy to understand how Toronto’s penalty-kill percentage has slipped to the lower-half of the league. Quality defensive checkers like Bozak and Bolland are extremely difficult to replace, especially when both were so good in the faceoff circle. Winning the draw and being able to instantly clear the puck out of the zone often leads to success on the penalty-kill and denies the opposition any chance to easily set up their offense. With Bozak due back as soon as Toronto’s next game against the Washington Capitals, the Maple Leafs should see a significant improvement in their ability to kill off penalties.
Prior to his injury, Bozak was averaging the most ice-time of any forward on the team. He currently sits behind only Dion Phaneuf and Cody Franson for average ice-time with 21:17 minutes per game. A defensive coach like Randy Carlyle can’t wait to get Bozak back in the lineup, as he’s well aware he can plug the center in any situation and feel comfortable with the outcome.
As good as Bozak is defensively, he’ll also be needed to help the top-line wingers get out of a recent slump. Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk were on fire to begin the season, with Bozak playing between the two American wingers, but both have struggled since his injury. In the month of November, both Kessel and van Riemsdyk have only managed to record three points each. Both players combined to finish October with 31 points. Having Bozak back in the lineup, given the chemistry he’s developed with the two wingers, especially Kessel, should see all three begin to put up points on the board.
Given the recent struggles of the penalty-kill unit and Toronto’s top two forwards, Bozak’s return couldn’t be needed any more than it is right now.