When the Toronto Maple Leafs brought Tyson Barrie aboard the fit had intuitive elements and perplexing ones.
The team’s blue line was its top weakness and within it right-shot defenders were in short supply — so in the simplest terms adding a quality right-handed defenceman like Barrie made sense. On the other hand, much of Barrie’s production in the past had come from anchoring a top power-play unit, which he wasn’t going to do in Toronto with Morgan Rielly in place. That meant the Maple Leafs wouldn’t be making maximizing Barrie’s best role and there was a chance his production would fall off after putting up 116 points over the past two seasons.
So far, that’s certainly been the case as Barrie has just four points through 13 games and has been held off the scoresheet in 10 consecutive games. There’s some bad luck involved in that (you’d think one of Barrie’s 34 shots would go in for instance) but his on-ice shooting percentage of 8.5 is actually higher than his number last season and he’s still been unable to pile up the helpers.
That has to be a worry for the Maple Leafs, but Barrie’s track record suggests he’ll right the ship at some point, even if he doesn’t match some of the lofty heights he reached with the Colorado Avalanche. What has to be keeping Mike Babcock up at night is what he’s seeing defensively.
Barrie is always going to be a bit of an “offence is the best defence” guy, but Saturday night’s 5-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens shone a spotlight on the type of blunders the 28-year-old has been responsible for lately. The veteran defenceman had a role to play in three of the five goals his team allowed:
Jonathan Druin’s first breakaway goal
This one is a little hard to see from this clip, but Barrie finds himself strangely far to the right side of the ice and gets caught flat-footed making it impossible for him to attempt a last-ditch backcheck. It would be hard to pin this goal entirely on Barrie, seeing as it was a great pass and even if he were in position it’s possible there’d be little he could do. That said, his inability to impact the play was guaranteed by not being in the right spot.
Jonathan Druin’s second breakaway
This is more cut and dry. Barrie can’t control an off-course pass and Drouin is away again.
Nick Suzuki’s 2-on-1
Jake Muzzin is most culpable for this situation, but Barrie is unable to prevent a pass from getting across the crease and Suzuki has himself a tap-in goal. Forcing Nate Thompson to shoot this puck from the left side is not an easy task, but that’s the goal here.
Now, any defender can have a tough night where pucks seem to go in around them. As a guy who carries an on-ice save percentage of 85.3, Barrie knows that as well as anybody. Muzzin has generally been stellar this year and had a rough night on Saturday.
However, for Barrie there has been a pattern of getting beaten defensively. One night prior to the loss to Montreal, he was lucky to not have to fish the puck out of the net after Logan Couture dominated him down low and just missed out on roofing a backhand.
It was similar to a play earlier in the year where Barrie lost a battle in front of the net with Brayden Point to give the Tampa Bay Lightning a lead out of the gate.
Couture and Point are great players, to be fair, but Barrie even let Gerald Mayhew — a 26-year-old career AHLer — slip through his fingers for his first career goal in garbage time of the Maple Leafs’ tilt with the lowly Minnesota Wild on October 15.
That’s an embarrassing one on a couple of levels as Barrie lets Mayhew get all the time and space in the world and appears to run into a tied-up Muzzin, almost in slow motion.
Every defender has their lowlights, and part of the idea with Barrie is that he minimizes his by keeping the puck out of his zone. To his credit he’s done that with strong possession numbers (56.3% Corsi) and an ability to carry and transition the puck effectively. Even so, the Maple Leafs need a better effort from him when he doesn’t have the puck, which is going to happen from time to time, even if he’s a possession beast.
If the Maple Leafs are going to break out of their early-season funk, Barrie is going to be a huge part of that. After all, no one on the team plays more five-on-five minutes than the veteran blue liner. Busting out of his scoring slump is inevitable, but if he’s really going to be an impact player he’ll need to pick it up defensively too.
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