Babcock wants Leafs to be aggressive with the lead

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One of the youngest teams in the NHL, the Toronto Maple Leafs are still learning how to win hockey games.

If they could only figure out how to win the third period, they’d be in much better shape standings-wise.

Consider:

— The Leafs have won just 10 of the 16 games they’ve led after two periods, falling once in regulation and five times in overtime or the shootout.
— Their goal differential is plus-5 in the first two periods combined, and minus-6 in the third.

Last night against San Jose, the Leafs jumped out to a 2-0 lead on goals by Zach Hyman and Auston Matthews. But the Sharks scored twice in the third, then won it in the shootout.

“We have left points out there,” said Toronto coach Mike Babcock. “I think part of it is just not continuing to play with your foot on the gas as much. I didn’t think they took it to us big time or anything like that.”

They didn’t, really. The Sharks only outshot the Leafs, 13-9, in the third. They tied it on the power play with just 5:10 remaining, after d-man Matt Hunwick got called for interference.

But Babcock will keep telling his players the same thing.

“The best way to play when you have the lead is like when you have the first tied and you play like you want to get the next one, so you’re on your toes and you continue to get after the other team and you don’t just try to defend back in and play careful,” he said.

That, of course, is easier said than done, when the natural instinct is to play it safe with a lead. Get too aggressive and turn the puck over, you’re not going to look too smart if it ends up in your net.

So it’s a fine line, and the Leafs are learning where it is. They’re 11-11-6 after 28 games, six points back of third place in the Atlantic Division, i.e. six points back of a playoff spot.

Toronto hosts Arizona Thursday.

Lowest winning percentages when leading after two periods

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