The Toronto Maple Leafs played a better overall game than the season opener but lost the goaltending battle en route to their first loss of the 2018-19 regular season on Saturday night versus the Senators.
Your game in ten:
1. The Leafs were better in the areas they wanted to be better in after Wednesday’s ugly win, but they ran into some new problems in this game — failing to capitalize on enough of their scoring chances, losing the goaltending battle, and some ugly breakdowns and individual miscues defensively.
The breakouts were improved and the forecheck was a little better — they successfully executed more of the six-foot bump passes through the middle of the ice to a low swinging forward to get themselves up and out of the zone cleanly. They also got after it on the forecheck better and weren’t as spaced out/lacking in support in that area of the game.
2. That resulted in a 65-35 share of the possession (a 66-35 advantage in shot attempts and a 31-23 advantage in shots on goal at 5v5), an edge the Leafs maintained basically all the way through the 60 minutes. Keep in mind the Senators are a poor possession team — one of the worst last season and that hasn’t changed through two games — and aren’t known as the most aggressive forechecking team from a scheme, heaviness, or speed standpoint… although that’s one area the Sens have been looking to turn the dials up on this season with the younger, quicker makeup of the team, and we did see some signs of it at times in this game.
2. You couldn’t help but feel a bit of deja vu with the stark contrast in Frederik Andersen’s game-one performance versus his game two. He gave up two goals in a solid performance in the Leafs win to open the season last year versus Winnipeg before his miserable October got underway with 14 goals against on his next 87 shots against (.839 save percentage).
The Dylan DeMelo 1-0 goal was must have, and the Chris Tierney 3-2 and Thomas Chabot 4-3 were both could-haves. After the early DeMelo goal, he just didn’t look confident or comfortable all night, backing in deep on the Tierney partial breakaway, struggling to hang on to routine shots, and looking behind for the puck on a number of saves.
One game is not a month, though. Andersen’s generally bounced back well from outings like this, but, obviously, the October narrative is going to follow him unless/until he puts it to bed.
3. The Leafs best forwards were going in this game. Auston Matthews was dominant in the first 40 minutes, in particular. He had some “wow” sequences in possession, took Matt Duchene to school a couple of times, and scored his third goal in two games. His skating has reached another level, with the extra half step he added to his first 3-4 strides over the summer really clear to see.
4. Mitch Marner’s performance spoke for itself; he didn’t convert on the first-period penalty shot, but he dangled the pendulum on the halfwall and drew the attention of every Senator of the ice before threading a beautiful backdoor saucer pass to Morgan Rielly for the 1-1 tying goal in the second period. He tied the game up again on the power play with another brilliant individual effort to break the zone at full speed, leave Mark Borowiecki tripping over himself in his wake, and freeze Anderson before tucking it in from a tough angle. As far as the first goal and first assist of the season, Marner’s set a high bar for himself here, but something tells me he’ll find a way to top it (several times) before the season is through.
5. Where the team isn’t getting enough through two games is from the supporting cast — Zach Hyman (could still be recovering/shaking off rust from injury), Connor Brown, Andreas Johnsson, Kasperi Kapanen, Josh Leivo. There isn’t much of a push coming from the Leafs bottom six at the moment, and an impatient person would blow those two lines up ASAP knowing what we’ve seen from them (or lack thereof) through preseason and the opening two regular season games.
6. Babcock clearly wants his forward pairings in place as much as possible for when Nylander arrives — Matthews – Nylander (Ennis placeholding) / Tavares – Marner / Kadri – Brown, so we’ll see if anything changes as the standoff continues with Nylander.
Brown has line-four demotion written all over his play right now — not engaging physically, not tracking like he can without the puck, bad turnover on the 3-2 goal, fighting the puck offensively.
Similar to the Kadri-led third line, the fourth line is lacking signs of chemistry or anything approaching an identity. It’s largely three individuals taking shifts. Johnsson (where’s the jump in his step from last season + playoffs?) and Kapanen have a lot more to give than what we’ve seen so far.
7. Both Tyler Ennis and Igor Ozhiganov (welcome to the NHL) are going to need the equipment staff to fetch their jock straps from row Z prior to the flight to Chicago.
8. Despite three straight face-off wins by John Tavares on his forehand side (two clean, one a scrum), the Leafs didn’t generate much with their extended zone time at 6-on-5 following the goalie pull at 3:14 remaining. It was all pretty static and lacking in ideas beyond the slap pass redirect attempts. There was not enough north-south movement to force some defensive handoffs/switches and more starting and stopping from the five killers, who largely just held their positions the whole way through. You’d like to see something more direct with bodies crashing the net. This is likely something they haven’t had a ton of time to practice yet with this particular six-man unit, though.
9. Just a two-game sample, but the only defenseman I’d say had two good games back-to-back on the Leafs blue line is Travis Dermott. There was one ugly sustained d-zone shift alongside Morgan Rielly, but the usual pluses were on display with his ability to solve a forecheck, reset rather than throw pucks away, rip a tape-to-tape pass through the neutral zone to a forward in stride, and the usual good gaps defensively.
10. Igor Ozhiganov saw 12 minutes and change in ice time, with only one or two shifts after he got turned inside out by Thomas Chabot, as the Leafs were chasing the game at that point. By no means am I saying Ozhiganov doesn’t deserve a chance to bounce back — his debut was promising on Wednesday, and there were always going to be adjustment pains here — but it is a back-to-back and Justin Holl has to get a look at some point. Curious to see if they go in that direction.
Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts