Despite a much-improved effort compared to their ugly loss to the Calgary Flames on Monday, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ offensive struggles continued in a hard-luck 2-1 loss to the Dallas Stars on Thursday night.
Your game in ten:
1. If we’re going to criticize wins like the ones over the Habs and Blackhawks (and others) earlier in the year, we should apply the same process-first standard to losses. The Leafs deserved better in this game.
Limiting the opposition to under 20 shots in the NHL is not easy to do; the Leafs managed that just once all of last season — in a January meeting against the Senators.
They carried 67% of the scoring chances by game’s end and won the shots, shot attempts, and chances battle in every single period (although their second period wasn’t great).
Looking at the expected goals outcomes, the Leafs should’ve scored three or four goals and the Stars one.
2. And looking at the game tape, the Leafs definitely should’ve scored three or four goals. Mitch Marner and John Tavares bobbled the puck in grade-A positions two or three times apiece, Tavares and Marleau hit the inside of the post and saw the puck somehow bounce clear, and pucks were just eluding/bouncing over Leafs sticks around the net all game. The special teams canceled each other out, and the Leafs just couldn’t bury on their chances at evens.
It wasn’t the highest event game, but it’s one the Leafs should’ve won. With Matthews on the shelf and Nylander still MIA, these are the types of performances the Leafs are going to need to manufacture consistently to keep pace. They stuck to their structure for the most part, exited the zone relatively cleanly, and didn’t revert back to cheating for offense (despite trailing), which kept them playing on offense through much of the 60 minutes.
The good news is that Tavares and Marner were creating lots and Tavares was in the right spot countless times in this game. If that keeps up, the line will have a night soon.
3. In a tight 2-1 game, the mistakes are magnified, and Stars made the Leafs pay for theirs.
On the 1-0 goal on the PK (not technically on the PK, but it happened just after the Dallas power play ended), Nikita Zaitsev gave up a lot of space to Jamie Benn — who tipped it in — to front the shot and only ended up in the way, while Zach Hyman glided and reached when an extra couple of strides would’ve put him in a position to get a stick on the puck from the Seguin shot.
4. Here is a good overhead look at how the play broke down for the 2-0 backbreaker by Devin Shore. After the initial turnover from Travis Dermott (good play by Janmark there, but Dermott has to be sure), Kasperi Kapanen was puck focused, his head wasn’t on a swivel, and he was guessing he might have a chance to jump on a pass to the far point. A player of Tyler Seguin’s ilk is going to get his head up and make that play, and he did. Dermott was also late to react (to a very fast-developing play) at the back post.
5. You could see Mike Babcock telling his team on the timeout that the whole upper half of the net is open on Anton Khudobin, but Mitch Marner just couldn’t elevate the puck enough on the golden chance in the final seconds. Anton Khudobin was good — and lucky — but the Leafs made him look better than he is.
If Marner ever becomes a credible shot threat that other teams have to account for on the half wall, look out. He’s got four goals and 16 points through 13 games and has left quite a bit on the table.
6. Probably doesn’t need to be said, but Mitch Marner has been the most consistent Leaf. He’s had just three games (no more than one game at a time) without a point, and he’s currently on a five-game points streak even as the Leafs have lost three of five and have struggled to find the net. I thought Babcock nailed his answer about when Marner’s at his best — when he’s hunting down pucks so he can play on offense as well as he did tonight.
7. The Leafs have one goal from their current bottom-six group in the last seven games, if we exclude the one Kadri scored against Winnipeg given he’s now in the top six. Josh Leivo’s goal came by way of the power play and Connor Brown’s via empty net, giving that bottom-six group just the Tyler Ennis goal versus Winnipeg and the Par Lindholm goal versus Washington as their offensive contributions through 13 games at even strength.
There were some encouraging signs here at least. Andreas Johnsson looked far more like the Johnsson of last season — it seemed like he had more touches tonight than he did in all of his other games combined, he was hungrier on loose pucks, and he coasted less, keeping his feet moving from the beginning to end on his shifts.
8. The Frederik Gauthier line had one particularly impressive shift up against Jamie Benn’s line early in the second period when they hopped over the boards after Tavares’ unit peeled for a change and kept a tired Stars unit on the ice while rolling around in the offensive zone. Josh Leivo played one of his better games of late as far as winning battles and creating.
It’s just hard to have much confidence the offense is ever going to come on a consistent enough basis from this group. Line four, for all of its endeavours on the forecheck and cycle, doesn’t feel like it’s going to get close enough to the net to score and L3 is largely just taking shifts.
9. Give this to the Leafs’ fourth line — they break the puck out pretty well (I get they’re playing against checkers, but just speaking from a structure standpoint). Knowing the stretch hockey isn’t how they’re going to get the job done, they keep it low and tight on the breakout and support the puck well, creating speed behind the puck through the neutral zone to set up their forecheck. That also means the opposition can set up and defend more with structure, making it harder to get inside, but they’re giving the Leafs decent fourth-line minutes and setting up the next shift in the offensive zone more often than not.
Gauthier and Leivo’s CF% continues to improve, now up to 57%, and Gauthier — while he’s still looking for his first point of the year — still hasn’t been on the ice for a 5v5 goal against (two goals for). You’d be reasonably happy with that, all things considered, if the Leafs’ top nine was healthy and going.
10. Part of that has to do with sharing the ice with Travis Dermott‘s pairing at 5v5, as Gauthier is a 70% CF with Dermott on the ice and a 51% CF without him, although some of that has to do with defensive zone vs. offensive zone starts. While they gave up the 2-0 goal tonight, that pairing — whether it’s been Holl, Ozhiganov or Marincin with Dermott — can usually get play moving north quickly and efficiently. Holl acquitted himself reasonably well if you keep in mind he’s jumping into game action for the first time with the competition at full speed, but I don’t expect he’s done enough to make it more than a one-game breather for Ozhiganov, who likely returns on Saturday.
Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts