It was a case of deja vu from the November 10 meeting as the Toronto Maple Leafs fell 6-3 to the Bruins in Boston on Hockey Night in Canada.
Your game in ten:
1. Overall, this game mirrored the first visit to Boston this season pretty closely. The Leafs started fast and didn’t get the breaks early — hit a post via Tyler Ennis on the power play, could’ve had two or three more — and once something went against them, (inserting my theory here) the psychology of their history in this building kicked in, there wasn’t enough of a pushback, and the game got away from them again.
The feel of the entire game is probably totally different if Ennis buries at the back post instead of hitting the post with a half empty-net after the Bruins’ attempt to shove the Leafs around early — MacAvoy vs. Marner — led to a Toronto power play. It didn’t go in, the Leafs missed on a few more looks, and once the early breaks went against them, it felt like there was a collective “here we go again” sensation that washed over the team, as they played a miserable second period onward, at least until the game was beyond their reach in the third.
2. If you don’t think this season is heading towards another BOS-TOR round one matchup, by the way, you are probably fooling yourself. The Leafs are going to have to slay this dragon in its own cave at some point before they get to where they want to go. Home ice seems particularly important, though, knowing these two are probably set on a collision course once again.
3. It feels a bit like this team is coming out of training camp again as far as figuring out the right mix and sorting out the chemistry among their lines. The challenge in front of Mike Babcock is how to get this fully-loaded group playing the fast, determined, detailed brand of hockey — with no real drop-off from lines 1-4 — that we saw throughout much of November in the absence of Matthews and Nylander.
You get the sense that all of the star talent on the roster is kind of waiting around for someone else to take over a game with a moment that gets the group going. As a collective, the Leafs best players just weren’t anywhere near their best in this game.
This league has a way of humbling you, and losing back-to-back to banged up Detroit and Boston teams with the hype around the full complement of Leaf forwards — giving up 11 goals in the process — is certainly a reminder about the importance of work/detail before skill (not to take the words straight from Babcock’s mouth).
In the end, these are the ebbs and flows of a long season where bodies — significant ones at that — are coming in and out of the lineup. There’s way too much talent here for them not to figure it out.
The Leafs have yet to lose three in a row this season and will need a win in Carolina on Tuesday — where they got outworked in their first visit — to keep that alive.
4. Not going to get into it goal by goal, but it was Frederik Andersen’s worst performance of the season (there’s only really two bad games to choose from: this one or the Ottawa loss in the second game of the year). He’s allowed to have one here and there, by the way. Shame about the timing as the Leafs could’ve really used a cleansing win in this building post-Game 7.
5. I’m not disagreeing with Babcock’s remarks about how this team’s strengths aren’t in engaging in the rough stuff. He’s just being honest — and accurate — about the personnel at his disposal.
But I’m guessing Nazem Kadri isn’t content with the, “Our toughness/response is our power play,” angle Babcock took on questionable hits against. Kadri has talked before about how the group isn’t the biggest or baddest in the league but he feels like it has guys who will answer the call when needed.
Kadri’s fight versus the much larger Brandon Carlo (he held his own) was actually the first fight of the season for anyone on the current Leafs roster (the first was Josh Leivo against Detroit in early October), followed by the second once Ron Hainsey dropped them with Chris Wagner following the predatory hit on Morgan Rielly. Note the call towards his own bench by Kadri after his fight.
6. Auston Matthews after the game, speaking on Frederik Andersen’s off night:
“We’ve got to do a better job for him. There are a couple goals he wants back, but at the same time, we are giving up 3-on-1s and 2-on-1s and they’re getting around our net and getting free whacks at him. That’s on us.”
Regardless of whether you want to engage or skate away and take the power play after a bad hit, there’s an element of being stiff around your own net — and getting inside the hard areas of the ice at the other end — that is always going to be a big part of winning hockey.
— Maple Leafs Hotstove (@LeafsNews) December 9, 2018
7. While Babcock has put the lines in a blender the past two games (new lines after the deficit vs. Detroit, went with Matthews between Johnsson and Kapanen, Nylander with Kadri and Marleau tonight), we haven’t seen the Hyman – Matthews – Nylander trio back for a few shifts yet. If there was a time to do it, it was probably tonight, as Hyman – Tavares – Marner had one of its poorest games of the year up against that BOS top line the Leafs can’t find an answer for, even sans Patrice Bergeron. Putting Nylander back in his most familiar spot for a few shifts or a period doesn’t seem like the worst idea.
8. Since joining the fourth line with Tyler Ennis (and now Brown), Par Lindholm is a minus-four in three games and has won just five of 14 draws. He’s a 33% CF, been outshot 15-4, and out-chanced 14-4 at 5v5.
I’d start up an active rotation with Frederik Gauthier if this keeps up any longer. Not a ton happens offensively with Gauthier on the ice, but he showed better than this in a line-four role as far as steering play, bringing an element of heaviness, and he’s winning more of his draws. Ideally, they’d have Josh Leivo to rotate in as well, but I’m not going to beat the dead horse I flogged in the last review.
The issue is Babcock doesn’t trust Gauthier on the penalty kill but seems to with Lindholm in a secondary role.
Partly it’s for the best with Nylander’s return, but it’s a shame that we’re here again with the Leafs fourth line. They had an L4 that was rolling for them in November, one that was able to generate ice-tilting shifts at key times on a fairly consistent basis.
Bit of a shameless told-you-so here, but from a few reviews back:
Not to belabour the point from earlier, but as fantastic as their top nine sounds, I do think the Leafs will have difficulty recreating their current fourth-line mix. It’s a mixed grab bag of players that I’d never have anticipated could produce these kinds of results, but there is clearly an identity that has formed and a strong chemistry among these three.
Gauthier is like a flipped-up ping pong table on defense — it’s almost as though he plays goal for this two wingers. It’s never pretty, but he’s always thinking a play ahead, he gets in lanes really well, and he has a good attention to detail when it comes keeping his stick down and in position for loose pucks.
Tyler Ennis has added more of a grinder’s mentality to his unique skill set down low, where — as the smallest player in the league who can therefore turn tighter than anyone — he brings those tight-radius switchbacks that big defensemen have difficulty reacting to. That complements Goat/Leivo’s sterling board play with Ennis’ ability to pop in and out of holes easily with the puck under control.
9. One silver lining in this one was the second power-play unit, which should’ve scored to start the game, did score late in the game via Andreas Johnsson, and looks quite a bit more dangerous with William Nylander pulling the strings. The skill of Nylander gives it a natural quarterback and that ability Nylander has to just draw players in with his puck poise/patience helps open things up for that unit considerably.
10. Another silver lining: While he was partly at fault on the 1-0 goal against at 4-on-4, interesting to note that Travis Dermott led all Leafs defensemen in ice time in this game (21:38). Three shots on goal, three hits, three takeaways, two shot blocks and a well-placed shot for his goal (was on the ice with Jake Gardiner at the time).
And one more: That aforementioned power play goal by Andreas Johnsson plus an assist on the Auston Matthews goal gives him 10 points in his last seven games (three multi-point nights) starting with the hat trick against Philly. He’s averaging just 12 and a half minutes in ice time over that span.
Mike Babcock Post Game
On the team’s performance:
I actually thought we started really good here tonight. We came out. We were on top of them. We gave up a four-on-four goal and then I didn’t think we were very good or very competitive in the second period. Obviously, the second period did us in. It was disappointing. I thought we were going to come in here and play real well, especially after the night at home. Obviously, we didn’t, so we are going to have to get ourselves regrouped.
We just had a real good run where we got five wins and an overtime loss — I think that is what it was — and now we’ve got to regroup. Every once in a while, you get fed your lunch. Today was one of those days. Get yourself regrouped and get back at her. We’ve got a day off tomorrow, a good practice day, and then we’ll play Carolina.
On how the team goes about regrouping:
You’d like to win every game on the schedule. You and I have both been around long enough to know you don’t do that. You want your ups to be longer than your downs. Sometimes when you don’t play as good, it’s a good message to you that you’ve got to be a lot better. I think we’ve got to be a lot more competitive than we’ve been in the last two nights. It’s great that we had a good little run there. Now we’ve got to regroup and have another one.
On the off night for the Tavares – Marner line:
Just what I talked about. You can look at our whole group. I didn’t think we were good enough. The thing about hockey is that you are all in it together. Some nights lines pick up other guys that maybe didn’t have as good of a night. Tonight, we didn’t have anyone to pick us up.
On his team dropping the gloves a few times:
There were some hits in tonight’s game that could’ve been called, or whatever you want to say. I thought our guys stood up well for themselves. Obviously, we’ll get these guys a couple more times this year if I’m not mistaken, so it should be fun.
Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts