Despite a two-goals-in-seven-minutes start to the game from Mitch Marner, the Toronto Maple Leafs dropped their second game in a row in the ‘next-generation’ matchup against the Minnesota Wild on Thursday afternoon.
Your game in ten:
1. Outside of the LA Kings — who have been leading after the first period just five times this season — the Leafs were the only team in the NHL not to lose a game when leading after 20 minutes entering today’s game. That came to an end this afternoon in game #40 of the season, but it is an impressive run worth acknowledging (now 17-1-0 when up after the first period). Not that Michael Hutchinson was at all at fault for the loss, but it’s probably not surprising the streak ended with both their first and second-string goaltenders out hurt. The Leafs are roughly a middling team when leading by possession and scoring chance share, but with their combination of highly-reliable/timely goaltending from Andersen and ability to pad leads with their offensive skill, they’ve scored over 55% of the 5v5 goals when in possession of the lead (top five in the league).
2. On the note about Michael Hutchinson, if there is a disappointing element of this game, it’s that the Leafs didn’t go more all-out in the first 20 minutes to try to protect a goalie who the coach didn’t even know the first name of until warmups. 19 shots against in the first period — while some of it was outside junk — isn’t the best way to initiate a new goalie who has no familiarity with the rink, the systems, and his teammate’s tendencies. Hutchinson really handled himself well in the first period and did about as much as could be realistically asked of him overall given the circumstances. There are enough elements to like about his game at first blush — big, quiet/calm in the crease, and pucks stuck to him pretty well.
3. This was a bit of a strange game. The most disappointing part of it was the final 15 minutes of the first period, and yet the Leafs led 2-1 after 20. The second period slightly favoured Minnesota (and by shots/possession), who tied it up at 3-3 through 40 minutes, before the Leafs mounted a big charge in the third and couldn’t cash in while giving up the winner on a bad giveaway by Auston Matthews with plenty of time in his own zone. The Leafs didn’t clearly deserve to win, but it could’ve easily gone either way.
4. The Leafs left a lot out there on the power play (0-for-4), in particular, despite spending just about the full two minutes in the Minnesota zone each time. Early on, the puck speed wasn’t fast enough and the Minnesota shot blockers/Devan Dubnyk were in position each time the Leafs got the puck to their trigger man in Matthews. Later on, the Leafs were zipping it around more crisply, but the Wild showed why they are top five on the PK — their PKers stayed composed on the pre-shot movement and Dubnyk was gigantic and always on his angle.
The frustrating part from the Leafs perspective, particularly on the third-period power plays, was how telegraphed the whole thing felt with Marner looking for the slap pass seam plays. The Wild got lucky at points, for sure, and likely would give up a few if we replayed the game with the same opportunities conceded, but the Leafs needed to simplify and take what was given.
Morgan Rielly could’ve walked down to the top of the hashmarks a couple of times with the space he was being afforded up top and he was really hesitant to shoot. When you’ve got a dialed in 6’6 Dubnyk to contend with, sometimes just getting pucks at the net from up top with a screen in place and looking for a tip/deflection and second/third opportunities is the simple approach that’s needed. Outside of Matthews’ repeated frustration trying to solve Dubnyk/the Minny shot blockers, the Leafs looked for the backdoor pass a lot and couldn’t get it to go. They needed to fire a few from up top, if for no other reason than to keep the PK units honest.
The Leafs also played around with switching Marner and Matthews to their strong sides to start one of their power plays, but it only resulted in some awkward one-timer attempts.
5. It briefly felt like this was going to be a repeat of last year’s next-generation game — the huge blowout win over the Canes — in the early going. If it was the All-Star game snub that made Mitch Marner fly out of the gates like a kid at recess, Marner should bottle that up for future use. We also can’t rule out the video-game intro (if that’s the key, it behooves the Leafs game-ops to try this again… the rest of us can put up with it), or the pep talk from mini-Babs before the game.
Next gen's Taylor Cadorin channelled his inner Mike Babcock pre-game 💪🏻 pic.twitter.com/8MuyMZ2kvE
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) January 3, 2019
6. Timed almost exactly with when the media asked Mike Babcock why Marner has so few goals despite nearly leading the league in assists, he’s rattled off nine goals in his last eight games (six in his first 32).
7. I thought we’d see Babcock reunite Matthews and William Nylander again around game #11-12 based on his sports science tracking point; he did just that, and it resulted in the goal Nylander badly needed, although the line lost their matchup. It certainly wasn’t on Nylander, who could’ve scored a couple more, with the goal unsurprisingly going to his legs.
Matthews needs to take more pride in winning his 5v5 matchup as far as digging in on his battles and working harder without the puck — up against the Parise, Coyle and Kunin line, they were outscored 2-0, out-possessed 70/30, and out-chanced 8-3.
8. Since the start of December, Auston Matthews has been on the ice for just 45% of the 5v5 shots on goal and 47% of the scoring chances — both bottom five on the team in that time. There could be some self-preservation going on here coming back from the second similar injury in the span of a year. What ultimately matters is peaking at the right time of the year, but it doesn’t work like a light switch that can be turned off and on. He’ll need to start ramping it up down the stretch in the second half if he’s going to be battle ready for the playoffs.
9. William Nylander somehow got blamed on the broadcast for the Mikko Koivu 2-2 goal in the second period, which was pretty bizarre to watch. He covered for a pinching Jake Gardiner, stayed above his man, did a decent enough job taking Staal’s stick away, and nearly got around the net in time to save the goal that was scored by the second trailing forward on the play. It was Andreas Johnsson that was totally switched off tracking back.
10. It’s partly due to just the one Minnesota power play and chasing the game in the final 15, but Ron Hainsey’s 15:02 is his lowest single-game time-on-ice total as a Maple Leaf. It comes a game after playing just 17 and change against the Islanders. He’s also played less than 20 minutes in 11 of his last 18 games.
The soon-to-be 38-year-old is averaging 19:38 this season compared to nearly 22 last year. The coaching staff is seeing the additional step he’s lost this season, clearly (very visible tonight and of late), and that makes for some tough questions. Nikita Zaitsev has had a better month or so, but Igor Ozhiganov still has the training wheels on most nights (he played 12 minutes and change tonight). Easier said than done and obvious at this point, but Kyle Dubas has to be pretty aggressive about the RHD position between now and the deadline if he’s going to give this team every chance at a real run in the postseason.
Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts