After a first-round sweep last year, it seems the public perception of Tampa Bay has taken a big hit. In this game, they served an early notice to Toronto (and the rest of the league) that this is still their division.
It’s easy to forget they had 128 points last year – 28 more than the Leafs. For reference, the Leafs had 28 more points than New Jersey last year. It might not have been a 7-3 game overall, but for large stretches of the game, it really was. And now the Leafs are .500 for the season, which — while early — is a bit surprising to see.
Your game in ten:
1. The general book on the Leafs the last few seasons is that they are happy to trade chances, play the long bomb, and if the shots are even remotely equal, the betting money is that the Leafs talent will outscore their opponent. Against average and below teams, they should win out most of those games because they have so much elite talent at their disposal that most teams can’t come close to matching. The question with this has always been simple: Will it hold up against really good teams that also have a collection of elite talent?
The first period was fun, but it was pond hockey and trading chances. Tampa has always seemed more than content to trade chances with the Leafs because they have an abundance of elite talent themselves, while Boston has been more than happy to try to slow the game right down. Stylistically, the Leafs need to figure out a better balance here.
2. Another question for the Leafs that I’ve had all summer through the start of the season is who will play against the opponent’s top line? Tampa Bay loaded up with Kucherov – Point – Stamkos, and the Leafs paired Morgan Rielly and Cody Ceci against them. The Stamkos line (I don’t even know what player you can call this line, to be honest) had five goals. Now, that wasn’t all the fault of this pairing — they weren’t even on for all of them — but they certainly weren’t anywhere near shutting them down. The original betting money was that whoever played with Muzzin would be the shutdown pairing, but this is why Barrie was always interesting as a player to target – nobody questions his offense; it’s his defense and the Leafs’ ability to put together a real matchup pairing. Yes, it’s early, but based on the history of their current players, it seems unlikely the answer is internal.
3. Also of note is that Morgan Rielly got absolutely walked by Kevin Shattenkirk for Tampa Bay’s third goal of the night.
— Maple Leafs Hotstove (@LeafsNews) October 10, 2019
Against Montreal on Saturday, Rielly also had some poor readings off the rush on Max Domi where he turned widely, went to the wrong man (he had enough to catch up to the puck carrier and let Ceci just take Domi), and the Habs scored an easy one. He broke his stick on the bench later in that game due to frustration.
4. On this goal tonight, also off the rush, watch Morgan Rielly, who quite literally stands still and watches everything unfold:
— Maple Leafs Hotstove (@LeafsNews) October 11, 2019
It is noteworthy that he has struggled defensively his entire career. The positive is that he’s so productive offensively.
5. On the bright side, Auston Matthews was amazing yet again. He finished with a goal, an assist, and six shots on net. While he went against the second line (led by Tyler Johnson), he played primarily against Victor Hedman and outshot attempted him 12-3. He is now up to six goals and seven points in only five games. On his goal, he showed one of his more underrated qualities, which is his quick hands in tight. On a fast play on a rebound with a bouncing puck, he made it look easy, scoring a no-doubter.
— Maple Leafs Hotstove (@LeafsNews) October 10, 2019
6. Mitch Marner did some great work on the John Tavares goal, but he did not get an assist for his efforts. That makes it five games in a row to start the season without a 5v5 point (he had an assist on the Johnsson power-play goal). Last season, his longest drought without an even-strength point was only four games. He does have six points in five games, so it’s not as if he’s unproductive, but he has yet to have a Mitch Marner domination game. That line, in general, has not looked good at even-strength. They played well against the Blues, but otherwise? There is a lot of head-scratching and eyebrow raises watching them as a unit – and while Kapanen seems to be getting a lot of attention, Marner and Tavares combine to make nearly $22 million and it almost shouldn’t matter who is on the other side of them.
7. Thought Justin Holl had a number of nice moments in the 15:28 he played this game, which was the second-most ice time he has seen over the last two seasons. He is mobile and can definitely keep up with the pace. On the John Tavares goal, he had a nice shot for deflection, showing good awareness to shoot the puck as he did there. Later in the game, he gave Matthews a nice slap-pass, but a big save was made. The ice time was surely up due to the blowout of the game, but if you had to pick between Marincin and Holl, the answer pretty clearly seems like Holl so far. Being a righty helps, too.
8. Going into the third period, the Leafs were still within arm’s length of this game, as it was 5-3. Instead, Tampa scored on a bad bounce roughly four minutes into the period and that seemed to pretty well ice the game. If that wasn’t enough, Tampa scored three minutes later after killing off a Leafs penalty, to boot. All in all, the Leafs got outshoot 9-4 in the third, hardly coming close to making it a game.
9. Babcock pulled Freddy Andersen after the 7th goal and I don’t blame him one bit. First off, the team still relies on Andersen far too much on a nightly basis and this has been true to start the season, when Ottawa and Columbus combined for at least four clean breakaways. Most of the goals were not on Andersen (he probably wants that first Kucherov goal back, though). By the time the seventh went in, it just felt like one-of-those-nights and it was a mercy pull. It wouldn’t have made sense to keep Andersen in and spite him – the loss is definitely not on him.
10. Considering the game was over for most of the third, it was slightly surprising to not see the Leafs shake up the lines. Well, it was surprising in theory, but I guess this has been the MO of Babcock since he has started in Toronto. He rarely changes the lines unless his hand is forced by injury. Alexander Kerfoot did see some time with Mitch Marner (over two minutes at 5v5), which was the most noteworthy new look (Mikheyev also got on for a few of those and played nearly a minute and a half with Marner). Why wouldn’t you try shaking it up, though? The Kapanen experiment on the left-wing, in particular, has not gone well and shaking that up makes so much sense it hurts.
5v5 Game Flow: Shot Attempts