The Toronto Maple Leafs’ special teams sunk their ship again in a 5-4 loss to the New York Islanders on Wednesday night.

Your game in ten:

1.  It really stood out how passive and reactive the Leafs penalty-killing units were all over the ice in this game. The Islanders were gaining the zone with speed, working the puck around with relative ease, and multiple times found the back door option wide in acres of space. It wasn’t just that pucks went in; it was the feeling of inevitability about it all that was alarming.

There was not a confident feeling and an overall lack of sharpness in the execution. The shot could’ve been stopped by Frederik Andersen, but you could see Trevor Moore was slow to anticipate/react on the 2-0 goal. Just before, the Islanders nearly scored off an entry after Kasperi Kapanen sat on the pass option up ice (with Moore already in position to close it down) and they gave up the middle for Brock Nelson to gather speed, dish off, receive the give-and-go, and get a good look right off the entry before setting up the zone.

On the other Islanders’ power-play goal, both Kapanen and Cody Ceci got taken out of the play by Matt Barzal’s cut to the inside, which as nice as the move was, obviously can’t happen.

The built-in excuse is that their personnel has turned over so heavily and the shuffle only continues now that they are without Mitch Marner and Zach Hyman is back in the mix. The calls for patience are somewhat understandable, but the excuses are getting older by the game.

2.  On the other side of the special teams equation, the Leafs lost all three power-play faceoffs, so it started there. On the second power play, they got flat outworked for a spell inside their own zone by a solo effort from Casey Cizikas, who nearly scored on a turnover by Morgan Rielly. In zone, they’ve got to start getting more pucks to the net; on the second power play, Matthews passed up a chance to one-time a puck with Andreas Johnsson in a good screen position to try a failed slap-pass across the seam. Zero shots on goal and just two shot attempts between the two power plays — outshot 3-0 on the four minutes of their own man advantage — was painful to watch.

The combined special teams stat for the Leafs now ranks 24th in the NHL at 92.8, while the Islanders sit sixth at 108.3.

3.  Not that they were up to much, but we also saw saw the top unit pulled off after 1:00-1:05 each time — maybe if you have both Nylander and Barrie on that second unit you could sort of justify it, but not with a crew consisting of Petan, Hyman, Kerfoot, and Kapanen as the forward group. Just hit fast forward on the final 50-55 seconds at that point.

4.  There seems to be this idea that Babcock has the Leafs playing a more conservative style at 5v5 this year. I am not seeing a ton of evidence that they’ve made their forecheck any less aggressive or told their D to be more conservative in the offensive or neutral zones. They are definitely doing a little less of the flip-and-chase and stretch pass play, which was a necessary evolution — the chancy style had the Leafs in bottom-feeding company in the scoring chances against last season alongside Ottawa, Buffalo, and Chicago.

At even strength, it is really difficult to regularly score the three-plus goals needed to win hockey games on a consistent basis in this league. You need a functioning power play. The Leafs led the league last year in 5v5 goals with 2.5 per game, tied with the Lightning, who scored 33 more goals than them in total due to their PP — and that’s a Lightning roster that was as deep and talented upfront as just about any we’ve seen in the cap era.

The Leafs are scoring 2.3 per game right now at 5v5 with major injuries impacting the team through the first month and a half and a shooting percentage that is likely to improve from the current 8.46% mark (16th in the NHL).

5.  They found a way to lose again, but it didn’t look like a Leafs team that had quit on each other or the coach. They didn’t call it a night after the 4-2 goal and largely controlled the game at even strength from the start through the entire first 40 minutes (65% possession), even as the breaks went against them.

The Leafs’ effort or energy level has not been at issue of late. It’s been the lack of confidence/execution on special teams and the tendency to make the costlier mistakes — allied with a need to get an additional timely save here and there.

The 3-2 goal on Frederik Andersen was a case where the turnover by Jake Muzzin was certainly rough, but that’s the juncture when the team needs a save on a stoppable puck after mounting the 0-2 comeback. Andersen’s been great lately — and the bigger issue is the Leafs can’t lean on him every night as much as they do due to their spotty defensive play — but obviously, he could’ve come up with saves on the 2-0 or 3-2.

The goal against in the second period was the second shot in a 16+ minute span for New York. That’s a killer.

6.  No shortage of positives in the game, including Zach Hyman’s first game back, which was impressive given the time missed, although I wasn’t particularly surprised by it. He’s got another level to his skating when he’s really motoring, but he’s still going to find ways to be effective and contribute— it’s through sheer force of will that he’ll drive play north, create zone time, and be around the net. It was refreshing seeing a Leaf (Hyman) buzz a goalie after a whistle and get a rise out of the opposition. Hyman obviously isn’t an impact top-line talent, but he does carry outsized importance on this Leafs team because he does so many of the things that don’t come naturally to much of the forward group.

7.  Other positives: The Tavares line, in general, looked good with Hyman back on it. Based on his first couple of games back on the line, Kasperi Kapanen looks to be fitting in much better this time around; this could be a line that develops an identity as a strong cycle unit in Marner’s absence.

While one of their shifts and turnovers led to the 2-0 Islanders PP goal, the fourth line gave the Leafs good minutes, carrying around 80% of possession. It was one of Nic Petan’s better games this year — hungrier on the forecheck, extending cycles, and making plays off the wall. Justin Holl continues to give the Leafs positive minutes from down the lineup.

8.  We’re so Leafs focused here that we can often forget there was another team on the ice. The Islanders are now 12-0-1 in their last 13. They continue to defy the Corsi Gods by being a bottom-two team in possession and scoring chance share and a top-10 team in their control of the high-danger chances. The way they protect the slot in five-man units and with their size and strength on the backend makes it hard to get to those tough areas of the ice through all the tree branches — but looking at the numbers so far this year, their share of the high-danger chances has largely been driven by how many they generate at the other end by counterattacking off of their neutral zone structure (which the Leafs fed into at times with turnovers) and playing on the inside of the o-zone.

Red-hot teams that are riding hot sticks offensively and great performances in net often seem to get the key save when they need it and then bury you on your every mistake at the other end. That was definitely the case in this game.

9.  Travis Dermott plays the game with an urgency, instinctiveness, and natural tendency to push the pace at all times — a lot of the time it leads to positive plays, but sometimes he gets over aggressive when just needs to settle down. Frederik Gauthier ultimately turned the puck over at the defensive blue line with options available before the penalty leading to the 2-0 goal, but the whole sequence was herky-jerky when it didn’t need to be after Dermott skated into trouble, rushed passes, and took a bad angle leading to the trip.

You definitely don’t want to coach the aggression and creativity out of his game — it’s also worth noting that he set up the 2-1 goal and has been a nice boost to that bottom pairing overall — but my sense is the coaching staff isn’t going to look at him as a trusted top-four option until he shows he understands time and place better in terms of making the calm, safe play in the d-zone, in addition to improving his sort outs defensively.

10.  The single biggest roster issue on this team is that they don’t have a reliable top-four pairing consisting of two D they can pair up and feel good about providing safe minutes defensively. Rielly – Ceci not working out was as predictable as can be. While they’re hanging in at even on goals share at 5v5, it’s not pretty most nights and it is far from a credible matchup pair; they struggle to defend the rush, d-zone assignments are missed too often, and pucks go through them too easily in the d-zone. Reilly lost his more dependable d-zone partner in the offseason and has seen him replaced by someone who struggles in many of the same ways Rielly does defensively only without the abilities with the puck to make up for it.

While Muzzin – Barrie was a promising idea (with some past familiarity from Team Canada WCs), it just doesn’t seem to be clicking after 20 games — after this game, they’ve now given up 16 goals at 5v5 and been on the ice for just 9 goals for. It’s fair to assume Tyson Barrie will get better, but even if he does, the fact would remain that there are not two D available to Babcock that he could pair up as a go-to defensive pairing. Draw up new pairs until you’re blue in the face, put Barrie on PP1 all you want, but that’s a personnel issue for which there are no easy answers for Kyle Dubas.


Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. New York Islanders


Extended Highlights: Islanders 5 vs. Leafs 4