The Toronto Maple Leafs conceded three goals in 2:40 to start the third period en route to a 4-2 loss in Calgary on Friday night.
Your game in ten:
1. The Leafs are more exciting, creative, and reinvigorated offensively, but they’re giving up the kinds of chances against and committing the types of turnovers and break downs that are typically reserved for early October hockey — probably a byproduct of the fact that they’re undergoing a systems overhaul in the middle of the regular season, combined with the reality that they’re not very good defensively to begin with. It’s an improvement over what was happening under a coach the team clearly quit on (and seemed unable/unwilling to play the style of hockey he was peddling), but as Sheldon Keefe said tonight, “We have a long way to go.”
2. John Tavares now has seven goals and 11 points in nine games since his “Let’s f*&% build from this” speech after the Coyotes game. Definitely can’t fault his leadership here.
— Maple Leafs Hotstove (@LeafsNews) December 13, 2019
— Maple Leafs Hotstove (@LeafsNews) December 13, 2019
3. The 2-2 Flames goal was mainly on Frederik Andersen — he played the puck up the wall poorly and then got caught deep in his net on the Johnny Gaudreau shot. But I think he earned one of those by stopping a couple of breakaways per game and 94% of the shots on goal in the past couple of weeks. The response from the Leafs giving up two more in the next two minutes off of a sloppy neutral-zone turnover and then a lack of engagement / missed assignments defensively on the 4-2 goal (which really should have gone in through Sean Monahan’s point-blank chance in front just before the tip in by Johnny Gaudreau) was disappointing. How much are you going to ask of your goaltender?
4. It was a good first period by the Leafs, who gave up some chances against in transition but were the more dangerous team offensively in the opening 20 minutes. However, it’s hard to win a 60-minute hockey game against a red-hot team — one that has been finding success with a more balanced four-line approach of late — with just one and a half lines threatening at all, save for one great shift by the third line led by Ilya Mikheyev later in the second period.
Exacerbated by the long 5-on-3 that resulted in nothing, the Leafs’ big guns looked gassed in the second half of the third period. With the goalie pulled for the final four minutes, they stopped moving their feet in the o-zone, wrapped the puck around the wall a few times, couldn’t get anything into the middle, fumbled the puck, and never really directed much of note at the net.
Sheldon Keefe has talked a lot about his gameplan of riding his stars early and often in order to get out to leads in games; that has helped rejuvenate the offense and greatly improve the team’s first-period woes, to his credit. When the game played out like tonight’s — the team has a lead heading into the third and then suddenly finds itself chasing the game inside a few minutes, plus the extended 5-on-3 situation that followed — it made it tough to find that extra push when needed. Keefe ended up tasking 21+ minutes to Matthews, 23+ to Tavares and 24+ to Marner. The tanks were empty. Marner played nearly 11 of the 20 minutes in the third while Tavares and Matthews played over 10 minutes as well.
5. Big picture, I think Keefe is mostly right in his philosophy here, but the team is going to need more out of its depth lines in more limited minutes. A fourth line that doesn’t give the team much energy or offense and then concedes the game-losing goal on a fancy play gone wrong in the neutral zone (by Jason Spezza and Nic Petan) wouldn’t survive to the next game under many head coaches in the league, but Sheldon Keefe does view things a little differently, so it’ll be interesting to see if Petan – Spezza – Aberg is still together on Saturday in Edmonton.
I said it in the previous review when I anticipated Pontus Aberg dropping down off the Matthews unit, but it doesn’t look like a viable fourth line to me — there is no identity to the line other than as a diluted wanna-be scoring unit that probably isn’t going to accomplish much of anything in eight minutes of ice time. If you’re going to run a relatively-soft top nine that is skill and speed-focused like the Leafs are, you probably at least need some diversity on your fourth line — a unit that can provide some heavy shifts, be sound without the puck, spark the team occasionally, and set up the skilled lines to follow. They had it going for about five games at the start of the year with Timashov – Gauthier – Shore, but the fourth line has been a revolving door of not-much-going-on since.
Getting Trevor Moore back healthy should help some here, but I think Kenny Agostino is a better fit than Aberg for an L4 role.
6. I thought we already ran the experiment with Kasperi Kapanen on his off wing in the top six, gave it a good run of opportunity, and came to the logical conclusion about it? We’ve also seen Matthews-Kapanen combine like oil and water even with Kapanen on his strong side. It’s worse under a structure where the Leafs are holding onto pucks a little longer and trying to make more plays — Kapanen was really struggling to complete plays out there tonight. Andreas Johnsson is out and that (understandably) has forced some experimentation, but I still think Pierre Engvall is the best option there for now.
7. Tyson Barrie’ curious decision-making and struggles defending his net / off the cycle continue to plague his game. As much it’s a positive that he’s generally more involved and looking more confident offensively, the Rielly-Barrie pairing can’t give up a clear-cut breakaway per game as they have the last two nights with both D caught in deep.
That said, I don’t see much sense in breaking them up right now, either. I said it a few reviews ago — I think the current pairings are probably the best of a messy situation as far as the lack of defensively-reliable pairings on the Leafs blue line. Dubas doubled down on skilled offensive puck-movers with defensive warts on the blue line (along with speed and skill over four lines up front) — you may as well play the group as it was designed, for better or worse (and we saw the alternative). Muzzin – Barrie was a disaster and Ceci – Rielly was a disaster, so this is really the only option for now.
8. As for the power play, I get that the acquisition was too important for the Leafs not to find a way to get Barrie going in any way they possibly can, but Morgan Rielly brings more in terms of zone entries (by a lot), walking the line, and is just as good of a puck mover as Barrie on the power play. He’s just as capable of flipping wrist shots toward the net, too.
9. It’s too early in the morning to pull the data required, but the Leafs have to be leading the league in goals conceded within a few minutes of one another. Keefe has tried using timeouts to get the team settled, although it might have come one goal too late tonight. Combine this with the team’s third-period issues all year, and the bigger issue is the team is still too fragile mentally in the face of adversity; this hasn’t gone away under the new coach.
Giving up one as quick as we did, we just seemed to get down ourselves and just didn’t have a good response after that.
… Weighing out risk and reward and understanding the next position we are putting ourselves in by that play we’re going to make — it’s a fast game and mistakes happen, but we obviously want to do it more often than we don’t, especially at times in the third.
– John Tavares
The message [from Keefe] was stop throwing the puck away. Play with calmness. As a team, we’ve got to be way better at being in these thirds. We’ve got to make sure we have that calmness and stop throwing pucks away.
– Mitch Marner
10. It’s hard not to scoreboard watch already with the Leafs’ current situation. The Lightning have won two in a row, the Sabres have won three in a row, and the Canadiens have won three in a row. If the Leafs were to win six out of every 10 as they just did in the first 10 under Keefe (with no loser points), that still only puts them at 92-93 points come April. If this review sounds harsh (after all it’s a new coach, systems, and they’re 6-4-0), it’s because the Leafs can’t even afford to continue the current Keefe pace in their games the rest of the way or else it’s a lost season — and likely one without a first-round pick. There is lots of time left, but there is a real urgency to the situation here.
Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts
Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempts