The Toronto Maple Leafs entered the All-Star break in the worst way possible, dropping out of a playoff spot after a 6-2 blowout loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday night.
Your game in ten:
1. I absolutely hate speculating on what is going on in players’ personal lives, but it’s a publicly-known fact that John Tavares is adjusting to life as a new dad. His skating when he’s playing on home ice is noticeably more sluggish (to my eye) and he’s making uncharacteristic mental mistakes (with particularly bad games vs. the Oilers, Jets, and again vs. Chicago last night). The stats also don’t lie: He’s a team-worst -10 on home ice with six goals and 17 points in 21 games; on the road, he’s a plus-three with 12 goals and 24 points in 21 games. That’s a significant difference. Partly it’s that he’s drawing harder matchups more consistently on home ice when his coach has last change, but that falls short of a full explanation based on both the eye and stats test. Tavares looks like he needs the reset of the bye week as much as anyone not named Frederik Andersen right now.
2. Some suspect calls in this game by Sheldon Keefe, for my money. Martin Marincin gave the Leafs a good week or two of hockey a while back and has defended well at times (including against Calgary), but his limitations are obvious, and starting him and Tyson Barrie for shift one against the Toews line was a suspect call that backfired badly. The first Leaf touch of the game was a turnover right to Toews by Marincin for a great look from the slot, and then the Leafs got running around before Drake Caggiula opened the scoring just 21 seconds in. Needless to say, the reuniting of a healthy Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl cannot come soon enough.
3. I also didn’t like going with 11/7 before the break against a team that has been finding success lately by splitting up their big three up front (Toews, Kane, Debrincat) and keeping the pace up over four lines. This was a trap game for the Leafs — not because they were playing weak opposition, but like any of us on our last day at work before vacation, it’s really easy to lose focus (and keep in mind this is still a very young team). It was especially dangerous knowing the opposition was not in the same position as the Leafs — the Blackhawks still had more games to play before the break. I’d have tried to get four lines more involved early in that situation; getting some good energy minutes from lower down the lineup takes on added importance, and it was clear the Leafs’ big guns were not engaged early.
4. Lastly, I don’t understand moving Andreas Johnsson onto the Tavares line, which has been battling it for some time now but was much better with Pierre Engvall in that spot versus Calgary. Johnsson is still catching up to speed, that line is struggling at 5v5, and Keefe went Johnsson – Tavares – Nylander / Marincin – Barrie on shift one? It didn’t make much sense to me. Johnsson, of course, turned it over in the neutral zone 10 minutes later for the 3-0 goal that was a real backbreaker for the team as well.
5. Sheldon Keefe used the word “immaturity” over and over in his post-game presser — which is a bit alarming — and it was something I mentioned in the comment section during the game as well. Three games come to mind recently: The pre-Xmas break game against the Carolina Hurricanes, the game in Florida after the team had a day off in the sun, and then this game before the All-Star break.
They came back to win vs. Carolina, but honestly, it was probably encouraging bad habits as much as anything as they ran up a 3-0 lead and thought they had finished their work for the evening, conceding five unanswered goals (and six in total) before mounting an improbable comeback. The Florida game was their biggest of the year so far, while this game last night was also a big one knowing the implications in the standings at the break.
Those were all tests of mental preparation and focus, and the Leafs fell short in all three.
6. The team’s engagement level and body language on the 6-2 goal for Jonathan Toews was just horrendous — Toews wound up in his own zone and went untouched through the neutral zone. Auston Matthews took a cheater’s route and put himself on the wrong side of the play, while Marner and Hyman basically waved their sticks at him. It was an incredible goal from Dominik Kubalik, but all three forwards plus Tyson Barrie were totally shut off, and Marner’s body language after the goal said it all:
That was the fourth goal against for Marner on the night.
7. This Leafs team rarely feels out of a game with how it can score goals, but it was really telling that it wasn’t going to be their night after the 3-1 goal by William Nylander. The Kerfoot line kept the momentum up for one shift, but when the Tavares line came over the boards, they turned the puck over several times and gave up multiple looks to Patrick Kane from the slot on what was a miserable shift overall. It just clearly wasn’t happening for the team last night.
Speaking of the Kerfoot line, while I’d have kept Engvall with Tavares, it was one positive for the Leafs. Kerfoot has shown good energy back at center ice and his line looked good with Engvall and Kapanen. Kapanen has brought a physical edge lately and looks confident in possession, while Engvall has really been a force of late with how well he’s skating, tracking, driving play, and making things happen offensively.
— Maple Leafs Hotstove (@LeafsNews) January 19, 2020
8. The topic on everyone’s minds is the play of Frederik Andersen. It’s stunning how much can change in two weeks in the NHL. He was named an All-Star and was polling around 50/50 next to Matthews for Team MVP as of January 2nd following an 8-1-1 stretch. Two weeks later, he’s getting Bronx cheered at home amid a six-game, .864 save percentage slide.
Andersen is not sealing the ice off well at all, has been very vulnerable through the five-hole, and he’s not reading the play sharply. Three of the goals were certainly stoppable — the 1-0 in particular. He has been pulled from the net twice and could’ve easily been pulled three times in his last six games. He was visibly upset about the yank versus Edmonton after three goals against; he was then given four goals before he was pulled against Florida later in the week. Last night, Keefe left him in to get shelled at home as the crowd’s impatience boiled over. Decide for yourself if it was to do with the upcoming break and not needing to preserve Andersen for the next game, or if that was a message sent from Sheldon Keefe.
9. There is no getting around that it’s probably his worst stretch of hockey in a Leaf jersey. The All-Star break is coming at a good time for Andersen, and just as important is that the Leafs start back up on the road for a couple of games before returning home to host one of the worst teams in the league in the Ottawa Senators. This is goaltending, after all, and it can turn back around just as quickly as it went south. Andersen has given us 225 games worth of evidence in Toronto that he’s going to be just fine. It’s also possible that the dynamic in net is going to shift in the coming days or weeks, and Andersen could have some competition arriving in behind him in the form of a new acquisition looking to make an impression and push for more starts.
10. Even though the Leafs are still playing at a 110-point pace under Sheldon Keefe (16-7-3), the fact that a 1-3-2 stretch has dropped them out of a playoff spot and all the way down to 10th in the East is a good a reminder of just how consistently good the Leafs have to be the rest of the way to ensure a playoff berth among a competitive top 10 in the East.
They’ll need 41 points from their final 32 games to reach 98 points, which was last season’s playoff cutoff. It means they need to play at a 105-point pace the rest of the way, which is their franchise record as an 82-game total.
It’s doable, but taking nights off like this game and the one versus Florida is not a luxury they’ve been afforded. Frederik Andersen will turn it around and they’ll get help in the form of injured bodies returning, but this is the first time since late 2016-17 that the team is going to need to show it can play desperation hockey down the stretch of a regular season, and it needs to start right after the break. We should find out a lot about the group in the process. January 29 – February 23 will be a critical evaluation period for Kyle Dubas with the number of expiring contracts on the backend.
Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts
Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempts