The Toronto Maple Leafs failed to build on a good start against the New York Rangers en route to a 5-3 loss on Wednesday night.

First Period

The Leafs again started the game the right way, dictating the pace of play, getting their top guns rolling early, and generating ample offensive-zone time and scoring chances. That said, there were a few chances the other way:

A Zach Hyman penalty gave the Rangers some momentum as they moved the puck well and made Michael Hutchinson work in net. The Leafs were able to kill it off thanks to good hustle plays like this one from the now-departed Trevor Moore:

After a successful penalty kill, the Leafs got back on the front foot and were able to generate some dangerous looks. This was a great play by Mitch Marner to keep the play alive, a better pass from Rasmus Sandin, and an even better save by the Rangers’ rookie goaltender.

With a fairly wide open neutral zone throughout the early stages, the Leafs finally capitalized in transition to open the scoring through a good passing play, leading to a John Tavares finish off of a William Nylander-generated rebound.

After taking the lead, the Leafs seemed to stop skating for a spell and let the Rangers dictate the pace of play with some zone time for New York. Before long, the game was all tied up as the Leafs got caught puck watching and nobody picked up Filip Chytil sneaking in at the backdoor.

After a few minutes of sustained pressure from New York in which the Leafs were hemmed in their own end, the Rangers took the lead off a face-off.

These types of goals late in the period are always a backbreaker. Matthews got beat cleanly off the draw and Mika Zibanejad beat Hutchinson cleanly from the top of the circle on a stoppable shot.

Before the Leafs could collect themselves, New York extended the lead six seconds later.

This type of let-off late in a period really is inexcusable, as Justin Holl just totally overplayed this off the draw.

Second Period

To their credit, the Leafs responded with a great offensive sequence on the first shift of the second period.

As a result of that sequence, the Leafs earned a power-play, where they created some good looks but couldn’t maintain zone pressure for long stretches. The chances they did generate were dangerous:

Momentum then came to a grinding halt when Barrie went to the box for high sticking.

While New York did threaten, Toronto was able to kill it off and get back to even strength, where they were generating enough zone time but seemed to be too particular about finding the perfect play as opposed to putting pucks toward the net and crashing the net front.

Matthews was still threatening on just about every shift, and it seemed inevitable he was going to walk out of this game with another couple notches in his belt as he approaches goal #40 of the season.

Late in the period, the Leafs had a shift of prolonged pressure where they were sustaining zone time with second and third efforts on puck battles and cycling the puck; the Leafs’ third line with Kapanen, Engvall and Johnsson got it all started before Matthews jumped over the boards fresh and buried an ugly one:

After a good no-look pass by Johnsson from behind the net into a good area, Matthews sniffed out the opportunity and found a way to put the puck into the net with a quick release off his backhand that caught Igor Shesterkin off guard.

Seconds later, the Leafs conceded a crushing back-breaker of a goal after Hutchinson lost his balance and dropped his stick on his own volition.

Travis Dermott didn’t do him many favours by creating more confusion than assistance in front of him, but this was the goal that officially ended Michael Hutchinson’s claim to the backup role.

Hutchinson did bounce back with a big save immediately after:

Third Period

Like the previous frame, the Leafs started the third with a dominant opening shift and Matthews nearly buried his second of the night.

There were a promising opening couple of minutes where Toronto was generating chances off the cycle and off the rush, including Sandin stretching the ice with this great pass to Dmytro Timashov:

However, the Leafs weren’t able to sustain this start into a concerted come-from-behind effort for the final 20 minutes like you would’ve expected — they were unable to dictate the pace of play and the Rangers managed to take the wind out of their sails for the most part.

The Leafs did get the odd chance to get themselves back in the game, including one sequence where the Rangers iced the puck three straight times, but they couldn’t solve Igor Shesterkin.

You could sense the frustration levels of the team were starting to boil over, starting with Matthews shoving Brady Skjei to the ice.

The Leafs didn’t go totally quietly into the night after Pierre Engvall drew a call with some good hard play at the net, leading to a beautiful passing play between Tavares and Matthews for Matthews’ 150th career tally.

With the net empty, the Leafs never got themselves set up for a clean possession in the zone before a former Leaf put the game away with an empty netter.

The frustration boiled over in the final minute, with Zach Hyman scrapping Jacob Trouba after Trouba took umbrage with Hyman’s shove from behind into the boards just before the empty-net goal, and Tavares getting into the mix as well.

Post-Game Notes

  • Much like the previous game, the Toronto Maple Leafs played a good enough first 40 minutes to be in a position to get something out of the hockey game, but six seconds late in the first period and a horrific gaffe from Michael Hutchinson sent the team to a second straight defeat. When something goes wrong with this hockey club, it seems to snowball into lapses in focus and concentration that cost them valuable points; it’s hard not to think back to Sheldon Keefe’s immaturity comment and what he might have been inferring about his club’s mental strength. No team wins consistently without key saves from their goaltender at important times in games, and the Hutchinson 4-2 goal was devastating, but it was a little disappointing that the team didn’t generate more of a push in the third.
  • Lost in the shuffle of this loss and the trade afterward was one of Auston Matthews’ most complete games of the season — one of his better two-way performances as a Leaf. He was making great defensive plays to break up odd-man rushes, initiating breakouts, and generating chance after chance in the offensive end. At even strength, he also recorded a 53.66 CF% and a 55.96 xGF. He’s doing his best to put this team on his back even when the chips are down.
  • It was nice to see both Zach Hyman and John Tavares each engage in their own scraps as the clock ticked away and the game was all but over — maybe it was too little, too late, but it’s at least a little comforting to know the team was not totally checked out and was angry about the way the night went.
  • Man, Michael Hutchinson really needed a solid performance with Frederik Andersen sidelined with a neck injury and he just wasn’t able to do it. Granted, he had no chance on the 1-1 and 3-1 goals, but the 2-1 and 4-2 could’ve and should’ve (respectively) been stopped and he couldn’t get it done. The fourth goal especially was a ghastly error at a bad time in the game, with Toronto maintaining momentum and down by a goal in the closing moments of the second period. With a.882 SV% on the night and a sub .890 this season, Hutchinson didn’t do enough to keep the job at the end of the day, and now we’ll find out if Kyle Dubas fixed this glaring roster hole with the recent acquisition of Jack Campbell.
  • The acquisition of Kyle Clifford, meanwhile, might be a welcome change of pace for a fourth line that while not playing poorly — and keep in mind it gets very little ice time under Keefe, especially early in games — hasn’t really been able to spark the team lately by turning the momentum in games for the scoring lines to take advantage of. On a night when Hutchinson dropped the ball, Hyman was jumped by Trouba, and John Tavares took it upon himself to get in the mix for a late scrap, it seemed fitting Dubas pulled the trigger on the acquisition of a backup goalie and a veteran leader with some jam for the fourth line moments after the final buzzer.
  • It went unnoticed by and large due to the news of the trade, but Cody Ceci left this game injured. There is no practice today, but we’ll watch the Leafs PR feed eagerly to see if Timothy Liljegren might be on his way up, depending on the severity of the injury.

Clip of the Night

Notable Stats

Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Locations

Condensed Game