The Toronto Maple Leafs are officially below the .500 mark in the month of February (4-5-1).
Since the coaching change, it has been popular to point to the Leafs record from that point forward. The truth is that, as the initial dust from a coaching change has started to settle, the team has gone back to a number of bad habits and does not look particularly formidable.
The Leafs have four regulation wins in their last 18 games. Their saving grace is that the Florida Panthers have also struggled recently, and right now, it looks like one of these teams is going to back into a divisional playoff spot. But there is still time for things to change.
Your game in 10:
1. The Leafs technically outshot the Penguins 13-12 in the first period, but that doesn’t even come close to describing the period accurately. The Penguins hemmed the Leafs in their zone repeatedly and had a number of high-quality chances (the count was five), and this chart below really sums it up for the period. Somewhat interestingly, John Tavares put three shots on net in the period, and yet he played less than all of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and Zach Hyman. Even Alex Kerfoot only played roughly 20 seconds less than Tavares (who played about two and a half minutes less than Matthews). The Leafs and Penguins had Matthews and Sidney Crosby going head to head despite Evgeni Malkin’s absence.
Chances from the inner slot were 5-0 Penguins in that first period. Brutal start from the Maple Leafs. pic.twitter.com/gZhhSRPEM1
— Ian Tulloch📊 (@IanGraph) February 19, 2020
2. John Tavares actually only played 15:48 on the night, and while I know the Leafs lost handily and were down early, that was fifth among forwards and well below his season average. Jason Spezza and Kasperi Kapanen almost caught him in ice time for the night as well. We have wondered in this space if he’s playing hurt, and that ice time seems suspicious. He certainly wasn’t any worse than any of the other top players on the team, yet he played far less (the top line played over 20 minutes each).
3. On defense, it was Travis Dermott who saw his ice time drop to the 15-minute mark even though he started the night in the top four and the Leafs were losing for most of the game (and puck movement/offense is supposed to be his game). Instead, it was Rasmus Sandin that saw his ice time go up with a career-high 19:18. He had a few good moments going down the wall, making a few give-and-goes and looking to create offense. At one point, a Pittsburgh forward tried to toe drag him and he laid a pretty solid hit (without knocking the rusher down).
4. Accordingly, the second period did not go well as the Penguins promptly doubled their lead with two backdoor tap-in goals. They happened within the first seven minutes of the period and included a second power-play goal for the night. It was concerning how easy both power-play goals were as the Penguins worked it around and found seams for easy goals for wide-open players. The Leafs penalty kill was going along well before the Sabres game, where Jack Eichel scored as well off of another relatively easy cross-ice pass. It’s just a few games, but entering the night, the Leafs PK was at 84% for the month, which ranks 15th. It’s worth watching to see if this continues.
5. Down 4-0 halfway through the second period, the Leafs went to a five-on-three power play for nearly a minute and a half. The Leafs called a timeout and put all their top players on the ice. William Nylander missed a one-timer opportunity and Matthews missed one as well (he was off-balance). They didn’t score, the penalties ended, and the Penguins promptly put one in the net to go up 5-0. Any chance they had of coming back in this game was all but dead after that.
6. The Penguins scored three goals in the second period — on four shots. Everyone was watching to see if Frederik Andersen would get the yank or not. Honestly, other than the fifth goal — which was definitely on him — the Penguins scored three backdoor goals and a tip in front by a player who was completely uncovered. Don’t be fooled by the shots in this game or the save percentages – the Leafs were leaky all over the ice in the first half of the game, and Pittsburgh capitalized. The Penguins then shut it down after that.
7. Now it will be interesting to see who starts in net come Thursday in the rematch against Pittsburgh. Do you give Frederik Andersen, your starter who has been a horse for this team for years, a shot at redemption? Or do you put in Jack Campbell, who has been solid since the trade but doesn’t have much of a track record? It is amazing how quickly a goalie controversy can crop up in this city. For the past few seasons, the only real question was how to rest Andersen more, but here we are. For whatever it’s worth, I don’t think this game was on Andersen at all, and I’d still believe in him. I don’t see the Leafs going anywhere at the end of the day unless Andersen is helping them get there. He’s their guy. I fully expect them to start Campbell, though.
Leafs are in a position to make a statement to Andersen here, for the first time nearly ever, where they can either show that they have his back like he's had theirs so often, or they're jumping ship on him the second there's a sniff of a reason to. I'd give him the nod Thursday.
— Justin Bourne (@jtbourne) February 19, 2020
8. When the Penguins did start to shut it down, the Leafs popped in a few quick goals to end the second period. Matthews scored on a nice one-timer and Spezza made a nice play where it looked like he intentionally banked it off someone in front, be it a Leaf or Penguin, for a deflection goal. It was crafty and it worked, so kudos to him.
— Maple Leafs Hotstove (@LeafsNews) February 19, 2020
— Maple Leafs Hotstove (@LeafsNews) February 19, 2020
At least the Leafs didn’t completely shut it down for the game; they didn’t score again the rest of the way, but they didn’t totally rollover. What was confusing is that they didn’t start the third period with much gusto to follow it up. The third period just completely lacked desperation. The shots were 9-8 in the Leafs favour with the Leafs down three.
9. Of note off the ice: Darren Dreger reported on Insider Trading tonight that the Leafs and Jake Muzzin have all but agreed on a contract extension for around four years with an AAV of $5.5 million and change, one that is heavily frontloaded. In the first intermission, Elliotte Friedman stated that it was all but done. It looks like Muzzin will be staying at a number he will likely be worth for the first two years of his new deal. After that, it’s up in the air.
As noted earlier today, it was tough to see the team losing Muzzin and actually improving their defense over the summer. At least for the next few seasons, he should be more of the solution than a problem, and that should give the Leafs a group of he, Holl, Rielly, and Sandin to build on for next season. I would suggest everything else is up for debate (and while I like Timothy Liljegren, they haven’t played him much so it’s tough to truly believe in him).
10. This was the start of a really telling little stretch of games for the Leafs as they play Pittsburgh two games in a row followed by Carolina, Tampa Bay, Florida, and Vancouver. All are teams that will either be in the playoffs or are right on the cusp. This was the team’s first game against one of the big four so to speak between Washington, Pittsburgh, Boston, and Tampa Bay under Sheldon Keefe. They’ve also lost to Florida twice in regulation. Their schedule was pillow-soft when he took over, and to their credit, they absolutely capitalized. But now we see what this team is all about, and it wasn’t a good start against a Pittsburgh team that found out Evgeni Malkin wasn’t playing during warmups.
Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts
Heat Map: Shot Attempt Locations