The Toronto Maple Leafs lost 1-0 in a shootout tonight to the 30th-place LA Kings, but the real loser: We, the fans, who sacrificed sleep to bear witness to this.
Your game in ten:
1. The way the game ended really captured the night: On three shootout attempts, the Leafs took a total of one shot. On attempts one and three, respectively, Auston Matthews fanned on the puck and Mitch Marner lost the handle mid-deke. We didn’t even get a full five minutes of three-on-three because of the John Tavares penalty and subsequent minute-plus of four-on-four hockey. Credit to the Kings for playing desperate hockey in the dog days of a lost season — they protected the house and defended doggedly with numbers, jammed up shooting lanes, etc. — but the trap is just awful on the spectator.
2. After a rough night for the patchwork Leafs defense in San Jose, it was a better game for them tonight, although it was tough to judge them in either direction. The Kings only put one forechecker in (if that) and largely just retreated into neutral ice. With the banged-up defense core short on experience and overall offensive edge/confidence outside of Tyson Barrie, it’s becoming more noticeable that the Leafs aren’t as active as far as defensemen jumping in and creating outnumbered situations in the o-zone and forcing defensive-zone handoffs that they can exploit. That is a natural byproduct of the missing personnel — you lose some of that dynamism offensively with both Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin out, Martin Marincin in, and two totally green rookies in the lineup who are more risk-averse / just trying to acclimate to the league.
3. However, the Leafs were patient about not forcing plays too much through the neutral zone, and they didn’t give up an excessive number of odd-man opportunities against the Kings’ trap throughout the game. They generated enough chances to win the game, but the combination of committed trap/protect the house hockey from the Kings and Jonathan Quick turning back the clock led to the Leafs’ first shutout loss this season in game #68.
If there was a disappointing part tonight, it was that the Leafs didn’t generate enough chaos at the opposition net consistently to make it harder on Quick. When he is on his game, Quick totally seals off the lower half of the net with his athleticism, and the Leafs couldn’t seem to elevate the puck in tight at the critical moments, either. They also missed three breakaways.
4. There is no doubt who the best Leaf skater was tonight: William Nylander, who put nine shots on goal on 10 attempts. This was not an easy game to play in for the skill on the ice, but he was really effective along the walls as well as slicing through the neutral-zone trap with the puck on his stick. He couldn’t finish on a breakaway in overtime, but he buried in the shootout on a similar backhand move. After a poor game for he and Tavares in San Jose, Nylander really drove that line to a better night and it finished with an overwhelming command of the shot attempts and expected Goal share. This is the type of “no time, no space” game the Nylander critics often suggest he disappears in, and yet he was the team’s best forward.
5. There was a line shuffle on Nylander’s opposite wing throughout the game, as Sheldon Keefe continues to search for answers on the left wing of the line, with the long-term hope that Ilya Mikheyev is the solution here come playoff time. Pierre Engvall had a golden opportunity to score early off of a Nylander rebound but was mostly a non-factor before Keefe moved Denis Malgin back into that spot with good results. While that line didn’t show too much when Keefe went to it after the initial acquisition of Malgin, I’d expect it has earned an additional look in Anaheim tomorrow night. In the bottom six, while it was a quiet night overall, Kasperi Kapanen made some things happen throughout the night; Kyle Clifford had a really good chance at the backdoor at one point off of a Kapanen feed.
6. With the Kopitar-Matthews matchup ending as a saw off, Quick playing lights out, and the overall lack of offensive rhythm at 5v5, it was definitely the kind of night you were looking to the Leafs power play to be the differencemaker, but there wasn’t a whole lot of urgency to the situation on the Leafs’ three opportunities. Notable: They’re now zero for their last 11 since the the power play came up big against Tampa.
7. A lot of the criticism tends to focus on the drop-pass entries — and the Leafs do miss Morgan Rielly’s overall decisiveness and ability to execute one-man entries at times, particularly visible in the second period tonight when Rasmus Sandin turned it over twice (doesn’t quite have the confidence yet lugging it up ice) — but the stumble is often happening once they get over the line initially and try to skate it into traffic or make the play over to the wall that the opposition PK is basically sitting on. It happened multiple times in this game. They need to design a new option there in order to set the zone properly.
Once they were set up, the Leafs were pretty static — weren’t moving their feet, puck speed was pretty slow, didn’t put anything of note at the net. On the third-period power play, the Leafs put one shot on goal and it was a Tavares wrister from the outside without a Leaf inside 10 feet of the net. The power play has been lights out under Keefe — I expect this will turn back around soon — but it’s in a mini-funk here and a few adjustments are needed.
8. That was a hero shift by Zach Hyman on the 4-on-3 PP for the Kings in overtime. Bravo. I didn’t think it was possible for Hyman to find another level in terms of his work ethic and energy level night to night, but he’s been even more relentless this season when the chips have been down. Just an incredible season to date.
— Maple Leafs Hotstove (@LeafsNews) March 6, 2020
9. This was also a great game from Frederik Andersen, who got his second shutout of the season in the losing effort. These games aren’t easy to play in for a goalie when the other team is in a shell for long spells without putting much on the net only to pounce on a giveaway here or there for a sudden scoring chance against. Andersen’s focus was really sharp throughout the night. There could’ve been a lot of attention on the goaltending decisions this week with the Leafs going Campbell-Andersen-Campbell (even with the Leafs visiting LA tonight, Campbell’s old stomping grounds), but goaltending certainly hasn’t been the issue in either loss.
10. Standings wise, the night was, in the end, a wash as Florida also lost in extra time to Boston, but the Leafs really should be hungry to go out grab a rare win out of a back-to-back situation tomorrow night in order to salvage this trip. They should be putting Florida firmly in their rear view with something along the lines of five points out of six against these weak California teams, but they’ll need a big effort tomorrow night against a rested Ducks team just to get three. The Leafs have one win this season in a tired vs. rested situation –and it came against Detroit.
Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts
Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempt Locations