The Toronto Maple Leafs got outplayed by the Ottawa Senators and deservingly lost the game. Thanks to a few goals with their netminder pulled, Toronto was able to make things close towards the end, although Ottawa ultimately prevailed 4-3.
This is two nights in a row the Leafs have been outplayed at even strength. Maybe the practice week is coming at just the right time.
Emotions can run high after nights like these. Keeping that in mind, let’s try our best to rationally* break down each player individually. It’s time for some report cards!
*I’ve already accepted that no self-respecting Leafs fan is going to be rational after losing to the Senators.
Game Puck: Coaching Staff — Let’s call this game what it was: a dud. The Leafs couldn’t muster much of anything when they were trailing 4-1, so Sheldon Keefe decided to pull his goalie with an OZ draw and 6:21 on the clock.
I loved it. Analytics nerds like myself will tell anyone willing to listen that pulling the goalie earlier is a good strategy; it increases your chances of scoring a goal.
You know what else increases your chances of scoring? Putting four forwards on the ice.
I loved this as well. All of the research indicates that 4F1D power-play units score more goals than the old-school 3F2D setup, so why not apply that same logic when you’re trailing late in the third period at 5-on-5? Yes, it’s riskier, but you’re running out of time and you really need to score soon.
The Leafs tried out a few innovative strategies in the last few minutes of the game, including an on-the-fly goalie change. When Toronto’s big guns came off the ice in a 6-on-5 situation, they put Andersen back in the net while maintaining puck possession, knowing that the “second unit” didn’t stand a strong chance of scoring.
This game sucked to watch as a Leafs fan, but watching the coaching staff get really creative towards the end was cool to see. It almost manufactured a three-goal comeback out of nothing.
Zach Hyman (LW, #11) — After a subpar performance on Saturday night, Hyman looked more like himself on Sunday. He led the team in 5v5 scoring chance differential and also added two goals from in tight.
The first one was about as junky as it gets.
Good things happen when you go to the net, whether it’s 5v5 or 6v5.
Morgan Rielly (LD, #44) — On Hyman’s first goal, Rielly did a great job of skating down the left wall and finding a lane to get that puck into the high-danger area. He’s been making that play his whole career. When it comes to tonight’s game, I actually thought he was the one creating most of Toronto’s high-quality chances at even strength.
He won’t get credit for his assist on the Ilya Mikheyev goal that got disallowed, but it was a perfect microcosm of his game tonight.
If there’s one thing Rielly’s good at, it’s jumping up in the play and connecting on passes through the middle of the ice. He connected on a few of those tonight, which is why I have him ranked so high despite the team’s poor performance offensively.
Frederik Andersen (G, #31) — He’s not the goaltender you should be frustrated with tonight. Andersen stopped 26 of the 28 shots he faced, good for a .929 save percentage. I’d say that’s doing your job.
If we’re going to litigate things goal-by-goal, he had no chance on the gorgeous seam pass Tim Stützle made on the power play. Maybe you’d like to see Andersen have better rebound control on the second goal he allowed, but all things considered, he played pretty well.
William Nylander (LW, #88) — Right from his first shift, Nylander looked dangerous as an offensive threat off the rush. He cooled down a bit as the game went on, but he really picked up steam after Keefe pushed his chips all-in later in the third period.
That goal moves Nylander into second on his team in scoring. It is worth noting he should’ve taken away the middle of the ice on Ottawa’s second goal of the game (instead of turning a 3-on-2 into a 2-on-1 for the Sens). That’s why I decided to give him three stars instead of four.
Auston Matthews (C, #34) — He’s obviously playing hurt, but Matthews was still able to stick-handle his way into the slot for his patented curl-and-drag wrist shot on multiple occasions. It didn’t look as powerful as we’re used to seeing it, but the fact that he’s comfortable taking those shots is a very positive sign. We’ve seen him turn down those looks recently.
Mitch Marner (RW, #16) — This wasn’t a dynamic Mitch Marner game. It also wasn’t an invisible night. He looked good on the penalty kill and alright on the power play. Even strength is where you would’ve liked to see him make a few more creative plays in transition.
Jake Muzzin (LD, #8) — At even strength, the Leafs generated 17 more shot attempts than Sens when Jake Muzzin was on the ice. They only attempted eight more when Justin Holl was on the ice. Anytime you see a difference that stark between two defense partners, it’s usually because one guy was driving the bus — and the other was trying not to get run over.
Muzzin was making all of his usual strong defensive plays at the blueline, but it was his passing in the offensive zone that really impressed me. There were a few times he got his teammates into open ice with a subtle little pass, leading to a few quality chances.
TJ Brodie (RD, #78) — Aside from his blooper on the Drake Batherson giveaway, when TJ Brodie didn’t seem to notice Ottawa making a line change, I thought this was a pretty solid game from him. Much like Muzzin, it was the simple passes that made a big difference for Brodie, especially on the breakout.
Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm Flailing Tube Men
Of course, I’m referring to the long-armed duo of Ilya Mikheyev and Pierre Engvall. Their back-pressure in the neutral zone is super annoying to play against. Offensively, they weren’t able to create much aside from that disallowed goal we showed in the Rielly section.
On that play specifically, it was nice to see Engvall connect on a pass off the rush. That’s something I’d like to see more from him in transition. Going hard to the net is great, too, although tackling an opposing player into the net and standing still in the crease didn’t create the desired outcome tonight.
The 4th Line Passers — I’ve decided to group Travis Boyd and Jason Spezza together because they were both involved in a brutal passing sequence, but managed to turn it around with some strong play later in the game. We might as well address the elephant in the room.
Boyd is one of the better “drop-passers” on the Leafs, but that definitely wasn’t the time or the place. He helped make up for it later on when he fired a couple east-west passes in the offensive zone, one of which led to a shot off the cross bar for Rielly. Spezza’s chances came from more in tight, where he forced a couple jam plays that almost worked.
The Bottom “Pair” — I’ve got the word pair in quotation marks because Zach Bogosian only played 8:26 in this game, while Travis Dermott played 14:44. Bogosian did get into a fight right after his team went down 2-0, which is consistent with Kevin Bieksa’s theory that players are fighting more in 2021 to manufacture “energy” in a COVID season with no fans.
After that, Keefe mostly went with his 5 puck-movers on the blueline. Dermott’s 5v5 metrics don’t look great tonight, but I did want to note that he did an excellent job on puck retrievals to help start Toronto’s breakout.
Now, if he played so well, why did he get significantly outshot and outchanced in sheltered minutes? I don’t have a great answer for that question, which is why I’m not giving him a passing grade tonight.
John Tavares (C, #91) — I always find it funny when my initial reaction to a Tavares game is “meh,” then I look up at the box score and find out he generated five chances from the slot. Maybe it’s the subtlety of his offensive game, but I didn’t find myself thinking he made a major impact until the Leafs pulled their goalie.
Justin Holl (RD, #3) — Like we mentioned in Muzzin’s section, Holl was the second best defenseman on his pairing tonight. If we’re being honest, that’s the case every night for Holl, but this game in particular had a few rough moments.
Holl let his man get behind him right off the draw on Ottawa’s second goal. The rest of his night didn’t go much better; he seemed to be missing on a few easy plays, particularly in the offensive zone.
Are We Sure They Played? — Let’s start this section off with Jimmy Vesey, who I legitimately forgot was playing until the puck bounced out to him in the slot later in the game. That was his only scoring chance of the night.
Remember when Alex Kerfoot was someone we were all looking forward to watching? That feels like ages ago. Unless he’s playing with Tavares-Nylander, I’m having trouble finding a spot in this lineup where Kerfoot makes sense. He’s a shifty little puck handler, but it hasn’t been enough to drive Toronto’s third line alongside Mikheyev-Engvall.
Finally, why is Joe Thornton playing on the second half of a back-to-back at age 41? There are games where you can tell pretty quickly whether or not Thornton has his legs, and this (predictably) was not one of them.
Michael Hutchinson (G, #30) — He allowed two goals on three shots, both of which were saveable. I’m not quite sure what else to say. This was a nightmare game for Hutchinson, who was promptly pulled six minutes into the game.
Here’s a quick look at where each team’s shots were coming from at even strength, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.
Weirdly, the shots and chances were listed at 50% for each team at 5v5, although I’d much rather have Ottawa’s heat map.
Tweets of the Night
It is so hard to watch this officiating,goalie interference my foot,there was no contact with till after the puck was in the net. The officiating gets worse every game.
— Marietta Dubas (@grammadubie) March 15, 2021
Grandma Dubas might be my favourite Hockey Twitter account.
In retrospect, the Sens Sickos were the real juggernauts all along.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) March 14, 2021
Is anyone else concerned with how much power CJ wields over all of us?
"I don't even have words right now. I just want to thank my family for everything they've done for me – It's pretty special."
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) March 15, 2021
For all the Leafs fans who were fired up right after this game, ready to punch a hole in the wall, this was a nice human moment. We don’t get many of those in this sport, so I figured we’d end on somewhat of a positive note!