Sometimes, you outshoot the other team but a couple of notably bad mistakes aren’t bailed out by your goaltender and prove to be the difference.
That was the case tonight for the Maple Leafs, who owned 60% of the shot attempts and 64% of the expected goals at even strength but suffered a 5-3 defeat at the hands of the division rival Tampa Bay Lightning.
Toronto came out of the gate fast and got an early power-play goal from Ondrej Kase — who has been taking a spin on the team’s top unit due to the absence of Mitch Marner — but they allowed Tampa back into the game in the latter half of the first period.
A couple of shoddy turnovers, most of which came from the pairing of Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl, coupled with a .846 save percentage from Jack Campbell was ultimately what cost the Buds when it was all said and done, with a surge late in the third period proving to be not enough to bring the score back to even.
Let’s dive into some Leafs Report Cards and take a bit of a deeper look at who played well and who had more to offer in tonight’s loss.
Ondrej Kase (RW, #25) – Kase was flying in this one, using his speed to string together exits and entries. He played with his usual disregard for his own safety, battling hard, providing tenacity on the forecheck and backcheck, and breaking up a few plays defensively — all of which were the product of pure hustle.
Kase was rewarded for his efforts with a pair of goals, both of which were nice finishes from directly in front of the net. He led the team with eight shot attempts and seven scoring chances in total.
ONDREJ KASE 🚨🚨
SECOND OF THE GAME! pic.twitter.com/PrJdiiXLqD
— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) December 10, 2021
I’d certainly keep him on the power play in a role where he’s playing a lot of net-front or bumper. He’s not exactly a natural playmaker — preferring to shoot the puck himself more often than not — so he’s not a half-wall guy for me, but his tenacity and his finishing ability are useful down low, as he proved tonight.
Auston Matthews (C, #34) and Michael Bunting (LW, #58) – I thought this entire line with these two and Wayne Simmonds was very good tonight, with Bunting and Matthews being the main drivers. It took Bunting some time to adapt to playing with high-level players like Matthews, but he’s been able to form some nice chemistry with #34 as of late, making a lot of smart little small-area passes and creating scoring chances with his willingness to attack the net.
Bunting had numerous of those types of chances tonight, including one in the first period that I still can’t quite figure out how it didn’t go in.
— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) December 10, 2021
Bunting couldn’t quite figure this out for himself, either.
Michael Bunting's still trying to figure out how that puck stayed out of the net 😂 pic.twitter.com/xNqGNo5qhd
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) December 10, 2021
As for Matthews, I thought he made a ton of great passes in transition tonight, one of which led to a power-play goal for William Nylander. He easily could have had a couple of assists tonight. He also led the game in Corey Sznajder’s MicroStat game score tonight, a metric that takes into account zone exits and entries as well as shots and passes:
TOR/TB statcap. Pretty even game with a lot of broken plays leading to offense for both teams.
– Matthews with 5 shots &16 shot assists (!) at 5v5.
– Palat with 14 shot contributions (4 shots, 10 assists)
– Tough night for Muzzin defensively (8 entries allowed on 11 targets) pic.twitter.com/EEhS1IXIjY
— Corey Sznajder (@ShutdownLine) December 10, 2021
Overall, I like what I’ve been seeing out of this duo as of late.
Timothy Liljegren (D, #37) – I thought Liljegren played outstanding tonight, looking better and better as the game progressed. His mobility and stretch-pass ability on the breakout really stood out, as he was able to get the Leafs moving in the right direction on numerous occasions.
He also had a few smart reads in the offensive zone, including one activation down the wall followed by a hard shot that Vasilevsky had trouble with. His heady pinch led to Kase’s second goal of the night. There was one hiccup where he attempted to fire a puck parallel to the offensive blue line over to Jake Muzzin and it was disrupted by an opposing forward, but Liljegren was able to recover nicely and prevent anything worse from transpiring.
He was moved up to play beside Jake Muzzin about halfway through the game due to the Muzzin-Holl pairing laying an egg — we’ll get to that later — and he thrived with the increased opportunity. Liljegren led the team with an 88.2% xG share and the Leafs outshot the Lightning 26-6 with him on the ice at 5v5. Encouraging stuff from the young defenseman.
Morgan Rielly (D, #44) – Rielly moved the puck well all night, using his passing ability to send the Leafs moving from the defensive zone to the offensive zone and using his skating ability to come down the wall and wheel around the perimeter of the offensive zone. He also picked up an assist on the opening goal of the game, snapping a pass down low to Kase at the side of the net.
Rielly even looked solid when defending the rush at times in this one, which is usually one of his weaknesses. The one blemish on an otherwise solid performance was one he was outmuscled down low in his own zone leading to a chance against in the second period, but it was otherwise a solid night for #44.
Kristians Rubins (D, #56) – You may not have noticed him all that much if you weren’t paying attention with a close eye, but I thought that Rubins played well tonight. He was quietly effective, timing his pinches and activations down the left wall perfectly, winning puck battles, keeping the Lightning to the outside, and making simple but effective passes to exit the Leafs’ zone.
He did take a penalty, but it was more unfortunate than anything, with his stick getting caught in the Tampa Bay forward’s skate blade holder. He did the little things right and finished the game with an 83% expected goals share as a result. That’s the blueprint for what Rubins has to do if he wants to carve out an NHL career. So far, so good for the rookie in his second NHL game.
Wayne Simmonds (RW, #24) – He wasn’t the driver on his line at all and was swapped into the bottom six later on in the game with the Leafs in need of a goal, but Simmonds played a strong game nevertheless. As he’s done all season, Simmonds was able to get open in front of the net consistently, attempting four high-danger shot attempts in just under 14 minutes of ice time, which tied John Tavares and Ondrej Kase for the team lead.
Ray Ferraro said something on the broadcast tonight along the lines of, “Simmonds must lead the league in shots that should have been a goal but weren’t,” and I think that’s an accurate depiction of his season so far. He looks much quicker than he did last year, he’s been a force on the forecheck, and the goals should start to come eventually if he keeps playing like this.
John Tavares (C, #91), William Nylander (RW, #88) and Alexander Kerfoot (LW, #15) – I struggled with this grade for a bit. I thought all three players had some really good moments in this one, but their results were a bit of a mixed bag overall.
Tavares picked up two assists and he looked particularly dangerous in the third period, sending Kerfoot in alone on a breakaway at one point. He also put together a dominant offensive zone shift leading up to Kase’s second goal later in the period.
Nylander created a few dangerous chances off of the rush thanks to his ability to carry the puck in transition. He also scored a goal on the power play (albeit, it was a bit of a lucky one that went through some bodies).
Kerfoot had a pair of real nice scoring chances that he just couldn’t capitalize on and showed some tenacity to keep the puck in the offensive zone late in the game on the penalty kill.
With all of that said, at 5v5, Nylander was outscored 3-0, Kerfoot was outscored 2-0, and Tavares was outscored 2-1. Their line as a whole led the Leafs in expected goals against. All three forwards completely fled the zone on the fourth goal of the night, and while that one’s mostly on TJ Brodie for coughing the puck up, the three forwards weren’t even in the picture for the majority of that clip.
On top of that, Kerfoot stopped skating and let Bellemare in behind him on the first goal against. Nylander threw an absolute grenade across the ice to Muzzin leading to the 3-2 goal and was unable to get back in time to break up the pass.
Overall, the line was high-event tonight. You take the good with the bad, so I decided on ranking them somewhere in the middle.
David Kampf (C, #64) and Nick Ritchie (LW, #20) – Kampf and Ritchie did a nice job of cycling the puck, holding onto it down low on a few occasions leading the extended possession in the offensive zone. This was especially noticeable early in the first and late in the third, although they were pretty much invisible for the remainder of the game.
I thought Ritchie, in particular, had a really good finish to the game. On a few occasions, he was actually able to win foot races (yes, you read that correctly), allowing him to be first to the puck in the corner. A decent night for these two.
TJ Brodie (D, #78) – I already mentioned his hiccup on the fourth goal in which Brodie was unable to pick up the puck cleanly, losing it to an incoming Steven Stamkos. Aside from that, though, Brodie was pretty steady in this one, defending the rush well as he usually does. I also noticed him work his way into the slot on a couple of occasions off of rotations in the offensive zone, once re-directing a pass wide of the goal. He was decent overall.
Jake Muzzin (D, #8) – A lot of people probably want to see me rank Muzzin in the “1 star” category, which I could get behind given the magnitude of his mistakes. He coughed up the puck so many times in this one that by the end of the game, my notes were littered with the words “turnover by Muzzin.”
He turned the puck over on an ill-advised pass to Nylander in the neutral zone on the first goal against, he failed to clear the puck out of the zone (hitting Ondrej Kase with his clearing attempt) on the second goal, and he was unable to corral the bouncing Nylander pass on the third goal. There were also a number of errant passes I remember that didn’t lead to goals against but still resulted in heavy shifts in the Leafs zone.
He receives two stars instead of one from me because after the Leafs switched up their pairings, I thought Muzzin actually looked quite good beside Liljegren. He made a couple of nice stops, hit Kerfoot with a terrific seam pass late in the second, and sent William Nylander in alone on a shorthanded breakaway in the third. Overall, he still performed poorly in my eyes, but I do admire the way he was able to rebound after an absolutely dreadful first half of the game.
Jack Campbell (G, #36) – Campbell has been terrific for the Leafs all season — since he was acquired, really — but tonight he wasn’t, plain and simple. None of the goals he let in were completely egregious, but at the end of the day, an 84.6% save percentage isn’t going to win you many games, and you’d like a couple more stops. There was a nice save or two mixed in tonight, but his performance tonight overall was not what we have come to expect from Campbell.
Justin Holl (D, #3) – This season couldn’t be going much worse for Holl. Like Muzzin, I thought he was a bit better after switching partners, but overall, he was noticeably bad tonight to start the game and didn’t bounce back in the same way Muzzin did.
He committed a bad turnover leading to a chance for Boris Katchouk, he was unable to block any passes while defending the rush, and he was the only Leaf D under 50% Corsi tonight, sitting at an abysmal 40.6%. He was also outscored 2-0 at even strength.
I am more and more of the mind that Holl could be moved to free up some cap space when some of the injured defensemen return to the fold. I think Liljegren could likely play his role better than he does already.
Nothing to See Here
The fourth line of Kyle Clifford (#43, LW), Pierre Engvall (#47, C), Alex Steeves (#46, RW) – The fourth line was a drag on possession tonight, as all three forwards sat under 40% Corsi. Clifford and Steeves, in particular, only played just over seven minutes, and nothing too notable happened with them on the ice to my memory. They fit well into the “Nothing To See Here” category tonight.
That’s it for tonight’s report cards! Thanks for reading.