Despite a very strong opening period at both ends of the ice, the Maple Leafs mustered a lacklustre follow-up effort to their 3-0 win in Columbus on Friday, dropping Saturday night’s rematch by a score of 4-3.

It’s been well established by now that the Leafs, for some inexplicable reason, often mail it in against bottom-tier teams. Saturday night did nothing to dispel that notion.

Your game in 10:

1.  Toronto started the game with a couple of solid shifts in the offensive zone from the David Kämpf and John Tavares lines. However, the Jackets were able to gain some early offensive-zone time following an icing. With the Nylander line on the ice in the defensive zone, Toronto was able to force a turnover and gain possession.

As he often does, William Nylander recognized the opportunity to immediately release into the neutral zone and give Alex Kerfoot a stretch-pass option. As Nylander entered the zone one-on-one with a Columbus defender, he elected to let a shot fly from the left circle, ripping one over the shoulder of Elvis Merzlikins to open the scoring. 

No news here: Nylander is an excellent asset when it comes to transitioning the Leafs from the DZ to the OZ, either when carrying the puck himself or releasing without it to ghost in behind the other team for a stretch play.

2.   That goal really seemed to spark William Nylander, who was looking supremely confident over his following couple of shifts. On his next time out, he picked up the puck at the Leaf blue line and knifed through the Blue Jackets’ neutral-zone trap before making a beautiful move past a defender. He wasn’t able to finish that opportunity, but he was able to regain control of the puck and aggressively cut to the net.

Just a few moments later, Nylander was right in the middle of another chance. He took a pass from Morgan Rielly down low before sending it back into the slot for a Pierre Engvall one-timer that struck the post.

3.   That same short drop-back one-timer from the left corner to the left circle ended up resulting in a Leafs goal just a few minutes later. This time, it was the top line cycling along the boards, and Michael Bunting found himself some open real estate in the left circle.

The Blue Jackets really struggled with defending this area of the ice in the opening frame; every time the Leafs gained possession below the goal line, it seemed like there was an open man in that general area of the left circle. Mitch Marner battled with a Jackets defender, but he was able to get a backhand feed through on the second attempt to Bunting, who had three feet of space to wind up a half slapper.

Just like the Nylander goal, this one beat Merzlikins over the shoulder. Unlike the previous night, the Leafs were able to extend their lead in short order to put the Jackets further on their heels.

4.  Whenever there is a young goaltender in the net, you’re always hoping the team’s defensive structure will be solid enough to set up the goalie for success. There certainly was not much more the Leafs could have done in the opening frame to ease Joseph Woll into this game. It was almost to the point where you were wondering if Woll could’ve used a little more early action to settle any nerves and find his rhythm.

There was a grand total of 0.22 xGA for the Leafs in the opening 20 minutes, with Woll’s best save coming on his own teammate as John Tavares accidentally swatted a puck into his own goaltender.

The Leafs did a particularly good job at clogging up the middle of the ice and blocking shots from the perimeter. Columbus had a few shifts where they circled the outside of the Leaf zone for upwards of 40-50 seconds before settling for a point shot into the shin pads of a defender. There was no way to penetrate the middle of the ice.

5.   Unfortunately, the Jackets were able to break through early in the second. Johnny Gaudreau nearly lost the zone as he tried to send the puck down low while skating along the blue line. However, neither David Kämpf nor Joey Anderson was able to snuff out the play as Gaudreau swatted the puck to the right wall.

Afterward, as Kirill Marchenko sent a backhand into the slot, Pierre Engvall was also unable to clear the puck as he was stick checked by Boone Jenner. Marchenko poked the puck down to Jenner, who was able to roof it on Woll.

Credit to the Jackets for the persistence to keep the puck alive, but this was certainly an instance where the Leafs needed to be heavier on their sticks when getting the puck out. Justin Holl also needed to do a better job of tying up Jenner in the slot.

While Kampf’s PK time kept him in the 13+ minute range, this line with Engvall and Joey Anderson saw very little ice time the rest of the way after the 2-1 goal. Anderson saw just three more shifts the rest of the night, and Engvall saw just four in the final 36 minutes.

6.   After the initial Jackets tally, the wheels started to fall off for the Leafs’ defensive structure. After surviving a post-PK shift, the Leafs got fresh bodies onto the ice to defend the rush.

Unfortunately, it went very poorly from there as Jenner cut right through the middle of the ice and lowered his shoulder to drive to the net against Rasmus Sandin. The initial shot was stopped, but Jenner was shooting for a rebound, which bounced right to Marchenko, who buried it past Joseph Woll.

Not a minute later, a point shot from the Jackets resulted in a bit of a scramble drill in front. Woll was unable to cover the rebound and Sean Kuraly poked it in to give the Jackets the lead.

After an incredible defensive effort in the first period, Toronto allowed a whopping 21 shots and 1.67 xGA in the second. Not a great job of helping Woll out, and it resulted in a 3-2 deficit heading into the third. 

7.   Entering the final frame with a rare 4v3 powerplay opportunity, the Leafs’ stars were able to take advantage of the extra space.

William Nylander and Morgan Rielly both had clean one-timer opportunities that were turned away. Shortly after those chances, Rielly pushed down low to poke the puck back behind the net to Nylander. As Nylander surveyed the ice, he found Mitch Marner in the slot, where Marner moved the puck over to Rielly for a one-timer that found the back of the net this time. 

Marner getting the puck in such a high-danger area drew the attention of every Blue Jacket on the ice, including Merzlikins. Obviously, it was a great pass by Nylander to get the puck to Marner in that spot as well. Good execution by the Leafs’ elite offensive talent inside the extra space available.

8.   We’ve seen a few goal/no-goal calls this year that have been debatable, to say the least. The Jackets’ fourth goal certainly falls into that category. 

After Cole Sillinger fired a shot high and wide from the bottom of the right circle, just as the puck was rising over the crossbar, Kent Johnson got a stick on it and knocked it into the net behind Woll. 

It’s important to note the call on the ice was a good goal; this felt a lot like a call that erred on the side of lacking definitive evidence to overturn it. From every angle available on the broadcast, it looked as if the section of Johnson’s stick that hit the puck was slightly above the crossbar to me, but I can also see why the call couldn’t be definitively reversed.

In any event, the Jackets regained the lead, and it was one that they did not relinquish.

9.   You had to feel for Joseph Woll tonight. He’s had a superb season with the Marlies so far, but he fell victim to what I’ll call Jack Campbell syndrome in this one.

When the Leafs were playing solid defensively in front of him, Woll looked composed, comfortable, and confident in the net. As the Leafs’ structure started to break down, Woll couldn’t come up with the bigger saves needed against some of the high-danger Columbus chances. Were any of the goals 100% on him? Not really, but you’d want your goalie to stop at least one of the first three.

I am not saying he had a bad game or that Woll shouldn’t receive another chance by any means, but this was just sort of a meh outing. Woll will play as well as the Leafs play in front of him, so it’ll be up to the skaters to do their jobs better. Asking Woll, in his season debut, to go above and beyond against the last-placed team in the league — 40 shots against tonight — was a little disappointing.

10.   Death, taxes, and the Leafs mailing it in against bottom-tier teams. After a dominant first period, the Leafs were content to sit on their hands the rest of the game and allow the worst team in the league to claw back and take the game away from them.

Not to mention it came with a young goalie between the pipes, just 24 hours after completely shutting down the exact same team en route to a low-event shutout win. When the Leafs are at the top of their game, they are a top-five team in the league and arguably a top-three team — which is why it’s so frustrating to see this trend perpetuated year after year, with real consequences in the standings.

With how hot the Lightning have been as of late, there are no excuses for this type of play and no margin for resting on their laurels like this. Home ice in the first round is by no means a given, with the Leafs now sitting third in the Atlantic by points percentage.

A three-game stretch against the Blackhawks (x2) and the Habs next week will provide the opportunity to start righting these wrongs.

Gameflow: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Heatmap: 5v5 Shot Attempts