The Toronto Maple Leafs played one of their worst games of the season in Edmonton with a poor effort from nearly everyone on the team on the debut night for Sam Lafferty and Jake McCabe.
The top two lines were nearly invisible at 5v5 and Sheldon Keefe chose to shuffle them up mid-game, the defense was a mess against the rushing attacks of Edmonton, and Ilya Samsonov was clearly not comfortable from the jump. Overall, a debacle.
Your game in 10:
1. One of the big storylines coming into this game was the matchup between the Leafs‘ red-hot PK and a historically great Edmonton power play. We got a glimpse of it very early after Jake McCabe committed a slashing penalty three minutes into the game.
One of the factors that has made the Oiler PP so exceptional is the speed of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl setting them up with possession in the offensive zone nearly every time, which all stems from the entry.
On the 1-0 goal, the entry was easy as the Leafs had both Fs (Mitch Marner and David Kämpf) caught in the center ice area after Marner skated into trouble and turned it over at the offensive blue line rather than flipping it in deep. McDavid gained the zone, passed to Draisaitl, and his shot ricocheted off the pad of a well-out-of-position Ilya Samsonov right to McDavid, who cleaned it up.
This was the first of several signs that Samsonov was not his usual self and was not comfortable in the net. This would be apparent again and again throughout the game.
2. The Leafs tied it up in the first period during a stretch when the game didn’t seem so bleak.
It was a very strange play after a clunky entry with Michael Bunting where it seemed as if he was in the zone ahead of the puck. He retreated seemingly as if it were offsides and the Oilers (mostly Old Friend Cody Ceci) stopped playing, giving the puck to Mitch Marner, who fed David Kämpf in the slot for a goal:
DAVID KAMPF 🚨
off the turnover! pic.twitter.com/UN4yLj0A9U
— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) March 2, 2023
The Oilers reviewed the entry for a long while but chose not to challenge it as it did appear that the play was barely onside.
For Kämpf, it was his third goal in five games. Nice to see him finding some finishing touch again.
3. The tie didn’t last long. #97 was back on the attack, this time with his speed through the neutral zone. The Leafs committed a neutral-zone turnover and McDavid entered the zone at 1,000 mph, spinning Timothy Liljegren around like a top as he darted outside before sliding it through Samsonov’s pads.
There is not much I can say about Liljegren on this goal as he’s normally an excellent defensive defenseman in those sorts of situations — defending the NZ and blue line — but no one else in the world handles the puck and attacks with such ferocious speed like McDavid. Until he comes barreling at you, there is no comparable with which to prepare yourself. A team can’t turn it over for transition opportunities against with #97 on the ice or this is often the outcome.
As for Ilya Samsonov, this is the one consistent weakness we’ve seen in his game: the exposed five-hole as he slides laterally on a rushing attacker. Something to follow as the season enters the home stretch.
4. If you needed further evidence that Ilya Samsonov was off his game, the third goal, coming shortly after Edmonton’s second, was it.
A long cycle possession from the McDavid line gave the Leafs some problems, but it was not breaking them down entirely. A shot from Old Friend Zach Hyman was blocked rather easily by Morgan Rielly and went right back to him, so he shot it again. Samsonov was navigating traffic, yes, but he slid over too far on this one — again losing the feel of his crease — and Hyman shot it where he was just seconds earlier.
The troubles continued for Samsonov as the game went along, although no more goals — among the ones that counted — should be laid at his feet. But if tomorrow wasn’t a back-to-back, Sheldon Keefe should have pulled him.
He was auditioning for the Olympics with the amount of swimming he was doing in the crease, with no feel for his angles or positioning. After two excellent starts in a row against Minnesota and Seattle, this was not what you want to see, but I wouldn’t read much into it yet. Not his night.
5. Before we finish up on the first period, we have to talk about the greatness of Connor McDavid and this season he’s having. Analysis of that first period has to start with McDavid.
I know this is a Leafs site, but the calibre of player the team was facing tonight is several standard deviations above what they’ll see against any other team. There are other great players in the league — and certainly teams greater than the Oilers — but right now no one is in Connor McDavid’s class. Nobody.
He singlehandedly gobbled up the entire Maple Leafs team in that first period with two goals and one assist for three points. His line was tilting the ice every time he was out there and every shift was the equivalent of a metaphorical haymaker to the jaw of the collective Leafs defense. If his line didn’t score on a shift, it felt close. He was that good in the opening 20.
After tonight’s game, McDavid has 52 goals and 66 assists for 118 points. In 62 games. He is on pace for 69 goals and 87 assists for 156 points. The highest point total since 1996 is 128. He could legitimately surpass that mark in a couple of weeks.
If you are under the age 25, this is the single greatest offensive season of your lifetime, and if you’re a Leafs fan who doesn’t get to see McDavid much, it’s worth appreciating the level of greatness. It went against Toronto tonight, but as a hockey fan, it was a treat to watch #97 tonight.
6. The second period was a boring one for the first eight or so minutes. The Leafs had very little fight in them, generating next to nothing offensively. When they did, it was coming from the bottom six.
The big guns, particularly Auston Matthews and William Nylander, were nowhere to be found offensively. The Leafs were only down two goals yet it felt far steeper than that with the team in a group snooze.
And then a stupid goal went in after a deflection off the stick of Kailer Yamamoto from a shot by Cody Ceci, which fluttered and knuckled over Ilya Samsonov.
The team was struggling enough as it was before the puck luck set in. That sort of night.
7. The Oilers have had their struggles defending leads this season (although more often when Jack Campbell is in net), so a Leafs optimist might have thought there was still a chance for a comeback with half a game to play. Again, though, the team showed little fight in the second.
They came close to a goal on a shot from Mark Giordano into traffic that McDavid yanked off the goal line, but not much else was happening. And then came a deeply embarrassing breakdown of the Toronto defense, leading to a tap-in goal for Klim Kostin.
Klim Kostin. 5-1 pic.twitter.com/jzBxVGLuld
— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) March 2, 2023
David Kampf abandoning the middle of the ice, TJ Brodie‘s 2v1 defense… It all gets an F here. As shaky and off as Samsonov was tonight, he didn’t deserve this.
Again, the back-to-back complicates this, but if I were Sheldon Keefe, I’d have pulled Samsonov here in the Reprimand The Team goalie pull. Samsonov let the team down a bit early, but this is disrespectful stuff to do in front of your goalie. Through two periods, no one came to play and the scoreboard reflected it.
8. The Leafs did get one back early in the third period on a carry-over PP. An interesting spin up high and then a pass from Morgan Rielly to Mitch Marner at the top of the circle set up Mitch for a rip from up high that beat Stuart Skinner.
Mitch Marner cuts the lead to 3 on the power play 🚨 pic.twitter.com/eZiVvIFdzo
— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) March 2, 2023
The goal came just 68 seconds into the third period, and you might have thought there would be some fight for pride afterward, but that’s not how it played out. The seconds rolled along without much of a push as the Oilers were just clearly the better team in this one.
The funny thing is that the score, which finished 5-2, probably could’ve been worse as the Oilers had two goals disallowed, one on a pick play by McDavid on Jake McCabe just before the shot went in, and another due to a whistle blown prematurely. Edmonton also had several rush chances that required excellent saves from Ilya Samsonov.
The Toronto defense was poor, struggling to adjust to Edmonton’s speed and ceding easy entries by playing in the parking lot, but the offense from the big guns didn’t back them up, either. The team generated 1.14 xGF at 5v5, which is their worst game of the season by that metric.
9. Let’s pivot to a few talking points from the evening as opposed to game events. Two players made their debuts tonight, and the lines were also shuffled in game, all meriting discussion.
In his debut on the blue line, I thought Jake McCabe was fine in tough assignments with TJ Brodie, and you have to calibrate for the strength of competition. He took the early penalty and was a bit nervous out of the gate, but he settled down. The Timothy Liljegren – Mark Giordano and Morgan Rielly – Justin Holl pairs had the majority of the trouble.
As for Sam Lafferty, I liked what I saw when he was on the fourth line with Noel Acciari and Zach Aston-Reese — a fourth line that was Toronto’s second-best line in xGF% at 5v5 tonight as a matter of fact. Lafferty’s speed is notable and will pay dividends. I will need to see more of him to get a further feel.
Lafferty transitions us to the lineup change, which was Sheldon Keefe switching to a third line of Ryan O’Reilly with Lafferty and Alex Kerfoot, bumping Calle Järnkrok back up and Kämpf back down the lineup. It was only in the third period (just 2:58 at 5v5) and there were score effects, but they crushed nearly every shift they played. Shot attempts were 5-2 in favor of the Leafs and expected goals were 0.22 to 0.01 in favor of the Leafs.
At the end of the day, I think the optimal lineup for Toronto will be RO’R on his own line (hopefully with a wing acquisition), and so it was significant to see Keefe trying it for a period. We’ll see if it continues into Calgary tomorrow.
10. This leads us to the final point, which is something Elliotte Friedman brought up during the second intermission. He said that the Maple Leafs are not looking to move Alex Kerfoot and are not looking to acquire a goalie but to keep an eye on Detroit’s Tyler Bertuzzi.
The Red Wings opted to sell off Filip Hronek to Vancouver today, waving the white flag on their season and seemingly declaring themselves open for business. Bertuzzi, a UFA, could probably be had for the Boston first-rounder that the Leafs got for Rasmus Sandin, and it’s hard not to love the potential fit.
He could slide into the second line, allowing O’Reilly to play with Järnkrok and perhaps Lafferty or Kerfoot, or he could play on the third line with O’Reilly, with Järnkrok on the second line. The team does indeed feel one forward short, and Bertuzzi would be a big pickup if Kyle Dubas could swing it. Closing in on 36 hours to the trade deadline, it’s the final storyline to watch for me.
As for the game, it is a hard one for me to assess in the wake of the wreckage from yesterday. On one hand, we wanted to see the team energized about the additions. On the other hand, they’ve got two new teammates on the way who haven’t arrived and two regulars from the past few seasons who made emotional departures yesterday.
A lot is going on with this team right now, and it’s hard to know exactly how the dressing room is processing it all. We will see what the response is tomorrow in Calgary, and for all we know, there may be another trade before then.
This is a fascinating time for the organization. It’s going to take a few weeks for the dust to settle and all the new pieces to fit in and for the team to cohere again. That’s the downside of dramatically altering (but improving!) your team at the trading deadline.