Despite controlling play and the majority of the scoring chances, the Maple Leafs made a few costly mistakes and were not as efficient as their Red Wing counterparts at converting on their chances, resulting in a 5-2 loss on Sunday night.
Your game in 10:
1. Heading into the game, the main storyline was that Sheldon Keefe elected to give some key players a night off. Mitch Marner, Jake McCabe, and Mark Giordano all sat, replaced by Wayne Simmonds, Connor Timmins, and Nick Abruzzese as the Leafs shifted back to a 12F/6D lineup.
The load management discussion is likely to come up more and more over the last two weeks of the season. When Ryan O’Reilly returns to the lineup, it wouldn’t be surprising in the least to see John Tavares and Auston Matthews follow Marner’s lead with a game off during a busy final 10 days of the season.
Of course, the balance is in not letting off the gas too much to the point where home ice or the team’s form going into the playoffs becomes a concern at all in these final six games.
2. The game started off on a rough note for the Leafs. Just under 90 seconds in off a routine OZ faceoff, Conor Timmins passed the puck along the offensive blue line to Sam Lafferty, who was unable to control the pass, allowing Olli Maatta to take off on a breakaway. Despite Lafferty’s best effort to close from behind and atone for his mistake, Maatta was able to rip a shot past Matt Murray to open the scoring.
Turnovers and sloppy play plagued the Leafs for the first several minutes of the first period. There were a few instances of botched routine clearing attempts and there was a general lack of urgency in the Leafs‘ game early on. It wasn’t until the Leafs went to the power play that the team got their legs underneath them.
3. Speaking of that power play, it wasn’t the top unit that got things done but the second unit led by two of the players that were filling in for the resting veterans.
Timothy Liljegren sent a pass across the point to Conor Timmins, who fired a nice cross-seam pass to Nick Abruzzese as he took a step toward the net, forcing the penalty killers in front to shift. Calle Järnkrok was freed up in the slot to take a pass from Abruzzese, and he buried the rebound after the initial shot was stopped to finish off a pretty passing movement.
19 FOR 19! pic.twitter.com/FKJBsTs3XH
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) April 2, 2023
Abruzzese — top-five in assists among AHL rookies this season — is not the biggest or most talented player in the world, but he’s clearly intelligent when it comes to reading the play. He paused and held the puck for just half a second waiting for the pass to open up. That’s his first career NHL assist to go along with his first NHL goal scored late last season.
4. After Calle Järnkrok‘s 19th goal of the season tied it up, the ice started to tilt in the Leafs’ favour. They generated a few really good chances (a David Kämpf penalty shot being the most notable) but weren’t able to grab the lead.
Despite the offensive chances for Toronto, the Red Wings continued to threaten off of the rush as the Leafs weren’t always as organized as their usual standard through the neutral zone.
With just over seven minutes to go in the opening frame, a stretch pass was deflected up into the air by TJ Brodie. As it fell back down to the ice, Jonatan Berggren was able to poke the puck past both Brodie and John Tavares. As he entered the Leafs’ zone, Berggren curled and dragged it around the stick of Justin Holl and rang a shot off the bar and in.
In the final minute of the period, Tavares and Nylander couldn’t get the puck out on a zone exit attempt, and Tavares blew past the puck on his way out of the zone. Dylan Larkin moved in and let a shot off, but his stick was partially obstructed, causing the puck to take a bit of a weird path. Ilya Samsonov was unable to read it and make the save, giving the Wings a 3-1 lead at the second intermission.
It’s noteworthy that Tavares and Nylander have now been outscored 7-3 in the last 10 games with an expected goal share that is below 50% over 96 minutes of shared ice at five-on-five. This is a storyline that probably deserves more attention. Is Keefe going to stick by it and hope it turns itself around, or is he going to mix it up by lending Mitch Marner to the Tavares line? Or does ROR’s return eventually change the entire makeup by forcing Tavares back to the wing?
5. You read it right that Ilya Samsonov was the goalie in net for the third Detroit goal. Matt Murray was forced out of the game after Lucas Raymond lost an edge and slid into Murray, knocking him to the ice. There was nothing dirty or malicious about the play — just a freak accident — but it’s coming at the worst time possible if it’s anything serious.
To fray the nerves of the Leafs faithful even further, Samsonov appeared to be wincing in the second period after making an acrobatic glove save as he reached back to keep the puck out. He got up favouring his arm, but he stayed in the game.
Within 40 minutes, all of Leafs Nation experienced a collective heart attack as the prospect of losing both starters in game #76 nearly became a reality. Thankfully, Samsonov dismissed it as a nothing issue after the game, and now we wait to hear about Murray’s status.
6. There was no scoring in the second period, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying on the Leafs’ part. William Nylander and Michael Bunting, especially, had strong periods with multiple scoring chances. Bunting had one glorious chance in front after he deflected a point shot on goal and adjusted his positioning as he battled Moritz Seider in front to pick up a Grade-A chance on the rebound.
Bunting also had another noteworthy moment in the second period as he was once again on the wrong end of a controversial officiating decision. After taking multiple cross-checks in the back, he was called for embellishment for supposedly selling the call. Just a few minutes later, as the period came to a close, he was handed a misconduct seemingly for kicking an opponent’s stick that was caught up around his feet.
The officials’ benefit of the doubt seems to be completely gone for Bunting, and it’s probably gone too far the other way now to the point of a possible bias against him. Leafs fans remember this arc all too well from the exploits of Nazem Kadri. Frustrating.
Bunting is crosschecked but is called for unsportsmanlike conduct pic.twitter.com/URBiOS67tB
— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) April 3, 2023
7. Looking to kickstart a comeback, the Leafs went to a power play a few moments into the third period. After watching the second unit get on the board earlier in the game, the top unit responded in kind.
With the puck cycling around the perimeter, Morgan Rielly fired a shot on from the point, it found its way past all the bodies in front, and it was deflected in by John Tavares in front to bring the Leafs within one.
Johnny gets us one back!! pic.twitter.com/wmEuSLj5ff
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) April 3, 2023
The power play has been a saving grace for Tavares as the even-strength goal-scoring and overall five-on-five results have dried up in the last month. He has one ES goal in his last 15 games and five on the power play.
While those stats are a mixed bag, it is a promising sign that if Keefe can find the right mix to get his line playing more effectively on offense at five-on-five — be it with Marner, ROR, or what have you — Tavares is finishing on his chances in tight.
8. Through the first 10 minutes of the third period, the Leafs were completely controlling play. Detroit didn’t even have a shot in the period until just after the halfway point. Unfortunately, they made one of their few shots count.
A point shot from Ben Chiarot was stopped by Ilya Samsonov in front, but Larkin was free on the doorstep and the rebound found its way into the back of the Leafs’ net. With Rielly and Matthews both taking the high Detroit man presenting for the tip, Larkin was left all alone to collect on that rebound in front.
The goal was a backbreaker with the Leafs carrying the momentum from their power-play goal up until that point. It really took the air out of the building and out of the Leafs’ bench.
9. With Michael Bunting serving a misconduct, Sheldon Keefe threw his lines into a blender. The most notable move was putting together a line of John Tavares – Auston Matthews – William Nylander, but the Leafs could not find a way past Alex Nedeljkovic.
Radim Zohorna, who had a few decent moments in this game getting to the net and showing his strength on the puck, was up at 12 minutes and change tonight as Keefe mixed him in for some shifts with Alex Kerfoot and Calle Jarnkrok in behind the loaded top line.
Another noteworthy TOI figure: Luke Schenn‘s 16:57, which included some time on the PK, was by far his highest TOI total since the trade in the absence of McCabe and Giordano. For what it’s worth, he didn’t shine in the xGF department (26%), but he was above water in five-on-five shots and kept a clean sheet in terms of goals against.
10. The final few minutes of the game weren’t overly noteworthy. The Leafs pulled the goalie with just over three minutes to go and Larkin finished off a hat-trick with a long-range strike.
The game certainly did not feel like the typical 5-2 game — at five-on-five, the Leafs had 56 shot attempts, 34 shots on goal (40 in total over all strengths), and 3.34 expected goals. Those numbers perhaps flatter the Leafs a little bit in terms of the quantity of high-danger chances they appeared to generate, but with a bunch of regulars resting including Marner, it wasn’t a terrible effort by any means.
Their undoing was a few individual mistakes/turnovers, and the fact that the Red Wings were able to capitalize on their opportunities and the Leafs weren’t.
Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts
Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempts