The Maple Leafs have some details to clean up after forfeiting a 4-2 lead with under 10 minutes to go in the third period of this 5-4 overtime loss to the Montreal Canadiens.
Twice, this game should’ve been well in hand with the Leafs up by two. A shorthanded goal against due to some casual play in the defensive zone on the power play (with and without the puck) by Auston Matthews brought the Habs within one late in the second period. After restoring the two-goal advantage via John Tavares’ second of the game, some sloppiness/cuteness when breaking the puck out bogged the Leafs down in their defensive zone, leading to a 4-2 lead evaporating with under seven minutes to go in the third period.
In the overtime period, the Leafs never touched the puck before Nick Suzuki sealed it at three-on-three. Sheldon Keefe had resorted to starting David Kampf in overtime periods after an unbelievably terrible OT record through the first half of last season — over and over again, their top players were barely touching the puck in OT before losing the game — so this was all too familiar to watch and a good reminder/lesson before the real games start and the extra points actually count.
– Always appreciate Sheldon Keefe’s awareness of the meaningful moments for his players and his eagerness to celebrate those special moments with his starting lineup decisions. Starting Max Domi in his first game at the SBA in a Leaf sweater, with his dad in the crowd, was a nice touch.
– Special teams were a mixed bag tonight; there was a goal for John Tavares, a lot of great scoring chances on the PP, and Matthews nearly scored twice in his minute and change on the PK (one post, one act of larceny by Jake Allen). A shorthanded goal gave the power-play goal back, and they didn’t bury enough of their chances.
At five-on-five, the Nylander and Matthews lines were out-shot attempted but dominated on high-danger chances and expected goals. The 5v5 shot attempts were 39-29 Montreal at even strength, but the high-danger chances were 10-2 Leafs. When inside the offensive zone, it was encouraging to see how much they were around the net generating opportunities right around and on top of Jake Allen’s crease.
– We’ve been keeping an eye on Sam Lafferty’s fit alongside two linemates (Matthew Knies and John Tavares) who can really protect the puck down low and make skilled plays in the tight areas of the offensive zone. Lafferty made a number of nice plays in this game to help create offense. One slip pass off the end boards found Tavares in front for a great chance in the first period. In the second period, another slip pass off the wall found Tavares, who then shifted it to Knies for a prime scoring chance.
We’ll need to see how Lafferty holds up here over a larger sample of regular-season games, but he’s been able to hang so far, and the pace he brings for getting in quickly on the forecheck and recovering pucks (allowing Tavares and Knies to go to work) is a big asset provided he is not killing plays with the puck. So far, so good.
This Tavares line ran a tired Habs unit ragged before the second Tavares goal to make it 4-2. Knies was a major headache for the Habs’ right-side defensemen for much of the game. His size, pace, ability to handle it at full speed, plus the confidence to take on defensemen and challenge them physically when driving down the wing, make for an absolute handful. The Leafs have a stud here.
– Cognizant of the sky-high minutes for Marner and Matthews in their earlier preseason appearance, Keefe wisely rolled the lines over the boards a lot more at evens, with all of his forward lines playing roughly similar minutes at five-on-five.
Down the lineup, the fourth line poached a goal in the first period off a deflected wrister from the perimeter via Noah Gregor, and they generated some decent cycle shifts. There was one lengthy own-zone shift for this unit just before the 4-3 goal that contributed to tanking their underlying numbers. TJ Brodie and Morgan Rielly were sloppy on their breakout attempt during that shift, though. Shortly after the fourth line escaped the ice, Max Domi collided awkwardly with a Habs player at the defensive-zone blue line and didn’t get a puck out just before the goal. The goal itself was an unlucky deflection into the net off of Mikko Kokkonen’s skate in front. Those shifts right after goals (in either direction) are big for in-game momentum, though; another detail to clean up.
– This fourth-line combination definitely has potential worth exploring. There is a decent mix of ingredients there, and Gregor brings an element of pace, puck-transportation ability, a good shot release, and a little bit of jam; skill-set-wise, he seems to be an upgrade over the Zach Aston-Reese and Nicolas Aube-Kubels of yesteryear.
Ideally, though, there wouldn’t be such roster inflexibility due to the cap situation. It’d be beneficial to be able to plug in Nick Robertson with Kampf and Gregor depending on the opponent (and then possibly rotate Jarnkrok down and Robertson up in-game depending on the score situation and if Robertson is really rolling). Reaves is still going to play plenty, especially at times in the schedule when the team needs a little more juice on the bench or the game might get especially physical, but it’d be nice to have those options at Keefe’s disposal.
– There is one tradeoff with William Nylander at center in that the league’s breakaway leader won’t be releasing the zone as often when the puck changes possession in the d-zone, but Domi on his wing gives Nylander someone he can really work with in transition and off the rush. They both really push the pace of play and can complete skilled plays at high speeds. We saw a nice quick strike off of a neutral-zone turnover created in the middle of the ice by Nylander leading to Domi’s 3-1 goal. Calle Jarnkrok will add some complementary “work rate away from the puck” that hopefully helps put all the ingredients together for this line.
– Timothy Liljegren has put together an excellent preseason. He’s defended well and moved the puck well, and his confidence to shoot — getting it through on net with some oomph — plus his reads in the offensive zone have been really strong. Great pass tonight on the second Tavares goal.
Underratedly thick and strong on his skates, he mixed in a few hard hits in this game as well; one stood up an attacker and another was a hard rubout into the boards on Logan Mailloux that turned the temperature up on the whole game in the second period. He led all Leafs skaters with 23:01 of time on ice.
In this space, we suggested he was working his way up to top-four calibre many times last regular season only for him to lose his momentum with the trade deadline shuffle on the backend as the Leafs leaned more on experience and tried to force Erik Gustafsson into their mix. We’ll see if he can put together a full season this year that leaves no doubt as to his postseason status. With TJ Brodie showing signs of slowing down (and playing on an expiring contract), Liljegren is really important to the organization’s future on the blue line. He has all the traits needed to be a top-four D offensively and defensively.
– Further, the McCabe-Liljeren pairing was worth a look and the numbers were excellent at five-on-five tonight: two goals for, zero against, and a lion’s share of the shots, shot attempts, and expected goals. Liljegren with either Rielly or McCabe allows the Leafs to situate Klingberg in a softer-minute role where they can build him up confidence-wise as opposed to throwing him to the wolves early.
Sheldon Keefe Post Game, Leafs 5 vs. Canadiens 4 (OT)
Sheldon Keefe after his team gave up a 4-2 lead in an exhibition loss to the Habs: "Preseason or not, if you have a lead, you have to take care of the game."
— Maple Leafs Hotstove (@LeafsNews) October 3, 2023
Toronto Maple Leafs Lineup
#59 Tyler Bertuzzi – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#11 Max Domi – #88 William Nylander – #89 Nick Robertson
#23 Matthew Knies – #91 John Tavares – #28 Sam Lafferty
#18 Noah Gregor – #64 David Kampf – #75 Ryan Reaves
#44 Morgan Rielly – #78 TJ Brodie
#22 Jake McCabe – #37 Timothy Liljegren
#2 Simon Benoit – #84 Mikko Kokkonen
#35 Ilya Samsonov
#80 Keith Petruzzelli
Montreal Canadiens Lineup
Caufield – Suzuki – Anderson
Harvey-Pinard – Dach – Slafkovský
Pearson – Monahan – Gallagher
Heineman – Evans – Ylonen
Xhekaj – Kovacevic
Norlinder – Savard
Harris – Mailloux
Game Highlights: Canadiens 5 vs. Maple Leafs 4 (OT)