A string of defensive breakdowns and an inability to consistently generate offense inside the dots resulted in a disappointing 4-1 loss for the Maple Leafs at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday night.

For all the talk of the first matchup between Auston Matthews and Connor Bedard, this game didn’t live up to the hype of two young stars blazing around the ice. In fact, neither was the best player on the ice for their respective teams.

Your game in 10:

1.  Not exactly a thrilling start to this game. Both teams took their time to get into a rhythm, feeling each other out for the first 10 minutes or so. To start the game, the Leafs struggled to cleanly exit the zone with possession, resulting in minimal offense generated. The top line — and specifically Mitch Marner — committed a number of early turnovers.

Whenever the Leafs were able to break the Hawks’ zone, they weren’t able to penetrate the middle of the ice. The only line that consistently created offensively was the Nylander line. Aside from that, it was a slow start offensively for the rest of the group.

On the other side of the ice, Joseph Woll did have to make a few nice saves early on. The most notable one came after Connor Bedard made a move past John Klingberg in the neutral zone and took the puck to the net, but Woll was up to the challenge.

2.   Speaking of Klingberg, it’s come as advertised in terms of the good and the bad so far. He excels at jump-starting the play with stretch passes, and he’s been really effective at playing east-west in the offensive zone to spread out opposing defenses. In the second period, there was one instance in which Klingberg held the puck for an extra second, opening up a lane for a cross-ice pass to William Nylander (40-second mark of the clip below).

The question with Klingberg, of course, always centers on how much he is giving up the other way. Briefly mentioned a moment ago was Bedard beating him in transition, which didn’t require a spectacular move. Bedard simply identified that Klingberg’s momentum/angle taken on the play was shifting him out of position, so he changed direction. Bedard barely has to flip his hips at all to completely burn Klingberg after he over-extended.

3.   The Leafs gave up too much off of the rush in this game, and while a certain defense pairing is going to get a lot of negative attention (much of it deserved) after the loss, they were also not detailed or disciplined enough when it came to maintaining their F3. One of too many examples came on the 1-0 goal for Chicago.

No question, Nylander has been the Leafs‘ most consistently effective player through three games. The goal is not on him exclusively by any means; David Kampf overskates the puck instead of stopping on it in the defensive zone, among other mistakes. We’re simply using this as an example of the Leafs‘ leakiness off the rush in transition. He needs to account for the numbers (including Klingberg in deep) below the puck here and not take a run at the puck carrier. From there, the structure broke down with the odd-man rush and the Leafs were scrambling.

4.   The Hawks’ lead didn’t last long. On the following shift, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner created a good chance in transition. Marner’s initial shot got deflected wide and the rebound bounced right to the side of the net, where Matthews was ready to pounce. Unfortunately, Arvid Soderblom was ready.

Just a few moments later, though, the Leafs broke through. Mark Giordano retrieved the puck in the corner of the Leafs’ zone and sent a backhand pass up ice to Nylander.  In one motion, Nylander retrieved the puck gliding backward, turned around, and made a move around the defender. With a defender in front of him and two trailing him, he cut back to the slot and dropped it to John Tavares, who let an absolute rocket go to tie the game 1-1.

5.   Tavares may have gotten the goal, but it’s a product of Nylander making yet another incredible offensive play early in the season. Nylander has been phenomenal at puck protecting and using his leverage to box out defenders in order to drive into the dangerous areas in the offensive zone, either creating chances for himself or setting up his teammates after breaking the coverage.

6.  After the tying goal, the second period was tilted in the Leafs’ favour, they controlled a majority of the shot attempts (62.2%), scoring chances (66.7%), and expected goals (77.77%). Naturally, the Leafs proceeded to give up two more Chicago tallies before the end of the frame.

Noted Leaf-killer and breakaway poacher Corey Perry struck again, taking advantage of some confusion off of a line change; while covering for a D in deep, Calle Jarnkrok swapped off for Marner as Perry slipped out of the zone, and Marner either didn’t see Perry releasing the zone or couldn’t cover in time (hard to tell from the TV angles that were available). Alex Vlasic saw Perry up ice and sent a beautiful stretch pass his way, and Joseph Woll was hung out to dry against the veteran Perry.

7.   The next goal was also far too easy for the Blackhawks. Following the second Tyler Bertuzzi penalty of the period, the Leafs found themselves on the penalty kill. Simple entry defense somehow turned into the sea absolutely parting for a scoring chance in alone and a goal against. Jake McCabe seemingly decided he wanted to see what would happen if he simply abandoned his post altogether. The end result was painfully predictable.

Hard to imagine what McCabe was reading on this play. Timothy Liljegren was in a perfectly fine position to keep the Hawks to the perimeter and limit the danger. If McCabe stays in the middle ice, there’s a high probability that Chicago simply slows up and sets the zone. Instead, it was a gift of a goal, and a 3-1 lead for the Hawks heading into the third period.

8.   This brings up a larger discussion surrounding Jake McCabe’s play through the first three games. He has been a loose cannon and has made many head-scratching decisions to go rogue. Oftentimes he’s pinching after Klingberg has already activated in the offensive zone, leading to odd-man chances the other way. As mentioned earlier, the number of rush chances against so far is not solely the defense’s doing, but this pairing is certainly doing its part.

Sheldon Keefe finally changed up his D pairings in the final frame. McCabe-Klingberg never made much sense on paper, but it’s even worse in practice so far. It’s an all-offensive defenseman with a partner who pinches aggressively and often. Liljegren makes a lot more sense as a steadying partner for McCabe, and pairing off Klingberg with Giordano while softening Klingberg’s assignments appears the best bet for maximizing his strengths and minimizing his liability at this point.

9.   Joseph Woll deserved a lot more support than he got in this game. Three goals against on 30 shots is pretty average, but it’s difficult to blame Woll on any of them. Two breakaways, and a Blackhawk left alone in the low slot.

Woll played really well most of the game; he was very positionally sound and always on his angle, made a number of tough saves look relatively easy, challenged shooters aggressively, and flashed athleticism when he needed to. He also flashed the leather a few times on Bedard. Certainly, despite the result, it was the best Leaf goalie start of the three games so far.

10.  The third period as a whole wasn’t anything to write home about. The Leafs pressed and had chances late on, but erasing a multi-goal lead in the third period twice in a week is a tough feat. In the Chicago net, Soderblom really held down the fort. The one shot that did find the back of the net ended up being called back due to an offside that occurred 45 seconds (!!!!) prior to the goal, robbing Auston Matthews of what would have been his seventh of the season. Chicago buried an empty net goal in the dying seconds to stretch the lead to 4-1, sending the Leafs home with their first loss of the season.

With two days before the next game, the Leafs are going to have to tighten the leaks, consider making their late-game defense pairing switch more permanent, and possibly rethink a few things up front. An inauspicious showing for a team that has played down to the bottom feeders far too often in recent years.

Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Game Highlights: Blackhawks 4 vs. Maple Leafs 1