The Maple Leafs couldn’t find enough offense to overcome a couple of late-first-period goals by the Florida Panthers, sending them to a 3-1 defeat in their first road game of the season.
Your game in 10:
1. Prior to the game, Paul Maurice talked about the season series with Boston, Carolina, and Toronto bringing a little more juice this season after the team’s playoff run last spring. He also smirked at how funny the picture was of Radko Gudas screaming in Joe Woll’s face when the Panthers eliminated the Leafs.
Sheldon Keefe said the following about the matchup yesterday:
What is the feeling involved when going back to Florida to play the team that eliminated you? Is there a bit of extra juice even though it is a regular-season game?
Keefe: It is a regular-season game, so I don’t think much of that is at play — at least not for me. Everybody is individual in that sense.
Any time you have been through a playoff series, it does add a little bit more for sure, but right now, in the early going of the season, we have to really be focused on our own game, being as prepared as possible, and continuing to take positive steps a more complete game, which we haven’t had yet.
What’s so wrong with a little gamesmanship or getting the team a bit fired up for a rivalry game in the Panthers’ home opener? The team can focus on improving aspects of its own game while still drawing extra motivation from the opponent/moment in front of them. Both things are possible at once. If the coach never shows a pulse in moments like this, it’s inevitably going to seep into the team’s mentality as a whole.
The Leafs played an okay period to start off with (first 10 minutes or so), but they ended up down 2-0 before 20 minutes was up after some tough shifts where they were second to pucks and spent time in their own end. They’ve now conceded the opening goal in all four games so far.
2. As it turns out, the game was lost in the final three minutes of the first period when two Panther shots from the outside found the back of the Leafs‘ net.
The second goal with a few seconds left in the opening frame seemed particularly stoppable; while it may have taken a minor deflection off of something along the way, the goal was credited to the point-shot taker in Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and Ilya Samsonov should’ve had a clear view with Timothy Liljegren boxing out and keeping a clean sightline in front of the crease.
Samsonov did make a huge save on Matthew Tkachuk early in the game in tight and allowed just two tonight (albeit with just 24 shots against). It’s quite obvious offense was the much bigger issue in this loss, but certainly, a save to end the period there changes the game’s complexion significantly.
3. After a couple of tough shifts late in the first period (one directly leading to the second Panther goal, one taking place not long before the first goal), the top line was broken up by Sheldon Keefe, who rotated Calle Jarnkrok — off to a good start to his season — up onto the Auston Matthews – Mitch Marner line.
The top line was better afterward, but when trailing, it can’t be the only play to change Matthew and Marner’s winger while loading them with all the ice time in the world on a line together. I was pretty stunned to read Matthew Knies — who moved up a line for this game, played a pretty good game, and looked like a potential candidate to score — barely broke 11 minutes in ice time. Watching the team struggle to break through at five-on-five against a team committed to protecting its house with a good goalie between the pipes, while Sheldon Keefe loses his bench and Marner + Matthews’ minutes balloon into the mid-20s, is an episode of Groundhog Day at this point.
Interesting note: The Matthews-Marner duo hasn’t scored in over 40 minutes of 5v5 head-to-head ice time against Aleksander Barkov dating back to the start of last spring’s playoff series. The Panthers’ late-first-period goal broke a long scoreless stalemate in the Barkov-Matthews matchup.
4. It was the best effort of the season (not saying a lot, mind you) for the Leafs defensively in terms of limiting odd-man rushes and transition opportunities against, which was particularly important against a Florida team that is lethal in those areas of the game. While there was a fair bit of special-teams time in the middle frame, the Panthers were credited with zero scoring chances in the second period at five-on-five per Natural Stat Trick, which is unsurprisingly a first for the Leafs this season. It was a decent road game from that perspective.
The biggest issue was the five-on-five scoring. The Leafs scored five five-on-five goals against Minnesota, but otherwise, they are off to a slow start in this vital category — zero tonight, just one against Montreal, and just one against Chicago. They’ve been outscored 12-7 at 5v5 overall, and 8-2 if we remove the Minnesota game.
5. The suspect defensive play of John Klingberg is one thing (and completely expected if we’re all honest), but the number of times he’s shooting into bodies and shin pads in the offensive zone leading to snuffed-out chances — or scoring opportunities the other way in the worst cases — is hard to stomach so far. Getting shots through should be his bread and butter, and it’s a big part of what’s going to make him successful on a Leafs team that needs more of that from its backend.
This is a remarkable stat: Klingberg’s 22 shot attempts (all situations) are fourth on the team behind only Matthews, Nylander, and Tavares so far this season, but his number of unblocked shot attempts is somehow only eight.
There was also a bobbled puck by Klingberg that led to a free-and-clear breakaway for Sam Reinhart in this game, and he blindly passed the puck up the wall prior to the 1-0 goal. A game to forget for #3.
6. There seems to be a black cloud following Max Domi around at the moment. His poor awareness/attention to detail on the line change on the power play negated a William Nylander–Auston Matthews 2v1, which feels pretty close to an automatic goal right now with how those two are rolling. We all saw the icings in the first period as well.
Is Domi totally in his own head — a mind racing with thoughts instead of just playing — on account of wanting this so badly (with the return-home-to-fulfill-dad’s-Cup-mission narrative, etc)? Whatever it is, he needs to get his head on straight. 14:23 in ice time was generous tonight.
7. The Leafs did end up scoring on that power play anyway. The top unit continues to look really efficient in the new down-low/side-of-the-net overload look under Guy Boucher. William Nylander and Mitch Marner worked the puck down low/to the side of the net as the slot player (John Tavares) opened up by pulling away from the net for a one-timer. Numbers were on hand down low to tuck away the rebound, this time by Marner for his first of the year.
MITCHY GETS US ONE BACK 🪄 pic.twitter.com/Ey18wgvktn
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) October 20, 2023
The Leafs have cashed in on a third of their power play opportunities so far this season, second in the NHL.
8. On the road against a good opponent, it was a season-low 8:47 tonight for Fraser Minten, who has no points and three shots on goal through four games. David Kampf took shifts with Bertuzzi and Domi, and Minten ended up skating on a line with Noah Gregor and Ryan Reaves after the shuffle. I think this all speaks for itself in terms of the obvious next move here. This isn’t the time in his development to play depth minutes with no PP time and not see the puck go in the net for huge stretches of time.
9. It was the first full regular-season game of Jake McCabe next to Timothy Liljegren, and while they were out there for the 2-0 Panther goal, it was definitely steadier overall than McCabe-Klingberg. 5v5 shots were 10-2 in favor of the Leafs and expected goals were 84% in Toronto’s favour with this pairing on the ice, and I don’t think it’s entirely unrelated that the Leafs cut down on odd-man chances against.
10. Obviously, any panic after the first two-game losing skid of the season would be a total overreaction. Tyler Bertuzzi and Max Domi aren’t each scoring one point every four games. Matthew Knies isn’t going pointless this season. The Leafs aren’t going from outscoring the opposition 184-142 at 5v5 to getting outscored at a pace of 12-7 over a larger sample. But this team needs to figure out a successful mix beyond the big four pairings and start to find more flow and chemistry from line to line. That responsibility falls on Sheldon Keefe.