In a building where basically no team erases a Bruin lead, the Maple Leafs came back from 2-0 down to at least earn a point in a 3-2 shootout loss to Boston.
Unfortunately, it appears they’ll now be without Timothy Lilegren for a lengthy period of time.
Your game in 10:
1. The opening frame was a good road period for the Leafs against the league’s best home team up until the final minute or so. They were winning the territorial battle and generating the better scoring chances.
William Nylander had a pair of partial breakaways (Noah Gregor had one, too). The top line buzzed for a few shifts and created a couple of good looks from the slot. They didn’t have the first goal of the game yet due to some less-than-clinical finishing and the really stellar play of Jeremy Swayman, but there was plenty to like about the first 15 minutes; the energy level was good and they possessed the puck around a minute longer than Boston in the offensive zone.
They did not finish the period properly, coming completely undone after a bit of a scramble down by their own goal line. It became a clown car situation as Morgan Rielly ended up by the point, John Klingberg was motioning at Bruins players while tying up absolutely no one in front, and Tyler Bertuzzi didn’t get in the way of Brandon Carlo walking off the point with the puck and sliding an easy pass into an unobstructed Pavel Zacha for a redirect into the net.
2. The period took a real turn for the worse in the final minute between the goal against and the Brad Marchand can-opener that knocked Timothy Liljegren out of the game and probably the lineup for a significant period of time.
NHL referees don’t think this is a penalty on Marchand pic.twitter.com/NGzgF4VQki
— Jesse Blake (@JesseBlake) November 3, 2023
It’s clearly a missed call, and a few things stand out besides the glaringly obvious point about terrible officiating.
First, there wasn’t an immediate response on the ice from the Leafs. The top line was out there, and it’s possible that none of them saw or fully registered what Marchand did to Liljegren on the play in real time. Mitch Marner was 10 feet away staring directly at the incident when it transpired, and he appeared to motion to the ref immediately after the whistle (despite him claiming after the game that he “didn’t see it”). Still, there could be a fair argument to be made there given the reality of how fast it played out and the fact that it wasn’t some kind of egregious high hit or anything of that nature (rather, a subtle but dangerous can-opener).
On the bench, Sheldon Keefe saw the replay and was losing it on Wes McCauley — as he should’ve been — but then he chose not to send Ryan Reaves out on the ice while Brad Marchand stayed on for the shift afterward. I know this kind of hockey vigilanteism stirs up a contentious debate among fans, and I am really not here to spark that argument necessarily; it just seems like if you’re going to have Reaves in the lineup to address these sorts of situations for a team whose top players tend not to want to stick their nose in, what’s the point if he’s not going out there at that time?
3. The rough end of the first period carried over to the first few minutes of the second period.
John Klingberg and Morgan Rielly were out for a defensive-zone faceoff together. The Leafs should’ve gotten it out up the wall a few times beforehand, but there was a point-blank chance for Morgan Geeke that Ilya Samsonov stood tall on after Klingberg tried to block a pass out front with his skates while his stick was off the ice.
Off of an offensive-zone faceoff for the Leafs‘ top line shortly afterward, Toronto conceded the 2-0 goal on a transition rush play the other way. TJ Brodie had pinched in and kept the puck in deep in the offensive zone, but it quickly bounced back up high in the zone off of Auston Matthews, creating a loose puck situation. Rather than trying to make a play on it while recovering back above the puck, Brodie left his feet for an out-stretched dive. Mitch Marner, as the high forward on the play, incorrectly assumed Brodie was going to make a secure play on the puck and had taken a few strides deeper into the zone, and now the Leafs were suddenly dealing with a dangerous rush situation barreling toward their net.
Brodie regained his feet and had mostly recovered in time, but he didn’t do a good enough job of impeding Marchand, who swatted Brodie’s stick away and took a pass in alone on Samsonov, who made the initial save. Tracking back to the zone, Marner didn’t pick up Jake DeBrusk as he buried the rebound opportunity to make it 2-0.
4. The Leafs had a couple of chances to halve the deficit — one for Tyler Bertuzzi on the power play where he couldn’t sort out a pass to his backhand with the net at his mercy, and another for Noah Gregor after a Bruin turnover right into their own slot. Gregor, who has had a ton of chances since the Nashville game, again couldn’t bury this one.
Gregor has been credited with seven scoring chances — four of them high-danger — in his last three games in just 30 minutes of ice time. He’s doing a lot of good things and creating a lot of opportunities with his speed but is obviously really lacking any finish so far this season.
5. Shortly after Gregor’s missed chance arrived a turning point in the game via Ilya Samsonov.
Again, a grade-A Bruin scoring chance came with John Klingberg and Morgan Rielly on the ice for a defensive-zone faceoff together. This time, the Leafs got the puck out initially but Klingberg played the subsequent Bruin entry terribly, stepping up nonchalantly on debuting rookie defenseman Mason Lohrei and getting neither puck nor body. Rielly and Tavares both went to Lohrei, Zacha was wide open for the pass, and Samsonov made his biggest save of the game.
Very likely we’re talking about zero points for the Leafs in this game without that save from Samsonov. This should be a momentum-builder for Samsonov; his best performance of the season at a time when the Leafs really needed it.
The Leafs were out-scored 1-0 and out-chanced 9-1 with an expected goal share of 7% in Rielly-Klingberg’s 8:43 of 5v5 ice time together. As advertised, Klingberg has been a total hazard defensively, and it was a mess when these two were out there together for defensive-zone draws. Mike Van Ryn was handcuffed by another game with five D (a group of five that included a call-up player in William Lagesson), but it sure felt like a death wish starting them in the D-zone together.
6. Seconds after Samsonov’s big save, the Maple Leafs got on the board at the other end to complete the momentum swing.
As the Leafs changed, William Nylander ripped a nice pass through the neutral zone to the far blue line as Auston Matthews jumped on. Matthews made a nice touch pass into Mitch Marner as he hopped off the bench, and Marner simply pulled up and shot it rather than forcing a pass into the middle. He was rewarded with a friendly redirect off of a Bruins stick past Swayman.
7. On the same shift following the reset at center ice, the top line buzzed for a lengthy offensive-zone shift. William Lagesson stepped up and made a number of nice contributions to extend the play in the offensive zone, including firing a shot of his own on net before a strong keep-in along the wall immediately before Marner teed up Auston Matthews for a beauty fadeaway one-timer goal in the slot.
JUST LIKE THAT! 🚀 pic.twitter.com/J7XRX1tlj5
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) November 3, 2023
The Leafs were overdue for their top line to swing a game in their favour with some dominant five-on-five sequences where they put pucks on the net, recovered them, and generated multiple chances on the same shift (as opposed to the more one-and-done stuff that’s plagued them of late). It finally arrived in the second period when the chips were down.
8. The Leafs should’ve gone on to build a lead once it was 2-2. On the power play, William Nylander and John Tavares had point-blank chances back-to-back (the former was stopped by Swayman and the latter lifted it too high over the net). Later on the same man advantage, the top unit created a gorgeous tic-tac-toe passing play off an entry that led to another grade-A for Tavares which Swayman somehow stopped. Matthews had a good look from the middle of the slot shortly afterward (all on the same PP).
Back at five-on-five, Calle Jarnkrok‘s solo effort saw him break through several Bruins defenders for a chance in tight plus his own rebound opportunity. With Matthew Knies moved up onto the Tavares-Nylander line and Tyler Bertuzzi demoted for the second straight game, there were a few Tavares chances in tight late in the period (it was remarkable Tavares didn’t score in this game). The Leafs were sitting at over 2:30 more in the offensive zone than Boston at this stage in the game and probably should’ve held a 3-2 or 4-2 lead.
Given they were behind 2-0 and down to five defensemen in a building where basically no team comes from behind to earn anything from a game, it was an encouraging pushback from the Leafs in the middle frame.
9. Speaking of the second straight game with a Tyler Bertuzzi demotion, Keefe officially pulled the trigger after Bertuzzi turned a few pucks over forcing plays into the middle on a shift at the tail end of the mid-second-period power play carrying over onto five-on-five. In isolation, it’s justifiable; Keefe understandably wants to see Bertuzzi simplify his game, play to his strengths, get pucks to the net or work it down low more, and go park himself in front. Bigger picture, it’s curious that Bertuzzi seems to be the only one Keefe is comfortable sitting down for a shift or calling out publicly for playing too cute offensively.
Bertuzzi’s response to the benching was positive; he rattled the boards with a few checks, and Keefe actually briefly mixed him in for a shift with Matthews coming off of the Leafs’ successful penalty kill in the third period. But Bertuzzi finished with just 11:32 in total time on ice, his lowest ice time total since his second NHL season back in 2017-18 (not including games he left injured).
10. The third period was pretty tight-checking, but the Bruins found another gear in the final three or four minutes and really put the Leafs on their heels. It reminded me of the game the Leafs lost in the final few minutes of regulation at the TD Garden last season. Boston, as they’re known to do on home ice especially, flipped a switch and dominated in search of the winner, with the Leafs stuck in the mud and unable to win any races or battles that would allow them to come up for air. A goalpost on a Pastrnak bomb and a few fortunate bounces around the net preserved the point.
The OT period went as it always seems to for the Leafs when they don’t win the opening draw, which is that they didn’t touch the puck much until they lose or in this case take a penalty (one post hit by Morgan Rielly, though). There were a few critical penalty kills — one in the third period and one in OT — that hopefully give the Leafs some confidence to take forward on their shorthanded units after a tough start to the season for the PK.
In addition to secondary scoring concerns up front, the most pressing matter for the Leafs is the challenge that’s arrived on the blue line with the loss of one of their two right-handed defensemen in Liljegren. William Lagesson has been serviceable in his limited minutes so far, and Jake McCabe may be ready to return early next week (in the meantime, assuming McCabe is out for Saturday, Simon Benoit or Mikko Kokkonen is likely on the way to the Leafs, assuming Liljegren goes on LTIR so they have the cap space to call one up). They’re going to have to sort out who shifts to the right side, and the likes of Rielly, Klingberg, Brodie, and Giordano are certainly in line for plenty of extra duty.