The Maple Leafs met up with a desperate Senators team to kick off the 2023-24 Battle of Ontario, and for the most part, they had this game in a good spot through two periods.

However, the Leafs crumbled in the third period, their defense was leaking oil, and for the first time, Joseph Woll really struggled. 

The result: a 6-3 loss.

Your game in 10:

1.   As usual, it was a bit of a slow start for the Leafs. They kind of dip their toe into games more often than not rather than asserting themselves from puck drop. On the first shift, Morgan Rielly was caught holding onto the puck too long in his own end, was stripped from behind, and Joseph Woll made a big save on Drake Batherson.

All four lines got on the ice in the first two and a half minutes of the period, and there wasn’t much going on. The Leafs then took a penalty in the neutral zone, sending the penalty kill onto the ice.

The Leafs‘ PK units have struggled so far this season, but the focus and attention to detail were there on this one. They were aggressive, rotated well, and didn’t let Ottawa get comfortable. Their neutral zone defense snuffed out multiple entries.  It was a great penalty kill until TJ Brodie gave the puck away with about 30 seconds left trying to clear it up the middle, but Woll stepped up and made some saves to keep the score 0-0.

Matthew Knies came out of the box and instantly generated a scoring chance. On the next shift, the John Tavares line followed it up with a great shift. Nylander and Tavares controlled the puck on the wall while Tyler Bertuzzi mixed it up in front, ultimately drawing a penalty.

The power play quickly converted. Off the faceoff, Auston Matthews poked the puck to William Nylander, who walked in and ripped it. It looked like Nylander fooled Jonas Korpisalo; he pulled it in like he was going to shoot far-side blocker, and Korpisalo was a little off-center as Nylander instead went short-side glove.

13-game point streak to start the season and counting for #88.

2.   The lead was short-lived due to a series of mistakes by the Leafs.

John Klingberg, with time and space in his own zone, ripped a pass across the ice up the middle for icing. Nick Robertson was skating the other way across the blue line, so it’s difficult to tell who made the wrong read. Usually, the Leafs don’t slash across the blue line; they post up at the far blue line and deflect pucks in.

On the draw, the Leafs actually won it cleanly, and this time, Robertson received a cross-ice pass on the tape with a second or so to make a play (which is as good as it gets in the NHL). He tried hitting Calle Jarnkrok with a pass, missed, and the Leafs iced it again.

This time, the Leafs lost the draw before Ottawa retained the possession and pulled a forward high in the offensive zone. Robertson was caught between the forward (Dominik Kubalik) and the defender as Kubalik got a shot through that was simply a bad goal.

There was little traffic, it came from distance, and it was along the ice. It was the first goal of the season that Woll let in from distance, and it had a definite odor to it.

3.  The start to the second period was just awful for the Leafs, who were completely asleep.

After they won the opening faceoff, Morgan Rielly instantly forced a puck up the wall, it got stuffed, and the Sens broke in on a quick 2v1 that TJ Brodie broke up. The Sens cycled it in the zone, held possession, and the puck eventually came out of the Leafs’ end but not cleanly.

The Leafs could only execute half a line change as the Sens turned back up ice on a quick play that was basically a 3v3 rush, but John Klingberg played it awkwardly and fell in the process. Mitch Marner was out of gas on the long shift and a step behind as Senators broke in, created the initial chance, collected the rebound, and centered it from below the goal line cross-ice to Claude Giroux, who made no mistake from there.

A really sloppy start to the period from the Leafs, who were completely unprepared. It cost them.

4.    On the first goal of the game, John Tavares won a faceoff and the Leafs immediately scored. On the Leafs’ second goal of the game, Tavares won a faceoff, William Nylander took a shot that was deflected, and Tyler Bertuzzi finished it off.

This is what Bertuzzi does really well: goes to the dirty areas, comes up with pucks, and makes good plays in traffic. On this occasion, the puck was bouncing after Nylander’s initial shot was blocked, but Bertuzzi calmly collected it on his backhand, brought it to his forehand, and shot it in the net.

A lot of players panic in those situations and simply whack at the puck. Bertuzzi made a play and got rewarded for it in what was easily his best game as a Leaf. He drew the penalty for the first goal, scored the second, and was flying all night. It was the best his skating has looked in a Leafs sweater. He created a ton of chances and havoc because of it.

5.   It’s been a tough go of things for the Leafs’ fourth line in the early going. It receives a lot of attention when they are on the ice for a goal against knowing they aren’t really able to offset it by scoring the other way.

The line has been unlucky at times, and on this night, they actually played a pretty good game with a few shifts of extended offensive-zone time.

In the second period, they produced a really good shift with a number of won battles and shots on net as they wore down the Sens’ defense. However, the puck was flipped out, the Sens raced up ice, and Mark Giordano and David Kampf were caught puck-watching instead of actually covering a Senators player. Jakob Chychrun snuck down, the Sens won the battle down low, and Chychrun was wide open to one-time the puck home. He was a little off balance, and the puck beat Joseph Woll along the ice.

It wasn’t as bad as the first goal, but it was not exactly a good goal, either. It really felt like Woll was fighting the puck all night. Earlier in the period, Mathieu Joseph ripped one off the post from distance. Jake Sanderson almost beat him short side from a bad angle. He was constantly looking behind himself, even when he made the save.

It’s fair to point out that Woll made a few good saves along the way, but this was by and large the worst game of his NHL career, and it hurt the team because they actually played pretty well for the most part.

6.   The Mark Giordano John Klingberg was on for all three goals against to this point and was finally split up because of it. The reality is pretty simple: The Leafs are missing two top-four defensemen, and I’d argue the Leafs don’t have six better defensemen than Conor Timmins, either.

The team is really feeling it right now. Giordano is the oldest player in the league and the heavy minutes overwhelm him. Klingberg has, quite frankly, been a disaster. There’s no other way to put it, really. He is advertised defensively, but he hasn’t been good enough offensively to offset it. Both have been shoehorned into heavy minutes, which is going about as well as expected.

The two have now been split to play with journeymen partners — and it’s not to prop up the journeymen partners in question (Simon Benoit and William Lagesson, both of whom have actually been fairly respectable so far). It’s so that the journeymen defensemen might actually settle Giordano and Klingberg down. It is a huge issue and a telling one.

7.    In the third period, the Leafs started with the John Tavares line instead of the Auston Matthews line, and they responded with a good offensive-zone shift. The line was buzzing all night and is really starting to play off of each other well.

The Tavares line set the tone, and the Leafs built on it with a number of good shifts. The fans were getting into it. There was some momentum was building. The Leafs were eventually rewarded as Calle Jarnkrok won a big battle in the neutral zone to get a puck through to Max Domi, who pulled away with speed on a 2v1 with Nick Robertson and saucered a pass over the defender that Robertson batted in.

Domi has speed to burn, Robertson is a good finisher, and this play was a good example of both. The two have formed a nice combination through two games so far.

8.   Shortly after tying the game, the Leafs took a penalty — a double whammy because it was TJ Brodie heading to the box, so they didn’t have him for the kill.

For the first minute and a half, the Leafs’ PK actually did a good job and even created a 2v1. Then came a faceoff in their end and Keefe sent out Auston Matthews, who lost the faceoff. The Sens worked it down low and centered a puck that went off Mark Giordano and in.

You would like to see Joseph Woll protect his crease much better on a pass like this. The puck went right through the middle of the crease; he should get a stick on it and deflect it or save it and don’t let it through. There’s no reason to watch it go by.

It’s a bad deflection and a bit of bad luck. The Leafs’ penalty kill is a problem, but they were by and large good tonight; more unlucky than bad (against Tampa Bay, it was the opposite scenario).

9.   Not even a minute later, the Sens made it 5-3. The Leafs pushed up to tie the game and got caught on a 3v2 that led to a tap-in.

Off a dump-in, it took Ottawa one pass to burn all three Leafs forwards. John Tavares should have hung high but didn’t, and he was caught and burned down the ice. He was a step behind on the play, making it a 3v2.

John Klingberg, once again, was caught in no man’s land. He didn’t cover anyone, and he didn’t take away a shooting lane. You could argue that good players — as Ottawa had on the ice — will generally capitalize on a 3v2 odd-man rush, but it was so poorly played by the Leafs.

At that point, it was a 4-3 game with plenty of time left (especially for a team that’s good with the goalie pulled!), but they gave up an insurance marker. A couple of minutes later, Joseph Woll left no doubt with a terrible turnover for a goal against. This was easily Woll’s worst game as a pro.

10.   That’s now 34 goals allowed in seven home games for the Leafs. Their forward lines were good tonight and generated long stretches of sustained pressure. They created a good amount offensively, but the defense is a complete liability.

The team is missing its second pairing and it really shows, especially for a club that’s built to be stacked up front. When they don’t have their entire second pairing, it really hurts. When they have veterans beyond their top pairing that they can’t actually trust, it only compounds matters.

On one hand, the Leafs obviously need to get healthy, but it’s also clear they will eventually need outside help on defense, too. Brad Treliving’s offseason addition is not a solution.

Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Game Highlights: Senators 6 vs. Leafs 3