The Maple Leafs officially hit the halfway point of the season and celebrated it with what’s turning into a habit this season: blowing a lead. Making matters worse, they blew this one against a division rival in regulation.
Despite holding the lead multiple times in this game — and a 3-0 lead last night in Colorado — the Leafs took home zero points on a back-to-back, both at home, on what was a poor and disappointing weekend for the team.
Your game in 10:
1. With new lines came some early trepidation from the Leafs. On the first shift of the game, William Nylander put a pass just a little ahead of Auston Matthews for an icing. On the second shift, Dylan Larkin went on a partial breakaway and lost the handle.
The first notable shift for the Leafs came courtesy of Pontus Holmberg, who made a really good backcheck and hit on Patrick Kane (Kane left the bench temporarily, and ultimately ended up leaving the game and not returning). Holmberg then almost scored the other way on a cross-ice pass from Matthews.
Shortly afterward, Tyler Bertuzzi drew a penalty because he was ready to go off of a faceoff, jumped the puck, and was obstructed. That gave the Leafs their first of three power plays in the period, but they were barely able to create or sustain any pressure, let alone score a goal.
There were a few chances of note — naturally, that’s what happens with three man-advantage opportunities — but the Leafs were struggling to gain the zone. Their entries are terrible right now — too slow, and teams are jumping their pass to the boards and taking away passing outlets. When the Leafs are able to set up, they are obviously dangerous, but they couldn’t establish the zone and went 0/3 in a period where the opportunities were handed to them to build a lead.
The Leafs lost the shot attempts and expected goals (all situations) battles in a period where they led the power play count 3-1. It’s hard to put into words how poor that is.
2. The other big story to start the game was, of course, Ilya Samsonov. When he made his first save of the night, he got a cheer from the fans, but I couldn’t tell if it was genuine encouragement or a Bronx cheer (I’ll let you decide). Regardless, Samsonov was 10/10 for the period as the Leafs bled some odd-man rush chances.
Already mentioned was the breakaway for Larkin, but Detroit also botched a full-ice 2v1 where JT Compher fanned on the puck, while Joe Veleno heeled an empty net tap-in. Samsonov also stood tall on a Michael Rasmussen cross-ice 2v1 play.
Good for Samsonov, but the Leafs really should be sharper than to give up all of those opportunities in his first game back, to say nothing of the fact that they were following up a game where they blew a three-goal lead in regulation.
3. With the Leafs’ three power plays and the Red Wings also getting one, nearly half of the first period was played on special teams. It made it very difficult to evaluate the new lines. There was no flow to the period, there were constant whistles, and as noted above, if anything, the power play actually zapped momentum from the team within the period, making things even more difficult to evaluate.
It really set the tone for the entire game, which was simply bad hockey through and through. This did not look like one or even two good teams playing hockey all night. Matthew Knies, in particular, was an afterthought playing on the fourth line with all that special teams time. Of all the movement, Pontus Holmberg asserted himself the most with his tenaciousness on the forecheck, throwing a good hit on Kane and just missing a scoring chance.
4. In the second period, Holmberg was rewarded for his strong play. He’s been stringing together really good games right now, earning the promotion to the top line… and then he scored a goal on said top line to open the second period.
After Holmberg took a Morgan Rielly pass at the Wings’ blue line, the puck went deep, Holmberg won the race, and he cycled it to Matthews. Matthews lost the battle to Larkin in the corner as Larkin grabbed the puck and tried to put it up the wall but missed Lucas Raymond (who appeared to be sleeping on the play). It ended up in Rielly’s possession, and with time at his disposal, he simply waited for traffic to develop. Holmberg, who started the play, circled behind the net and then went to the net as Rielly clearly shot it for a tip.
Holmberg provided a nice deflection and did all the right things, but that’s also a good example of what makes Rielly so good offensively as he didn’t rush the shot and bought time for Holmberg to get to the right spot before taking a shot. That’s seven points in the last six games for Rielly and four points in five games for Holmberg.
5. After the Leafs scored, Tyler Bertuzzi sent Max Domi on a breakaway, and while Reimer made the save, Domi was definitely impeded by a slash on the play.
Otherwise, there wasn’t a whole lot happening in the period. The Leafs looked to be working through all the new line combinations and everything that comes with playing with new linemates, while the Red Wings, who aren’t a particularly strong team, weren’t creating too much. Suddenly, on a rather simple play, Detroit managed to tie the game.
Jake McCabe made a poor read on the breakout, attempting to backhand it to Timothy Liljegren instead of putting it up to his winger off the wall. Detroit went to work on a quick cycle as David Perron put John Tavares in a blender, spinning out of the corner before passing to Larkin, who wasn’t in a particularly dangerous spot. Larkin shot it anyway, and it seemed to fool Ilya Samsonov more than anything.
It was not a great angle, the puck was somewhat fluttering, and Samsonov appeared very focused on the puck instead of understanding where the opponents were on the ice.
6. After the Red Wings scored, it was an eventful few minutes. On the next shift, Keefe put out the Matthew Knies – David Kampf – Noah Gregor fourth line and Knies came around the Wings net before finding Conor Timmins in the slot for a one-timer chance he got robbed on.
At the other end, Alex DeBrincat broke in alone and deked out Samsonov. He had an empty net to shoot it into, but Simon Benoit dove across and saved a goal. Any time a defenseman saves a goal, it’s a big play, but this one was made even better by the fact that the Leafs then took the lead back.
Jake McCabe made a really clever play in the neutral zone, identifying that Mitch Marner was wide open on the far side of the ice before dumping it to his corner. Marner easily got to the puck first with time and space, which is when he’s at his most dangerous. Marner found Tyler Bertuzzi trailing after a line change, and Bertuzzi made a nice play to sell the shot before sliding it back over to Marner for a tap-in. That was Marner’s 600th career point.
7. Once again, the Red Wings responded with a tying goal, although on this one, it’s hard to really blame anyone. The Leafs were in the offensive zone, Noah Gregor made the right play to tee up Morgan Rielly for a one-timer, and the Leafs had traffic in front. Rielly tried to one-time it through, but his stick broke.
Maybe the only quibble would be with TJ Brodie, who could’ve more quickly identified the situation and instantly skated back. There was a split second when the Wings took off, Brodie hesitated, and then Sprong broke in on a breakaway.
Ilya Samsonov aggressively poke-checked on the play. It’s always easy to say you’d like to see the goalie try to play it straight up when the poke doesn’t work, but it is a tough decision when the player has enough space to go side to side as Sprong did.
8. After the tying goal, the Leafs generally carried play.
Pontus Holmberg, in particular, did not look out of place on the top line. He again almost connected on a backdoor play off the rush with Auston Matthews, and he was tenacious on the puck on the forecheck, leading to Matthews collecting the puck behind the net and coming out on a wrap-around play where he hit the post.
William Nylander also walked in and ripped a shot that Chiarot blocked (and it hurt). With some time and space in the middle of the ice, you’d like to see Nylander get the shot through.
The Nick Robertson – John Tavares – Calle Jarnkrok line struggled and was hemmed in their zone a few times to go along with creating very little in the offensive end.
9. In the final few minutes, though, the game took a turn for the worse. First, the Red Wings created a chance on a 2v2 play where Compher dropped the puck to DeBrincat, who had all day to shoot. Samsonov robbed Compher with a glove save on the rebound.
Fans were chanting “Sammy” in acknowledgment of the great save, but not long after, the Red Wings scored the game-winner. This time, it was a simple dump-in and a 1v2 forecheck on the initial play. Timothy Liljegren needed to do better than a weak pass to the other corner when he is the right-defenseman coming over to the left side to collect the puck and his partner is in the same corner as him.
Instead, he turned it over, the Red Wings centered the puck, and Copp turned and ripped a shot in. The Wings had traffic, time, and space in the slot with under two minutes left.
Much like the night before against the Avalanche, it’s unacceptable to give up these chances due to poor puck and game management. The Leafs can’t be making these mistakes 40+ games into the season, but they did it on back-to-back nights — both at home, no less.
10. Once down 3-2, the Leafs mustered very little.
It’s a puzzling game to look over on paper in terms of time on ice. Auston Matthews led the forwards in TOI, followed by William Nylander, and then… Calle Jarnkrok, who did next to nothing of note on the night.
Mitch Marner and John Tavares each played under 18 minutes, while Matthew Knies played 9:26 but was on the ice with under two minutes left when the Red Wings scored the game-winner.
Pontus Holmberg, who was really good in this game, played 12:57 even though he was one of the Leafs’ best players, which was comparable to Nick Robertson’s 12:14 even though Robertson again struggled by and large.
The general idea to shake up the lines was a good one, but the execution, the combinations, and the ice-time allocation definitely left a lot to be desired.