The Maple Leafs relinquished a multi-goal lead for the fifth time in their last seven losses as an opportunity to end the Oilers’ 10-game winning streak slipped through their fingers.
Your game in 10:
1. The Leafs got off to a dream start on the opening shift of the game courtesy of the Pontus Holmberg – Auston Matthews – Mitch Marner line.
Holmberg harassed Evan Bouchard from behind into making a less-than-solid play in the neutral zone before chipping the puck in for Matthews to skate onto. Matthews looped high with the puck, orchestrated a switch and handoff with Marner, and took a nice cross-ice pass back from Marner on the far side of the zone to finish off into an empty net (#34 for #34 and #333 all-time, passing Ron Ellis for fourth in franchise history). Gorgeous goal right off the hop.
The dream start nearly got dreamier less than two minutes into the game when Max Domi stripped David Desharnais of possession at the defensive blue line and went on a rush, where he showed good patience with the puck to buy time for numbers to arrive. Domi, Calle Jarnkrok, and Tyler Bertuzzi worked a nice tic-tac-toe passing play that Bertuzzi redirected flush onto the goalpost from the doorstep with the net wide open.
2. The score was sitting at 1-0 Toronto and the shot count read 5-2 Leafs when the period started to turn in Edmonton’s favour around the eight-minute mark. A Connor McDavid vs. fourth-line shift saw the Leafs pinned in for a long sequence before Bobby McMann took a hooking penalty as McDavid buzzed inside the offensive zone.
The Leafs nearly conceded a goal before the PP even started when McDavid broke in all alone on Martin Jones, who came up with a huge save. It came after a strange play wherein William Nylander jumped on the ice and almost looked like didn’t know there was a delayed penalty call; it appeared he tried to cheat for a possible breakaway opportunity in the neutral zone. That set the stage for an exhausted Morgan Rielly – TJ Brodie pair to get roasted through the middle by McDavid.
The Leafs survived that McDavid breakaway chance and the Oilers’ only power play of the game, although the PK wasn’t all that sharp and was helped by Leon Draisaitl missing the net with a one-timer off a wide-open seam pass.
3. Overall, it was an entertaining first period — and a somewhat difficult one to assess. On paper, it looked like a ho-hum 1-0 period where the teams split 19 shots on goal (12-7 Edmonton). In reality, it was anything but a nondescript 20 minutes of hockey.
Toronto got off to the perfect start on the first shift, and from there, you could create a highlight reel of grade-A chances that would have you thinking it should’ve been 3-0 Leafs (the Bertuzzi post and a Pontus Holmberg one-timer at the back post stand out the most). Alternatively, it wouldn’t have been difficult to create a reel of scoring chances that would’ve made 3-1 Oilers look sensible.
Too many times, the Leafs were not able to cope well enough with the pace and intensity of the Oilers’ forecheck. There was a five-minute sequence starting around the midway point of the period when the Leafs were stuffed on the breakout over, and over, and over again to the point where it became pretty ugly and painful to watch.
Martin Jones made a collection of good saves — his best was probably his toe save on Zach Hyman with three minutes left in the opening frame after Hyman roasted TJ Brodie and broke in alone, but there were several good ones in tight/point-blank on McDavid, Evander Kane, Leon Draisaitl, Connor Brown, and others. In that five-minute sequence after the midway point, the Leafs lost a bunch of wall battles and threw pucks back to the Oilers so many times it became a little ridiculous.
The shot attempts were 20-12 Oilers in the first 20 minutes. This wasn’t a particularly strong period for the Leafs overall despite the good start, but credit where it is due: Starting fast and getting the lead is half the battle in these marquee matchups on the road.
4. One of the Leafs’ best segments of the game came in the first 10 minutes of the second period in the lead-up to their 2-0 goal.
Jumping on a broken play by the Oilers, William Nylander hit a crossbar one minute into the period on a breakaway. After John Tavares drew a cross-checking call, Nylander hit another post on the power play.
One botched D-to-D play by Simon Benoit and Jake McCabe led to Connor Brown nearly breaking in alone, but Benoit recovered with a sprawling defensive play to avert the danger.
At the other end, David Kampf stripped a puck in the neutral zone and broke in alone, leading to a furious scramble by the Leafs’ fourth line as the puck sat on the goal line, but it somehow stayed out.
Off of the ensuing offensive-zone faceoff, Pontus Holmberg and Auston Matthews combined for a good look in the slot for Matthews. On the same shift, a good forecheck by Holmberg and Matthews led to Mitch Marner teeing up Mark Giordano for a point-blank look that a dialed-in Stuart Skinner shut down.
Shots were 13-7 for the Leafs in the period by the time the 2-0 goal arrived.
5. On the top line’s next shift, they found the 2-0 breakthrough. It came off of a cycle play we’ve seen the top line + Morgan Rielly execute with success quite often over the years.
A forward pulled up high (this time Mitch Marner), and Rielly laid off the puck to him and jumped up to bring numbers to the front of the net. This play often sows confusion in the coverages for the defending team, and in this case, Rielly created the numerical advantage at the net front by beating Zach Hyman off the point to the back post.
Rielly finished off an initial Marner point shot that was deflected by Pontus Holmberg and swatted at by Auston Matthews.
6. Hyman nearly atoned for his missed assignment immediately with an impressive individual effort, net drive (beating TJ Brodie again), and roof-job finish, but it was correctly called off after Keefe’s challenge for offside.
Four minutes later, though, the Oilers halved the deficit on a Leon Draisaitl goal Martin Jones needed to stop. The Leafs had asked a fair bit of Jones to this point — 24 shots in 36 minutes, a decent number of grade-As among them — but it looked like a lapse in concentration or as though he assumed Draisaitl was going to pass it off or hold onto it once he was so wide of the net. Jones left his post too early and paid for it.
It was a 4-on-3 rush situation initially where Nylander fell then decided to change off and John Tavares didn’t get back quickly enough to negate the pass to Draisaitl, but that would be nitpicking. This shouldn’t have gone in.
It’s a reach to suggest the game would’ve been in hand if the Leafs made it to the second intermission up 2-0 — especially against a team as confident as the Oilers are right now and with the Leafs’ recent track record of defending leads — but psychologically, it’s a major difference regardless of the teams’ circumstances entering the game.
This was a weak goal to give up by Jones, and as much as the Leafs haven’t always defended well enough or owned the puck enough to truly blame their goalies for forfeiting these leads recently, the goaltending isn’t a nonexistent part of the equation. The Leafs have led for over 116 minutes of their last four consecutive losses but received just .873 goaltending on the 71 shots they’ve allowed when trailing.
7. It was pretty apparent that TJ Brodie was going to play a role in a Leafs goal against at some point in this game with how poorly he was defending the rush and in his puck battles.
Two minutes into the third period, Brodie stepped up to front a shot with a line of Max Domi, Matthew Knies, and Tyler Bertuzzi a little discombobulated defending the rush off of the entry into their own zone. Still, Brodie had time to identify the danger, get back to the front of the net, and take the stick of Derek Ryan. He didn’t show enough urgency about taking Ryan out of the play as Ryan received a centering pass from behind the goal line and buried it.
In the end, Keefe was confident enough in his first and fourth lines to keep them rolling together throughout the game, but he constantly mixed and matched his middle six forwards.
8. TJ Brodie has been too passive defensively too often this season — a step slower than in past seasons and not always physically competitive enough to make up for it.
On defense, we’ve seen Mark Giordano sit as a healthy scratch recently after a rough couple of games — and David Kampf sat at forward late in 2023 — but likely due to a lack of other options at the top of the defense and Brodie’s historical importance to the team, Keefe has hesitated to sit Brodie down for a game. I think it’s more than justifiable at this point to give Brodie a reset, but it’s probably not going to happen for the reasons stated above.
The Leafs’ response after conceding the 2-1 goal wasn’t bad to end the second and start the third period, but now it was a brand-new game at 2-2 and the feeling was ominous after the lost leads in the previous three games.
9. The Leafs’ top line scored both goals in this game and put together some great shifts, but the underlying numbers weren’t as kind to them. They were nearly doubled up in shot attempts (23-14 Oilers) and scoring chances (16-9 Oilers) in their 15.5 five-on-five minutes as a trio, and the underlying numbers heavily favoured McDavid in the head-to-head matchup.
At a critical moment in the third period with the game tied at 2-2 and less than five minutes to go, they were tilted during a marathon shift against McDavid and co. They blew two breakout/clearance attempts, and then when Morgan Rielly iced it, Simon Benoit, in particular, was on the ice for 1:41.
After losing a battle off the faceoff and then botching two more clearance opportunities, the Grim Reaper arrived for the Leafs’ death by a thousand papercuts. The Leafs were essentially skating in mud as Ryan McLeod walked out from behind the net and fired it far side with Jones glued to his near post and completely unsighted by a McDavid screen right in his face.
This was a better effort from the top line than in the MacKinnon matchup against Colorado, but it wasn’t a decisive win by any means, either. With Tavares noticeably struggling of late, Nylander cooling off some, Knies still learning the league, and Bertuzzi struggling to get pucks over the line (even amid some nice assists and scoring chances), it’s left the Leafs with tight margins offensively when looking to pad their leads in recent games.
Notably, Marner broke 25 minutes tonight, and fatigue probably played its role late on. At 6-on-5 once the game was 3-2 Oilers, Marner struggled to settle pucks down or get passes through before Edmonton sealed it on a dump-out empty-net trickler.
10. I don’t think the Leafs played poorly in this game — they could’ve won it with the chances created and it wouldn’t have felt like two stolen points — nor do I think they failed to compete hard enough. But I also don’t believe their execution over 60 minutes was at a high enough level consistently enough, particularly on the breakout, to control the game territorially — i.e. to stack the odds in their favour to the point where we can reflect afterward and say, “Great effort/process, bad result,” while washing our hands of the loss.
Some of the statements coming out of the locker room about a “great game” (Keefe) or “awesome hockey” (Marner) were overstating the quality of the team’s performance. Look at the numbers after two periods showing a full four minutes less of offensive-zone possession time through 40:
In each period, the Oilers handily controlled the shot attempts, and in all but the second (14-12 Edmonton), they handily edged the scoring chances at five-on-five.
To be clear, in terms of the quality chances the Leafs created and their overall compete level, I don’t think it was the night for Keefe to lambaste the team for a poor effort. I also don’t think this four-game losing streak has been catastrophic when balancing the overall quality of the performances against the results. However, the comments struck me as a little out of touch with reality or indicative of setting a low bar for themselves to clear (the Oilers created plenty of good looks, too, and owned the puck more).
It comes on the heels of Keefe praising MacKinnon and co. as playing in “another league” even though he had (more handsomely paid) elite talent of his own to match up against them on home ice. In terms of setting the bar, it all feels a little “respect in the handshake line” -ish. Maybe they’re keeping their most scathing self-criticism inside the room and intentionally projecting more confidence/levelheadedness publicly, but my expectation for Cup-bound teams is to show some fire and accountability about squandering leads like this, especially in measuring-stick games.
To be charitable with my benefit of the doubt, perhaps part of it is that Keefe believes it’s fruitless at this point to continuously beat the team up for their breakout issues (a common discussion point for him earlier in the year) — a sort of tacit acknowledgment that the issues the team has on defense (they’re also one quality top-nine veteran forward short) aren’t getting fixed internally — only through outside additions at some point before the trade deadline. Regardless, while I think the Leafs are going to be fine as far as winning enough games to avoid any kind of 18-wheeler scenario, I’d still have been more lukewarm about this performance than the coach was after the game.