The lowly Ottawa Senators continued to have the Maple Leafs’ number as they won the season series 3-1 with a 5-3 victory on Saturday night.
Similar to Sheldon Keefe’s assessment after the loss to the New York Islanders earlier this week, the Maple Leafs “did enough to win, but just enough to lose” against the Ottawa Senators tonight. The Senators took advantage of turnovers and missed assignments from the Maple Leafs to take the two points despite a strong start to the game by Toronto.
Your game in 10:
1. The Maple Leafs carried the play in the early going of the first period, jumping on a Senators team that had not played in over a week.
After an errant pass from Tim Stützle to the front of the Senators’ net, Matthew Knies drew a penalty battling for the loose puck. With Mitch Marner in possession during the delayed penalty, he circled behind the net and sifted a pass through traffic which found Auston Matthews alone at the far side dot for a one-timed slapshot that he placed over the glove of Joonas Korpisalo. 42 in 49 for #34.
Four minutes later, Max Domi appeared to have put the Leafs up by two after redirecting a cross-crease pass off of his skate into the empty net. While Leafs fans were expecting the play to be reviewed for a potential kicking motion, it was instead challenged for offside. The review indicated that Noah Gregor had jumped the play and entered the zone offside.
John Tavares had no fewer than three point-blank scoring chances that he did not convert to give the Leafs a bigger lead. Between the called-off goal and the missed chances, the Leafs were letting the Senators hang around, and it was hard to kick the creeping feeling that it was going to come back to haunt Toronto.
2. With two minutes remaining in the first period, Claude Giroux tied the game after a dumpster fire of a turnover followed by poor coverage from the Maple Leafs. Disappointingly, it was Toronto’s top players on the ice for this one, and it all started with an unpressured, controlled breakout that was bungled by the Leafs.
Morgan Rielly didn’t give Mitch Marner the best of passes in the neutral zone, and Marner mismanaged it with a backhand pass into trouble for a turnover. Rielly drifted past the puck battle and took a wide route getting back as the Senators then broke in on a 3-on-1, with Martin Jones making a great save on the initial chance. With the puck still loose, no Leafs stopped in front of the net as Giroux picked up the rebound and backhanded it past Jones.
3. Early in the middle frame, defensive miscues once again provided the Senators with the opportunity to take the 2-1 lead.
A high chip off the boards from the Ottawa defenseman cleared the head of William Lagesson, who didn’t get the puck in deep enough initially. Simon Benoit opted to pressure the puck on the wall instead of hanging back and allowing the rush to develop, and he arrived too late to disrupt the play. Shane Pinto landed a saucer pass to Vladimir Tarasenko, who scored on a breakaway.
Every team breaks down on occasion, but now 50 games into the season, it’s hard to ignore the sheer quantity of easy offense the Maple Leafs have conceded to their opposition.
4. Seven minutes later, the Matthews line struck again to level the game as Matthew Knies evened the score at two.
The Leafs worked a set play off of a faceoff that we see them execute often with a forward pulling up high. Mitch Marner crept out to the blue line and sifted a shot through traffic as Knies outmuscled Jakob Chychrun to gain body position and made himself available for a deft tip in front.
It was Knies’ first goal in 17 games and one of his best performances of the season. You could feel the rookie building toward ending his slump after a good effort against the Stars. His physical engagement on the forecheck and around the net has been noticeable of late; it was his work in front of the net that allowed Marner to score the go-ahead goal in the third period vs. Dallas, and this time he was rewarded with a goal himself.
5. Just a minute and a half after the goal from Knies, Shane Pinto restored the lead for the Senators. Similar to the Islanders game, a quick goal against following a Leafs goal was a backbreaker in this loss.
In a battle behind the Leafs’ net, Jake McCabe was clearly high-sticked directly in front of the ref, but it went uncalled (the official pointed directly at the incident for reasons unknown). The referees appeared to set a precedent that they were putting the whistles away tonight with only two minor penalties called (both against the Leafs), but this was a glaring error.
As the Leafs ran around against the Senators’ cycle, Bertuzzi and McCabe both converged on the puck carrier by the goal line, leaving the point wide open for Parker Kelly to step in the puck with a clear shooting lane. Kelly found Pinto at the side of the net for a deflection.
This is way too much time and space to give up at the top of the zone in the NHL:
6. The Maple Leafs could not stop the bleeding as the Senators stretched the lead to 4-2 with another goal in quick succession.
During a regroup attempt, Simon Benoit‘s breakout pass was deflected by Drake Batherson and picked up by Josh Norris in the neutral zone. Norris cut across the Leafs’ defensive zone, evading the stick-checking of Benoit as well as Mitch Marner — who seemed more intent on turning the play up ice instead of stopping on the puck properly — before scoring glove side on Jones.
Despite carrying the edge in high-danger scoring chances after two periods (10-6), the Maple Leafs went into the second intermission trailing by two.
7. The first few minutes of the third period saw both teams trade scoring chances. Noah Gregor had multiple chances in front of the net off a point shot but failed to force it past Korpisalo. William Nylander turned the puck over at the offensive blueline, leading to a 2-on-1 rush for the Senators, with Jones making outstanding saves off both Claude Giroux and Tim Stützle.
In his return to the crease, it was hard to fault Jones much for this loss despite the four that went past him.
8. Five minutes into the third, Max Domi showed that he would not be denied on this night. After his goal was taken off the board in the first period, he brought the Leafs within one as he scored off a nice feed from Morgan Rielly in the slot. Nick Robertson almost scored twice in the preceding sequence as the third line was quick to pucks and applied pressure after a mishandling of the puck by Korpisalo.
Despite the loss, the goal droughts coming to an end for Knies (17 games) and Domi (nine games) was a silver lining. The Leafs need more production from both down the stretch.
9. Late in the game, Shane Pinto missed an open net, which would put the Senators back up by two with time winding down. With Jones on the bench, the Leafs added Domi to their typical 6-on-5 unit, rewarding his strong game offensively. Domi clocked nearly 17 minutes in this game (16:53), his highest single-game TOI of the season outside of the blowout win over San Jose in January, which doesn’t really count as a real game. Domi nearly connected on a couple of nice passes into the slot late in this game.
Unfortunately, a late Benoit tripping penalty — the referees chose to take their whistles out at the most inopportune time for the Leafs — meant a 1:10 shift for both Marner and Matthews on the PK in the final five minutes followed by a lengthy shift for Nylander shorthanded. Matthews and Marner hopped on again at the end of the PK but the Leafs never recovered the puck for their entire shift immediately following the kill, which didn’t lend itself to a proper late-game push at 6-on-5.
The 6-on-5 did not look as dangerous as usual, and after Nylander fired his shot into a Senator body, Ridly Greig took a slapshot from the hash marks with five seconds remaining to ice the game into the empty net — a clear attempt to rub it in the face of the Leafs. Morgan Rielly took exception, cross-checked Greig in the head, and was assessed a five-minute major.
— Maple Leafs Hotstove (@LeafsNews) February 11, 2024
10. As it occurred in a Leafs game on HNIC, this incident is going to receive outsized attention, but the precedent throughout the league is clear. Rielly has no history of league discipline. We’ve seen cross-checks from Dylan Larkin, Neal Pionk, and Sam Bennett (among other recent examples) yield nothing more than $5k fines. We’re also coming off of a game in which McCabe was given stitches and a black eye due to a late blindside hit from Mason Marchment, who was assessed a $5k fine.
That’s all it should be for Rielly, but we’ll see where the league’s often arbitrary wheel of justice lands on this one after a full news cycle of furious debate about the incident.