The Toronto Maple Leafs beat the team that many believe will contend for tops in the division in game one. They then played the consensus worst team in the division and lost in game two. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Let’s get right to the game in 10. Emotions are high after this loss, but I don’t think it was nearly as bad as some are making it out to be. More on that below.
1. The Leafs started the game brightly and were rewarded with a power-play goal by Zach Hyman. In the aftermath of this game, I’ve seen a lot of commentary about the Leafs getting outworked and outplayed, but they were handily taking it to Ottawa for most of the period. The Senators couldn’t get out of their zone — they had four shots on net with a few minutes left in the period. Joe Thornton took a high-sticking penalty, Hyman missed a shorthanded breakaway, and the team took a too-many-men penalty cheating on a back-checking line change. The Senators closed the period with a 5v3 and scored. Tie game. Shots were 8-6 after one, but it felt like they should have been 15-3 for the Leafs.
2. The start of the second period was more of the same as Ottawa barely got out of their zone in the first half. The Leafs were rewarded after Alex Kerfoot scored on a really nice play where he froze the defender and put the puck by him while Zach Hyman screened the goalie. It was a play that has become a staple of the Leafs under Sheldon Keefe — they love to pull a forward high at the top of the offensive zone while defenders flank on the outside, with the other two forwards at the net.
3. From there, the Leafs did not show killer instinct and the game totally flipped. The Senators took over on the scoreboard, scoring four straight to take a 5-2 lead. John Tavares did score to make it 5-3, but the Leafs never really threatened to make this a game. The nails in the coffin were the back-to-back power plays while down 4-2. They generated nothing, and Ottawa pulled ahead by three. On those two power plays, the Leafs kept their new two-unit scheme. On the Tavares goal that made it 5-3, they reunited their best five and scored with relative ease.
4. There will be a lot of talk around Frederik Andersen, and it’s pretty fair at this point. There aren’t many goals in the eight so far that you would label straight-up awful, but at some point, he needs to make some saves, and that includes big ones.
Andersen’s first big save of this game came with the score at 5-3. Too little, too late. Before the season, my concerns were forward depth and goaltending, and neither of those concerns has been assuaged so far. While he gave up the five goals, the most alarming play to me was actually when Nick Paul skated down the wing while basically touching the boards and hit the post short side on a wrist shot. Andersen has generally been a slow starter, but in a 56-game season, there is only so much rope to give.
5. This was a nightmare game for TJ Brodie, who was on for four goals against (one was a 5v3). Brodie’s man in front tipped the puck in front of him on one goal, he was passive on another — leading to the Senators walking in — and he gave the puck away after losing a battle to give Ottawa their 5-2 lead. Brodie is mobile, he can generally move the puck, and he can log good minutes. But he’s always had these knocks of giving the puck away too easily and losing his fair share of battles. Tonight was one of those nights for him.
6. For the second straight game, Joe Thornton saw more ice time than John Tavares through two periods. Obviously, that is problematic for all sorts of reasons that shouldn’t need explaining. When the game was over, Tavares finished with 15:57 of ice time – essentially third-line minutes – and Nylander finished at 16:15, while Thornton clocked 18:25 and Marner played 24:22 despite failing to record a shot on goal.
Tavares has five points in two games this season, scored 60 in 63 in a “down” season last year, and rattled off 47 goals the year before. Needless to say, Marner should not be playing eight-plus minutes more than him.
7. Not particularly sure what’s wrong with the aforementioned Mitch Marner, but he simply is not creating much nor does he look dangerous in any real capacity. After Matthews set him up in the slot at one point, his shot was closer to a dump-in to the corner than a scoring chance. When he’s on, the puck follows him around the ice and he’s dancing on his toes throughout the game. He has one assist through two games – on a 5v3 – and two shots on goal. He’s played over 24 minutes in both games, which is really not doing him or the team any favours at this point.
8. Through two games, the Leafs have three goals at 5v5, two off of point shots, and one that was a gift for Jimmy Vesey after the puck hit the ref. They simply aren’t creating enough good looks at even strength in the critical areas, and they are not cashing in on what they do generate. What is particularly surprising/concerning is that they are not really all that dangerous off of the rush. They aren’t getting a ton of clean entries leading to chances. According to Natural Stat Trick, at 5v5, the Senators generated 10 high danger scoring chances to the Leafs’ five.
9. Wayne Simmonds and Austin Watson were really going at it at the end of the game. And Auston Matthews came flying to his teammate’s defense against Braydon Coburn. I could be wrong, but it looked like Watson pointed to the scoreboard when the teams were jawing at each other at the end of the game. Let’s see if there is carryover in the second half of this back-to-back.
10. Look, the Leafs weren’t going to go 56-0-0 this season. I’m sorry to break that news to you. They weren’t going to go 10-0 against the Senators this season, either. It’s true Ottawa is not a strong team, but they aren’t the worst team ever rostered in the league. It’s still the NHL, and these things happen.
The test is how the Leafs respond. Last season, the loss to Carolina became the symbol of the disappointing season, but the worst part about it for me was the lead-up. They lost 5-2 to Buffalo, 5-2 to Pittsburgh, beat Pittsburgh 4-0 right after, and then reverted back to form with an ugly loss to Carolina with He Who Must Not Be Named in the Canes net. Fighting for a playoff spot, the Leafs strung together three bad games in a span of four, including losses in two games they had no business losing. Let’s see how they respond to this one. I’d like to think they come out with a little piss and vinegar on Saturday night.