It was a rough night on Saturday for the Toronto Maple Leafs and their faithful fanbase, as the team was handed yet another blowout loss at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks jumped ahead to an early 3-0 lead in the first period and didn’t look back, finishing the game 6-2 and leaving Toronto on a high note.
As always though, we have to take a quick look at some of the biggest takeaways from the game. Who played well? Who didn’t? And who tied a career-high in goals? With that, here’s a look back at Saturday night’s Maple Leafs’ loss.
Hawks’ Quick, Quality Start
As mentioned the Blackhawks got off to a great start in Toronto. Right off the opening face-off, the Blackhawks were buzzing in the offensive zone and the Maple Leafs just couldn’t get the puck off of them. The end result was a Drake Caggiula goal just 21 seconds into the game.
Just five minutes later, Jonathan Toews put another past Frederik Andersen to give his club a 2-0 lead. Brandon Saad followed that up just under six minutes later with one of his own and the Hawks led 3-0 after the first period.
While the Blackhawks jumped out to the three-goal lead, they finished the period down 11-10 in shots to the Maple Leafs – a sign that the Maple Leafs were just giving up better opportunities and that Andersen may not been at the top of his game on Saturday.
Where Art Thou, Freddie?
That brings us to our next takeaway. Consistency in net has been an issue for the Maple Leafs most of the season. For the most part, Andersen has been able to control the pace of game for the Maple Leafs. He’s been the backbone of the team even when they were struggling.
Now, it seems Andersen is the one struggling and the team has yet to offer him the same kind of support up front. But what’s happened to the Andersen the Maple Leafs have come accustomed to seeing in their net?
As The Athletic’s Jonas Siegel tweeted out following the loss, Andersen has given up three or more goals in 10 of his last 12 starts. Those are not good numbers if you’re hoping to help your team into the playoffs – especially when your team is playing the run-and-gun offence that the Maple Leafs have played over the past while.
Surely, Andersen can’t fully be blamed for these rough numbers, but it was clear in the game against the Blackhawks that they were targeting his blocker side, scoring a couple of their goals from angles that normally Andersen would stop. So is it fatigue? Are the Maple Leafs falling into the same issue as previous years with Andersen playing the majority of the games?
Maybe that’s the case, either way, the team as a whole will need to turn it around and that includes Andersen.
On the Blackhawks side, they were led by Toews throughout this contest. Their captain finished the game with two goals and two assists to go along with a plus-four rating. His peripheral stats are what drives his game even when he’s not having this kind of success on the offensive side of the puck and this contest was no different.
He played just over 16 minutes with time on both the power play and the penalty kill. He had three shots on goal, two hits and two takeaways to go along with his four points. But his play helped drive the pace of the game for the Blackhawks and his leadership was on full display on Saturday.
The four points gives Toews 14 goals and 43 points in 49 games for the Blackhawks this season.
Top Line Struggles
As for the Maple Leafs top line, it was a rough night on the ice for them. Zach Hyman, Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews finished the game a combined minus-11, with Marner and Matthews each pulling in a dash four.
That said, Matthews led all Maple Leafs in ice-time with 21:36, including 3:07 on the power play. Both Marner and Matthews fired seven shots apiece on Corey Crawford to no avail.
They weren’t the only two to finish with a minus-four rating. Martin Marincin had his own struggles on the backend for the Maple Leafs and while it’s not the right time to crucify the defenceman because the entire team played poorly, his efforts in his own zone didn’t help the team.
As for the what’s coming for the Maple Leafs, young blueliner Timothy Liljegren made his NHL debut for the team on Saturday. He put in a decent effort playing just under 11 minutes with a minus-one rating.
He did have one giveaway, but also blocked a shot and had a shot of his own in the contest.
“It’s important for our organization to see him take a step in his development,” said Sheldon Keefe, according to TSN’s Mark Masters. “He’s been up here a couple of times and he’s been around, but we need him to take a step. We need to see him on the ice in the NHL.”
Will this lead to more ice-time for the young defenceman? We’ll have to wait until after the Maple Leafs’ break to find out.
Also Worth Noting…
Blackhawks’ forward Patrick Kane recorded an assist on Saad’s first period tally. The assist was his 37th of the season and his 999th NHL point. The 31-year-old has 380 goals and 619 assists in 952 regular season games for the Blackhawks. He’ll be looking for his 1,000th point when the Hawks take on Jets on Sunday.
The Maple Leafs are still lacking in the physical department – which has become a trend for the team this season. Once again on Saturday, the Maple Leafs finished well shy of their opponents in that department as they were out-hit 33-14 against the Blackhawks.
As for Maple Leafs’ milestones, William Nylander scored again on Saturday for his 22nd goal of the season in just his 49th game. Nylander is seeing a rejuvenation on the offensive side of the puck and with that goal tied his career-high in the goals department that he set back in 2016-17 in 81 games. He’s now on pace for 72 points this season which would be 11 more than his current career-high.
While it wasn’t a good outing for the Maple Leafs, they now have some significant time off to relax and regain their composure heading into the second part of the season. Their next game will come Jan. 27 when they take on the Predators in Nashville.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.