The first week of the NHL season is over – at least for the Toronto Maple Leafs, who had three games in the first four days of the season. A goal-filled affair against their rival Montreal Canadiens on Saturday ended with the Canadiens taking a 6-5 shootout win out of the hands of the Maple Leafs, with the Leafs finishing with five of a possible six points through their first three games.
While the Maple Leafs did steal a point with the shootout loss, the did give up a three-goal lead in the third period and showed signs of fatigue throughout the final frame. That said, as always, there were a few key takeaways from the team’s loss at the hands of the Canadiens.
Rivalry Still Alive
For starters, it’s clear that after some down years, the rivalry between the Maple Leafs and Canadiens is back and increasing on a game-to-game basis. Both teams are young and include a number of talented stars. The Maple Leafs are led by Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and Morgan Rielly, while the Canadiens are driven by the likes of Max Domi, Jonathan Drouin and up-and-comer Nick Suzuki.
The speed was on showcase in Saturday’s game with a number of key chances coming in the first five minutes of the game. The speed is evident, but the feistiness is there as well – with Domi going at Kasperi Kapanen after the whistle on a couple of occasions.
It might not be like it was in the 1990s or back in the 1960s, but the rivalry is far from dead between these two clubs. If both can continue to build upon what they’ve already put together, expect this rivalry to be some kind of headline in the very near future.
While the Maple Leafs top two lines have been providing enough offence that the team should be able to win, it’s been the bottom six that has impressed quite a bit so far through three games. Among those is second-year forward Trevor Moore.
The 24-year-old Moore, an undrafted winger that stands at just under six feet tall had nine points in 27 games last season for the Maple Leafs. But, already this season, he’s shown a comfort level that comes with owning a full-time spot in the team’s lineup.
With a goal and an assist against the Canadiens on Saturday, Moore brought his season total up to three points through the team’s first three games of the year. His speed and skill are noticeable, but sometimes we forget just how tenacious he is for such a small winger.
Undisciplined Play Could Cost Them
As mentioned in our takeaways from the Maple Leafs game against the Blue Jackets on Friday, the Maple Leafs need to find a way to stay out of the box as they continue to pursue the ideal penalty killing group.
Now, the Maple Leafs only had to kill three penalties, but it was the timing of those infractions and the way they came about that really cost the Maple Leafs. More than anything, it was Kapanen’s decision to throw his broken stick at Jeff Petry that really cost the Maple Leafs who were actually three-for-three on the penalty kill.
At the time, the Maple Leafs were up 4-3 and because of the Kapanen toss, the Canadiens were awarded a penalty shot. Fittingly, Petry scored on the penalty shot and tied the game for the Habs – a costly mistake for the young Maple Leafs’ forward.
Matthews on a Tear
If it wasn’t obvious from just watching the Maple Leafs, there is one player who is on an absolute tear offensively. While he has yet to record a helper so far, the 22-year-old Matthews has kicked off the 2019-20 campaign with five goals in just three games – arguably one of his better starts in his career.
The star forward added four shots on goal and even two hits for the Maple Leafs against the Canadiens in just under 20 minutes of ice-time and nearly 4:30 of power play time. If he can remain consistent – which judging by the shots he’s getting is quite possible – he could be setting himself up for a career year following his contract extension last season.
Well, we’ve talked a lot about contributions, so why not talk about one more player who had a big game for the Maple Leafs on Saturday. Offseason acquisition, Alex Kerfoot had a goal and two assists against the Canadiens – his first three points as a Maple Leaf.
Kerfoot is just one of many new faces in the Maple Leafs lineup this year and – until Saturday – just one of a few who had yet to record a point this season. His speed makes him a dangerous player on a nightly basis and he’s being given the opportunities under Mike Babcock to succeed – having clocked just over 15 minutes of ice-time and nearly four minutes of power play time against the Canadiens.
Given that he put up 43 and 42 points respectively in his first two seasons in the NHL, Kerfoot could be an interestingly important depth player for the Maple Leafs if they are hoping to take that next step this season.
Also Worth Noting…
The Maple Leafs gave up a three-goal lead in the third period and allowed the Canadiens to score four goals in 9:43 before they tied it forcing overtime. It was a critical 10-minute window where the Maple Leafs seemed to stop skating which allowed a quick Montreal team to skate around them and create opportunities. If the Maple Leafs are to succeed this season, they will have to learn to close out games – a nemesis of theirs over the past couple of seasons.
Jake Muzzin led the team in ice-time with 26:55, while Tyson Barrie was just 10 seconds shy of him. Barrie also tallied another two assists bringing his season total to four points through his first three games with the Maple Leafs.
The team also went three for five on the power play – a sign of good things to come if the Maple Leafs can continue to draw penalties moving forward. That said, it’ll be a different story with the reigning Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues coming to town on Monday.
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.