The Toronto Maple Leafs lost their first game under new interim head coach Peter Horachek Wednesday night. The team fell 6-2 to Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals leaving many Leaf fans already pondering if Randy Carlyle really was the reason for the Leafs’ plunders this season. However, despite the embarrassing loss on home ice, there are some positives to take away from Wednesday’s performance.
Entering Wednesday’s game the Maple Leafs had only outshot their opponent twice in their last 16 games, dating back to their 5-3 loss to the New Jersey Devils back on December 4th. Following the final buzzer against the Capitals, the team had managed to outshoot the Caps 33-25, despite still giving up six goals.
— David Alter (@dalter) January 8, 2015
What seems to be the big reason for the loss is that the quality of chances favoured the Capitals and in doing so the team took advantage of what there were given. . Including a league-high 13th short-handed goal against to Eric Fehr in the second period on a horrendous line change by young defenceman Morgan Reilly. The Leafs aggressively out chanced the Caps with 32 chances to Washington’s mere 25, but quality over quantity seems to prevail.
Horachek says they gave up 12 scoring chances which is going in the right direction.
— James Mirtle (@mirtle) January 8, 2015
It is unfortunate that the Maple Leafs were not given a better result after seemingly playing better in their own end. Check out this shot plot from war-on-ice.com, here you can clearly see that the Leafs did a much better job than Washington a keeping shots an opportunities away from the front of their net.
In the end though the Caps were fortunate enough to have scored on some great shots and a fluke goal that deflected off the stick of
Cody Franson in the second period. The Leafs currently allow the second most shots against per game, giving up 34.2 a night ahead of only the Buffalo Sabres in that category.
Leafs Controlled the Possession Game
It has been no secret that the Leafs have been one of the worst possession teams in the league the past few years, including ranking dead-last in the league in both Corsi-for and Fenwick-for last season. Wednesday the Maple Leafs had a Corsi-for total of 59 compared to the Capitals 53. What also helped to the Leafs owning the puck most of the night was the fact that the team won 61 percent of the faceoffs in the game going 36-23 off the draw, including 31-15 at even strength.
This season the Maple Leafs are 27th in the NHL in Corsi-for at 44.8% and 28th in Fenwick-for at 45.2%.
Though many who watched the game might have thought that Phil Kessel alone had over a dozen giveaways, the total number of giveaways recorded during the game was just six for the Buds, while Washington turned the puck over nine times. To counter giveaways, the Maple Leafs also had 13 takeaways during the game, slightly above their season average of 10 per game.
Despite all the little things the Maple Leafs might have done Wednesday the fact of the matter is, and what Horachek expressed following the game, is that the team still lost. And until the team starts to get back to winning the things such as possession stats and outshooting opponents don’t mean a thing. With the loss Wednesday the team has now dropped eight of their past 10 games. Things didn’t get any help either as the Boston Bruins pulled off a 3-2 overtime win against the Pittsburgh Penguins to knock the Buds out of the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Leafs will have to get their act together and quickly as teams such as the New York Rangers are red hot and will make it hard to catch them while the Bruins and Florida Panthers are seemingly playing like they want that final playoff spot more than the Leafs.
Craig is an intern at The Hockey News where he has written for both the website and the magazine. He is also a featured-blogger at http://www.hockeyforums.net/index.php/blog/46-its-a-canadian-game/. Craig has an Honours in Journalism from Wilfird Laurier University and is currently completing the Sports Journalism Program at Centennial College. Follow him on Twitter @Craig_Hagerman.