It may have been one of the more exciting overtimes you’ll see in a long time, but the Toronto Maple Leafs came up short against the New York Rangers in a 2-1 overtime loss on Monday night.
The Rangers became the first American team the Maple Leafs played since Game 5 against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the play-in round back in the Toronto bubble in 2020 and, unfortunately for them, things didn’t turn out the way they would’ve liked.
Still, the numbers on the scoreboard didn’t tell the whole story as the Maple Leafs dominated the game in most areas aside from the actual score. And that’s why where here, to take a closer look at some of the biggest takeaways from the team’s one-goal loss at the hands of the Rangers.
Maple Leafs-Rangers Officiating Still a Mess
Say what you will about on-ice officials. Yes, they are people too. Yes, they make mistakes. But sometimes those mistakes can be costly in games. And while game four of an 82-game season is no time to panic – tell that to Leafs Nation – it’s still frustrating to see a lack of consistency in officiating this early in the season.
Recently, on the Sticks in the 6ix podcast, we discussed the mess that is NHL officiating with the Maple Leafs being called against the Ottawa Senators for lifting the opponents stick. The call – as weak as it was – was highly criticized by the Maple Leafs’ players and staff.
On Monday, against the Rangers, the officials let down the Maple Leafs yet again when Rangers’ forward Greg McKegg won back a draw against John Tavares using his hand which is a clear penalty. Of the four officials on the ice, not one made the call. And what makes it worse is that the Maple Leafs were already on a power play that would’ve given them a two-man advantage with a chance at going ahead.
Now, before the nay-sayers get going, this is a league-wide issue. It’s not just one affecting the Maple Leafs. Still, on Monday night, it was that instance that really stood out and forced Tavares to have a word with the officials.
Maple Leafs’ Bunting is Filling the Hole
When Zach Hyman left, the questions of who was going to fill that hole came from every direction. Now, just four games into the season and Michael Bunting is making that loss a lot less hurtful with his play thus far.
It’s not often that players are given the compliment of being called ‘greasy,’ but it’s something that has shown in his game – going to the net hard and making things happen in the offensive zone.
The argument against Bunting going in was that was that he had a lack of NHL experience to his name. Still, the 26-year-old had 11 goals and 14 points in 26 regular season games over two seasons with the Arizona Coyotes and now has two goals and three points in four games with the Maple Leafs to start the year.
Sure, it’s still a small sample size, but there’s something about his game – about his drive – playing in Toronto that might land him a spot on the Maple Leafs top line in the very near future alongside Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews.
After all, he put up the only goal against the Rangers, a Holmstrom-like garbage goal. But there’s no video on the scoresheet and the greasy game he plays is exactly what the Maple Leafs will want on their top line – especially if Nick Ritchie can’t keep up, which seemed to be the case on Monday night against the Rangers.
Maple Leafs’ Matthews Make His Return to the Lineup
It was the longest three games for Leafs Nation, without Matthews in the lineup. And it was likely just as long for the Maple Leafs’ star who say out the first few games recovering from offseason wrist surgery.
And while he wasn’t able to get on the scoresheet, like I predicted earlier in the day, Matthews had himself a game almost ending it in overtime on a number of chances.
Matthews was flying out on the ice against the Rangers and seemed no worse for wear. He led all Maple Leafs skaters with eight shots on net, finished with and 87 percent winning percentage in the face-off dot and played nearly 23 minutes in his return to the lineup – including just under six minutes on the power play.
He finished with 17 shot attempts and four high-danger chances for, two of which came in overtime and nearly ended it for the Maple Leafs. Still, while he didn’t crack the goal column, he was a force in his first game of the season and it should be a sign of what’s to come from the reigning Rocket Richard Trophy winner.
Also Worth Noting…
Tavares’ assist on the Bunting goal was his 200th point as a member of the Maple Leafs and the 821st of his career. While he surely would’ve preferred the win, the milestone is just one in a very good career for the Maple Leafs’ captain so far.
As for the Maple Leafs, they don’t play again until Friday when they take on the San Jose Sharks in Toronto in the first half of a back-to-back, taking on the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday.
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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.