In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs’ commentary, we’ll look at some of the events of last night’s 6-3 loss to the Nashville Predators. As well, we’ll look at the remainder of the season to comment upon how difficult that stretch will be for the team.
Comment One: Eric Kallgren
This was a game where the Maple Leafs didn’t play badly, they just got out-goaltended. While we wouldn’t say that Erik Kallgren came crashing down, he did let in a couple of questionable goals. On the opening goal by Tanner Jeannot, Kallgren lost the net and slid too far to his right giving Jeannot some open net to shoot at. It was a clean shot from the top of the circle with no screen.
On Nashville’s third goal, a Mattias Ekholm one-timer from along the boards, Kallgren was squared up to the shooter, but he was deep in his net. Ilya Lyubushkin attempted to get over to block the shot but failed. He didn’t hinder Kallgren’s sight of the shot at all, but the shot just beat him.
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On two other Predator’s goals, the luck factor we talked about going in favor of Kallgren the past two games went against him in this game. Eeli Tolvanen deflected a Jeremy Davies’ shot from the point that was going wide of the net; and, on the Filip Forsberg goal, Kallgren thought he had the puck under his pads but didn’t.
Comment Two: Mitch Marner
Two goals and an assist by Mitch Marner kept the Maple Leafs in the game; however, they weren’t enough. Marner finished the game with three shots, three hits, a blocked shot, and two takeaways. Marner also has twelve hits in his last five games.
Like a lot of games of late, the Auston Matthews, Marner, and Micheal Bunting line was by far the best Maple Leafs’ line. They had 83.8% of the scoring chances and 83.5% of the expected goals while they were on the ice at five-on-five.
Comment Three: John Tavares and William Nylander
As good as the Matthews’ line has been, for whatever reason the John Tavares and William Nylander duo’s struggles continued. While Nylander did get an assist on Marner’s second goal with the goalie pulled, both Tavares and Nylander were minus-3 in the game.
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While Tavares was on the ice five-on-five, the Maple Leafs only had 32.8% of the expected goals and 35.7% of the scoring chances. Nylander was better in scoring chances at 47.1% but was just as bad in expected goals with 33.5%.
Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe has tried a number of other wingers on that line to get those two going. These wingers include Alex Kerfoot, Nick Robertson, and Ondrej Kase. Still, the changes have yielded little success.
Comment Four: Ondrej Kase
Ondrej Kase has been a great story for the Maple Leafs. With his history of concussions and the fact that he had only played nine games over his last two seasons due to blows the head, it seemed like a real gamble when Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas signed him during the offseason.
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However, Kase has turned out to be an excellent pick-up for Dubas and had been hot of late. Kase scored four goals and added two assists for six points in his last seven games. At the same time, the way he plays the game, and the situations he has put himself into, have had us all collectively holding our breath several times.
This time the injury seemed really bad. However when Keefe was asked about Kase after the game, he stated: “I was told he was doing okay — certainly, a lot better than when he came off of the ice. Obviously, with these kinds of things, we will take some time, re-evaluate him in the morning, and go from there.”
If it’s true, that’s very good news. However, there has to come a time when you worry about Kase’s health beyond the game of hockey. We have to admit that we are surprised his doctors have not suggested he stop playing before this season. In fact, maybe they have.
Comment Five: Sheldon Keefe
Usually, when one team goes up by a score of 5-2 with less than six minutes left in the game, the game is considered over. Players either go through the motions or get angry and try and take out their frustrations on opposing players. Usually, the game itself deteriorates at that point.
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The Maple Leafs have to be given credit for actually making the end of this game interesting. Coach Keefe pulled Kallgren with five minutes left in the game and put his power-play unit on the ice. The unit was rewarded with a goal at 15:19 to get the Maple Leafs to within two.
It was great to see that strategy worked. Keefe’s strategy for the rest of the game was to keep pulling Kallgren and keep playing his top players. We can’t help but wonder if, with that much time left, it might have been wiser to put the goalie back in, put the Kampf line out for a shift to give his top line a rest, then strategically pull Kallgren once they were rested and ready to go.
With the goalie pulled for the length of time he was, and the players on the ice for as long as they were, sooner or later the empty net was going to get scored on. Still, kudos to the players and Keefe for making the last five minutes exciting and interesting.
Comment Six: This Week Coming & the Rest of the Season
With the trade deadline hours away, we’re sure rumors will be flying. Does the result of the Nashville game change Dubas’ thinking at all? There are certainly a lot of questions about this team as it’s assembled right now.
This week is also the calm before the storm. It is the last real break for the Maple Leafs before heading into their toughest stretch of games this season. They only play one game over the next six days.
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Next week, they begin to play a grueling seven games in ten days, five of them are on the road, and four of them are back to backs. Altogether, the team plays 19 games in 35 days to end the regular season.
The goalie situation will become clearer by that point.
[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]