In the most embarrassing, pathetic effort we had seen from this team since the David Ayres game in February 2020, the Toronto Maple Leafs dropped a 7-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. In a game where the heaviest of odds were stacked in their favor, the Maple Leafs fumbled the bag harder than they possibly could have, and it all happened the day after they dropped a 5-3 loss to the San Jose Sharks and saw a jersey thrown on the ice after the game.
The Penguins were missing Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Jeff Carter, and Bryan Rust. Evan Rodrigues was their first-line center. And they not only took the loss but had their worst performance of the season without question. From offense to defense to goaltending, nobody impressed. Nobody looked interested, and nobody looked invested. There’s so much to say, but at the same time, there’s nothing to say. With that, here are the three biggest of the grocery list of takeaways you could come up with for this game.
Maple Leafs’ Spezza Only One to Produce…Again
I’m going to get the one somewhat positive takeaway out of the way right off the top, but in a way, it’s a negative takeaway too. It means once again, the Maple Leafs’ star players have been held off of the scoresheet and are relying on a veteran making $750,000 to carry the mail offensively. He was the first to score on Friday night against San Jose and provided the only glimmer of hope in this game. That is before the Maple Leafs ultimately tossed the momentum back to the Penguins and didn’t take it back.
It seems like Spezza gets better with age. And this sort of production is always welcomed by a player like him. But the trend of the star players going missing to start the season is concerning, and it stems back to last year’s playoffs. Plain and simple, the Maple Leafs aren’t going to accomplish anything when Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and John Tavares are held off of the scoresheet.
Matthews’ leash is a tad longer, seeing that this was only his third game and he missed all of training camp, but it’s rapidly getting shorter. You can’t rely on your depth players to win your games every night, and for a team as talented as this one, these kinds of efforts are inexcusable. Spezza should not be the only one routinely seeing his name pop up on the scoresheet.
Maple Leafs’ Muzzin-Holl Pairing Must Be Split Up
It’s ironic because the pairing of Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl was arguably the best one the Maple Leafs’ had going in 2020-21. But to start the 2021-22 season, they’ve been the opposite. And the struggles were on full display tonight. While it’s been pretty well-known that Holl isn’t the same player when he’s not with Muzzin, the latter has had his own struggles this season.
In this game, in particular, the pairing was caught flat-footed more often than not and was on the ice for four of the Penguins’ seven goals. The video above doesn’t show it, but Muzzin’s giveaway at the opposing blueline led to the Mike Matheson wrap-around goal.
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And while it was a bad goal for Jack Campbell to allow, the play wouldn’t have started without the giveaway. In the video below, Holl gets caught in the corner on a bad pinch and leaves Muzzin alone to deal with the 2-on-1. Then, the pass attempt across goes off of Muzzin’s skate and past Campbell on the 4-1 goal.
Muzzin and Holl are sporting Corsi for percentages (CF%) of 45.4% and 41.7%, respectively, to start the season, which ranks among the bottom for Maple Leafs’ defensemen. For Muzzin especially, this is a slump that the Maple Leafs need him to break out of sooner rather than later. He’s typically one of their most reliable defensemen, so to have him off his game like this is detrimental to their defensive corps.
Maple Leafs Facing an Early Identity Crisis
While I doubt that any significant changes will happen today, be it a firing or a trade, head coach Sheldon Keefe and his coaching staff have to do something fast. Whether it’s a lineup change, a benching, or a systems change, they simply can’t roll out the same lineup as last night and expect their players to figure it out.
You can pull out the 82-game season argument all you want. But if the product you’re putting out there isn’t getting the job done, you have to do something about it. The teams in their division this year are in the fight just as much as they are and they can’t be taking games off.
The team we see right now gives me very similar vibes to the team we saw in 2019-20 right before Mike Babcock was fired. No identity and no confidence. Just a bunch of guys aimlessly skating around with no purpose on the ice. And if this team really wants to be a top-three team in their division, let alone a playoff team or, God forbid, a Stanley Cup contending team like they’re advertised to be, they need to figure it out sooner rather than later.
Maple Leafs Will Face Hurricanes on Monday
In an effort to rebound from, bar none, the worst effort of the season, the Maple Leafs will face off against the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday night. Naturally, the Leafs will probably see their former netminder in Frederik Andersen between the pipes for the Hurricanes, so the microscope will be zooming in even more. Truthfully, I don’t know how they’re going to respond.
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I wish I could say I had the confidence that they’ll come out and steamroll the Hurricanes to try and squash the critics’ words, but I’m going to need to see what they do in between first. Whether it’s splitting up the top line (which I think they desperately need to do), shaking up the defensive pairings, or benching somebody to send a message to the others, something has to give here.
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