Maple Leafs’ Loss to the Sabres Is Not Cause for Concern

The sky is not falling on the Toronto Maple Leafs. Once again, on Tuesday night, the Maple Leafs played another stinker against the Buffalo Sabres, losing the game once again by a score of 5-2. Also, once again, the “Sky is Falling” in Leafs’ land.

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We have seen the question asked several times over the past couple of days “How can a team be considered a serious Stanley Cup threat when they can’t even beat Buffalo?”

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We were as disappointed as anyone that the Maple Leafs lost to the Sabres for the third time this season. However, it is a fact that sometimes good teams lose to inferior ones. In fact, as Sheldon Keefe stated in his postgame comments, “It seems like every year there is one team that, for whatever reason, you just don’t have your game against them.”

Although the Maple Leafs Lost, Little Changed in the Standings

On the same night, the Boston Bruins lost to the St. Louis Blues and the Tampa Bay Lightning lost to the Dallas Stars. The Florida Panthers and Anaheim Ducks went to overtime where the Panthers scored to win that game. As a result, the Maple Leafs still have a four-point cushion over the Lightning and are five up on the Bruins in the battle for second in the Atlantic Division.  

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews has been leading his team this season (Toronto Maple Leafs)
(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Maple Leafs still have a game against the Lightning, who they’ve defeated twice this season. They also have a game against the Bruins; and, they’ve beaten the Bruins twice this season with no losses. Those games will help decide who plays whom, and who has the home-ice advantage during the first round of the playoffs. 

All is not lost, and the sky is probably not falling.

The Maple Leafs Will Not Play the Sabres Again This Season

Last but not least, the Maple Leafs have seen the last of the Sabres for this season and we can be thankful they won’t be in the playoffs.  

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The loss to the Sabres was a downer for more than one reason. Both Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner were held pointless, and both of them saw their consecutive point streaks ended.

It Wasn’t As If Matthews and Marner Weren’t Trying

It wasn’t for lack of trying on their part. The whole first line dominated the expected goals and high-danger scoring chances at five-on-five while they were on the ice. According to Naturalstattrick Matthews had 68.8% of the expected goals and 66.7% (four for and two against) of the high-danger scoring chances.  

Mitch Marner was even better with 81.8% of the expected goals and 71.4% (five for and two against) high-danger scoring chances. Michael Bunting was the best of those three with 82.5% of the expected goals and 100% (four for and zero against) of the high-danger scoring chances while he was on the ice.

Mitch Marner Toronto Maple Leafs
Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Sheldon Keefe might have out-coached himself by splitting that lineup later in the game. They were creating chances and might have broken through at some point. To be fair, Keefe stated the reason for making the changes wasn’t to try and get the team back into the game. He stated he felt the game was over when the Sabres went up 3-1. 

When asked about the changes in the postgame he replied, “now it is 3-1… To me, the game is over. We showed that we were not interested in competing, playing, and winning. We at least used the time to try some different things.”

Sometimes the Advanced Statistics Won’t Tell Who Won

As it was, the underlying stats for the Maple Leafs were not terrible in the game. The Sabres did have 54 percent of the shot attempts, and 53 percent of the shots in the game. By contrast, the Maple Leafs had 57 percent of the scoring chances, 61.4 percent of the expected goals, and 63 percent (12 for – 7 against) of the high-danger scoring chances. What those numbers say is that the Maple Leafs simply were out-goalied. Veteran 40-year-old Craig Anderson was better than Erik Kallgren was.

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Similar to the 7-6 loss to the Florida Panthers, the score was 2-2 at five-on-five and the difference in the game was the special teams. Buffalo was two-for-four on the power play and the Maple Leafs went zero-for-five. 

There again we noticed that sometimes things just don’t work out in your favor. Two of the five Maple Leafs’ power plays were for fewer than the usual two minutes. That’s because a penalty was called on the Maple Leafs during the power play. By contrast, two calls that went in the Maple Leafs’ favor were at the end of long shifts by the Matthews’ line. 

Michael Bunting, Toronto Maple Leafs
Michael Bunting has been a first-line contributor this season
(Photo by André Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images)

Once again Keefe might have erred by starting them on those power plays instead of letting the second unit start the power play and giving the top unit a rest before sending them back out.

Where the Maple Leafs Stand Right Now

As it is, if the Maple Leafs come up with a good effort and a win tonight against the Washington Capitals the Sabres game will quickly become a faded memory. The team remains in the drivers’ seat for second place in the Atlantic Division and home-ice advantage for the first round of the postseason playoffs.

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However, tonight they play a team scrambling for a playoff spot. It will be a tough game. What if they lose? As Maple Leafs’ fans remind us often, nothing that happens during the regular season really matters. Only the postseason counts.

[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.]