Maple Leafs’ 6-3 Loss to the Rangers: Love It or Leave It?

Our goal in these “Love It or Leave It” posts about the Toronto Maple Leafs is to wait a bit for the smoke to settle, not rush to beat other writers to publish a report, and to take some time to ponder both the good and bad points of the game and share them with readers who are Maple Leafs’ fans.

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If you watched the game, you already know that the Maple Leafs went ahead 3-1, then allowed five straight goals to lose to the New York Rangers by a score of 6-3. There’s not a lot to love about this game from a Maple Leafs’ perspective. There’s also a lot we’d like to see the Maple Leafs leave at Madison Square Gardens when they make their cross-city trek to play the Islanders. 

Love It #1: The Maple Leafs Start Quickly

Under former coach Mike Babcock, the Maple Leafs were notoriously slow starters. This is not the case with this edition of the team under Sheldon Keefe. The Maple Leafs have been blazing out of the gate on this road trip. Even in the 2-1 loss to the Arizona Coyotes, they outshot the Coyotes 20 to 6 in the first period. Against the Colorado Avalanche, the Vegas Golden Knights, the St. Louis Blues, and the Rangers, the Maple Leafs outscored the opposition 10-4 in the first period. (from “Despite Leafs’ strong finishes, their slow starts frustrate Babcock, David Shoalts, Globe and Mail, 03/12/17).

Michael Bunting Toronto Maple Leafs
Michael Bunting scored last night for the Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Once again the Maple Leafs came out of the gate flying, scoring two goals in the first three minutes and 30 seconds of the game and taking a 3-1 lead into the dressing room after one period. That they couldn’t hold the lead is another question.

Leave It #1: Why Can’t This Team Hold a Lead?

The other half of that fast-start equation is the team’s inability to hold leads. From the start of the second period until the Rangers took the lead in the third period, by our own observation the Maple Leafs only created three Grade-A scoring chances in close to 30 minutes of play. The Rangers had seven Grade-A scoring chances and scored on three of them.  

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The Maple Leafs have had the lead in their last five games, only to give it up. In four of these games, they’ve given up 3-1 leads. They were lucky enough to recover to win two of three heading into this game, but not last night. In the four games where the Maple Leafs have outscored their opponents 10-4 in the first period, they’ve in turn been outscored a combined 15-6 in the last two periods of those games. 

Mitch Marner Toronto Maple Leafs
Mitch Marner scored a power-play goal last night for the Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

That pattern is not winning hockey. Either because of how they’re being coached to play or because they’ve lacked execution, whatever they’re doing or attempting isn’t working. The team needs to make adjustments to improve this area of their game.

Love It #2: Mitch Marner Has Put Up Two Multiple-Point Games in a Row

Mitch Marner had his second two-point game in a row. He also recorded his first power-play goal in 101 games. With 25 points in 28 games this season, he’s edging back to his career point-a-game scoring pace. 

Leave It #2: The Team’s Defense Didn’t Show Well

This was not the game the Maple Leafs needed from any defenseman not named Morgan Rielly or T.J. Brodie. With Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl out, Keefe needed Rasmus Sandin, Timothy Liljegren, Travis Dermott, and Alex Biega to step up and show what they could do. It was a tough night for the defense.

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While we aren’t saying it was specifically their fault, here’s a list of the defensemen who were on the ice for each of the Rangers’ goals with the exception of the empty-netter.

Goal #1  [Travis Dermott & Alex Biega]

Goal #2  [Travis Dermott & Rasmus Sandin]

Goal #3  [Timothy Liljegren & Rasmus Sandin]

Goal #4  [Travis Dermott & Alex Biega]

Goal #5  [Timothy Liljegren & Rasmus Sandin]

For as much criticism as Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl have taken from the media, fans, and writers (including us), we think we can see how much the Maple Leafs miss that pairing when they don’t play. The play of the defense last night also begs the question: “Is the defense the biggest lineup issue the Maple Leafs must address before the trade deadline?

Love It #3: Ilya Mikheyev Continues His Hot Streak

Ilya Mikheyev kept his hot offensive streak alive when he scored the opening goal of the game. He now has six goals and seven points in eight games since coming back into the lineup. 

Toronto Maple Leafs Ilya Mikheyev Alexander Kerfoot Morgan Rielly Rasmus Sandin
Toronto Maple Leafs Ilya Mikheyev, Alexander Kerfoot, Morgan Rielly and Rasmus Sandin celebrate a goal. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov)

In a night where 13 of the 18 Maple Leafs’ skaters were a plus/minus minus-25, the line of Mikheyev, Kampf, and Engvall was a combined plus-3. Brodie was the only other Maple Leafs’ player in the plus, at plus-1; and, Rielly was zero. 

Leave It #3: Jack Campbell is More than Human in Goal

We hate to pick on Jack Campbell, but this is the third of his last four games he’s given up five goals. Altogether he’s surrendered 18 goals, has a goals-against-average of 4.43, and a save percentage of .866 in his last four games. This is Campbell’s worst stretch since joining the Maple Leafs back on February 6, 2020. If the team expects to make a run for the Atlantic Division title, they need Campbell to return to form sooner rather than later.  

Jack Campbell Toronto Maple Leafs
Jack Campbell, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Campbell’s play lately leads us to ask the question, with two days between this game and the Islanders’ game and three days with no games after Saturday, do the Leafs come right back with Campbell or go to Mrazek against the Islanders?

What’s Next?

As it stands, following the Ranger game, the Maple Leafs have slid eight points behind the Tampa Bay Lightning with four games in hand, and six points behind the Florida Panthers with two games in hand. 

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After five games of this six-game road trip, the Maple Leafs are 2-2-1. Despite being last in the Metropolitan Division, and sitting at exactly .500 with a 13-13-6 record, the Islanders have won five of their last six games. We expect them to be as tough on the Maple Leafs as they usually are. We also expect John Tavares to get loudly booed every time he touches the puck.

[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.]

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