In Tuesday night’s game against the Washington Capitals, once again the Toronto Maple Leafs shot themselves in the foot. The team surrendered their one-goal advantage during the third period and lost in overtime to the Capitals, 4-3, when Alex Ovechkin scored a power-play goal.
The frustration wasn’t so much Ovechkin’s goal – he’s scored plenty of them, 669 to be exact. It was that the Maple Leafs kept getting themselves into trouble by taking penalties just when they shouldn’t.
William Nylander tripped Tom Wilson near the start of overtime, giving the Capitals the man advantage. Then, after desperately fighting off volley after volley of shots, Mitch Marner high-sticked John Carlson a second before Nylander’s penalty expired. It didn’t take long for Ovechkin to end it.
As Ovechkin noted, “The guys tried to feed me and finally I got a nice shot.” That goal moved him past the great Luc Robitaille to 12th place in NHL history. As I’ve noted before, watching Ovechkin control the ice is like watching LeBron James control the basketball court; he’s that good.
For the Maple Leafs, Auston Matthews had three points (two goals and an assist) and Andreas Johnsson scored the other Maple Leafs goal.
That game aside, I want to keep u up to speed on some of the team’s news.
Item One: Ovechkin Criticizes the Maple Leafs for Their “Individual” Play
Prior to the game, the 34-year-old Ovechkin criticized the Maple Leafs’ approach. Specifically, he noted: “They’re still a young group of guys, hopefully they’re going to learn. But it’s up to them how they want to do it. If they want to play for themselves or if they want to win the Stanley Cup, they have to play differently.”
What did head coach Mike Babcock think about Ovechkin’s statement? He didn’t disagree. Instead, he noted: “I don’t know if he’s wrong. He knows because he lived it. It’s the ultimate team game and you’ve got to sacrifice individual rights for team rights.”
Item Two: Former Maple Leafs GM Jim Gregory Passes
Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas, who was hired at age 32, is not the only young GM in the organization’s history. Jim Gregory, who held the job from 1969 to 1979, was 33 years old when he he was hired. Sadly, Gregory died at age 83 on Wednesday.
When he passed, Gregory was still active as senior vice president of hockey operations for the NHL. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in the builder category in 2007 and acted as the Hall of Fame’s selection committee chairman for 17 years.
We would like to offer our condolences to the Gregory family.
Item Three: Matthews Headed Towards 50 Goals
Matthews had a bit of a tough week, but he kept on scoring. Against the San Jose Sharks, he had to leave the game after a second-period hit. He returned later in the third and scored with only 30 seconds left in regulation time. He didn’t stop there. Against the Capitals, he scored two goals and added an assist in the overtime loss.
Matthews has 11 goals in 14 games (with five assists) which puts him on pace for almost 65 goals. It’s a tough pace to keep up, but the 22-year-old is off to a fast start. Not only is he firing lots of shots on net, but almost 20 percent (19.3 shooting percentage) of his shots are crossing the goal line. By the way, Matthews has a career shooting percentage above 15 percent and posted an 18.2 shooting percentage during the 2017-18 season.
Item Four: Muzzin Injured and Leaves Tuesday’s Game
Jake Muzzin, perhaps the Maple Leafs’ best defenseman this season after Morgan Rielly, suffered a leg injury and left Tuesday’s game against the Capitals early. Reports are calling it a charley horse.
The last word was that Muzzin wasn’t at Wednesday’s practice, but he might return to play the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday. Muzzin, who’s not known as a scorer, has nine points in 14 games and had taken on a leadership role this season, backing up his talk with his play.
Item Five: Dermott Played on Tuesday
Travis Dermott, who had been out since last season with a shoulder injury, was in the lineup on Tuesday and played almost 13 minutes. Last season, in 64 games he scored four goals and 13 assists.
Item Six: Gravel Reassigned to Toronto Marlies
After playing three games with the Maple Leafs, 21-year-old Kevin Gravel was reassigned to the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies earlier this week. In doing so, the Maple Leafs cleared a roster space for Dermott to return.
The move is no surprise because Gravel was one of a number of depth players Dubas signed during the offseason to round out the roster in case of injury. He will likely stay with the Marlies unless something problematic happens.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
After a number of back-to-back games, the Maple Leafs actually have some time to rest. Not that the team has played well, but it’s been a tough grind to start the season. Some would suggest that their 6-5-3 record is a success given their difficult schedule.
I’m sure some don’t share that assessment. However, given the three-day rest period and the fact that reinforcements are on their way – with John Tavares and Zach Hyman due back soon – the Maple Leafs might be ready for a bit of a winning streak, and it wouldn’t be soon enough.