On Monday evening, the Toronto Maple Leafs lost 4-3 to the Columbus Blue Jackets when Gustav Nyquist was awarded and scored on a penalty shot during overtime. It was a frustrating game, and the Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock felt enough was enough. He was rightly upset (I was going to use another word) and let his team know it when the game was over.
He specifically noted that his team’s two biggest issues were (a) discipline and (b) shift length. Specifically, Babcock said, “We do lots of good things. The ability to maintain it and do it for 60 (minutes) hasn’t been something that we’ve done.”
Then he called for his young team to grow up, adding, “You’ve got to mature and grow up as a group for that to happen. You just have to. The level of focus that you bring to your job each day, no matter what job you do, has to be at a high.”
There you have it. The Maple Leafs are a young team that needs to grow up. Babcock’s right, of course; the team does lots of good things. However, in this game they did lots of silly things as well.
I completely agree with Babcock. The most obviously noticeable thing for a regular fan – like myself – was the shift length. I saw the Blue Jackets players change a number of times, but the Maple Leafs players stayed on the ice much longer. The biggest culprits were Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner.
Shift length wasn’t an issue as long as the Maple Leafs held the puck, but a quick turnover simply exposed that they had no gas in their tanks. In my mind, both Marner and Matthews were guilty of long shifts and getting caught winded. I thought getting caught being gassed on the ice was the deciding factor of the game because it led to mistakes and penalties.
Fortunately, of all the problems a team might have, this seems like an easy problem to fix.
Here are my reviews of other Maple Leafs players after the team’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Player Review One: Muzzin Looked Solid and Had Two Assists
The one Maple Leafs player who looked solid was Jake Muzzin. The puck seemed to bounce all game long, but Muzzin was able to settle it down. Forget for a moment his two assists because, even without them, he played a strong game.
Now, add the two assists, and the fact that one was short-handed. That makes his game even stronger. It was Muzzin’s first multi-point night of the season and he (almost unnoticed) has seven points in 10 games with the team. Because he seldom plays on the power play, his scoring so far might be an anomaly. Still, he played a strong game against the Blue Jackets and was one of the better Maple Leafs players.
Player Review Two: Johnsson Returned from the Hospital
I have to admit that, when I saw Andreas Johnsson block the shot on Saturday, I thought he would be out of commission for a few games. Not so. Johnsson was back, and with force. Like Muzzin, Johnsson also had two assists in the game.
His assists were both primary and came on the Maple Leafs’ second and third goals of the game. Johnsson continues to look as if he belongs on the Maple Leafs top line. He plays well with Matthews, who’s on a goal-scoring streak. That said, Johnsson’s also been scoring himself. He’s scored two goals, five assists, for seven points in the last seven games.
Player Review Three: Matthews Just Keeps Shooting
I already noted Matthews’ sin of too long shifts, which in my mind almost directly led to the Maple Leafs’ loss. That said, Matthews is still Matthews and with risk-and-reward players, you often get some of both risk and reward each game.
Matthews’ reward was that he scored another goal (his eighth of the season) and also added his third assist of the season. He led the team with six shots on net, and that doesn’t count the number of times he fired a puck at the net that didn’t make it to the goalie.
In addition, Matthews seems much more fluid with the puck – he can simply do things this season I don’t recall him doing last season. He schooled a host of Blue Jackets players in really tight on the goalie. Should Matthews stay healthy, he could score well over 90 points this season.
Player Review Four: Andersen Stopped Most, But Not All
The bad news is that Frederik Andersen let in two Blue Jackets goals on the first two shots of the game. The good news is that he barely allowed them another goal the rest of the game. The Blue Jackets’ third goal was a power-play tally and then Andersen allowed the penalty-shot goal to end the game. However, prior to those goals, he was solid and held the team in the game.
Andersen’s season record is 5-2-1, with a 3.19 goals-against average and a .901 save percentage. He did about everything he could to get two points for his team, it just didn’t happen.
Why didn’t it happen? According to Muzzin, who spoke post-game about his team’s defensive lapses, “No offense to [Columbus], but we did turnovers, we were spread out, we weren’t tight, we allowed them to get their forecheck going, and they got momentum and chances from it.”
Muzzin then agreed with
Finally, Muzzin ended by saying, “We’re gonna play better defensively. We have to. No matter what. No matter who’s in net. No matter what team we’re playing.”
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
And, that next team would be the Boston Bruins who they beat in overtime and that netminder would be Michael Hutchinson. And that game comes up on a back-to-back on Tuesday, Oct. 22.
It will be a tough game back in Boston, in part because it’s the second half of a back-to-back and Toronto’s third game in four nights. We’ll likely see shorter shifts, I’m guessing.