Coming off a loss to the Montreal Canadiens, there were some questions as to what exactly the Toronto Maple Leafs would have to do to get back in the win column after letting their prior outing slip away.
While some saw the Ottawa Senators and Marcus Hogberg on the schedule, others understand that with the parity in the NHL today there’s no guaranteed win at any point during any given season. Enter the Senators on Monday night. A league-worst 3-13-1 in 17 games entering the game – it wouldn’t have been a complete surprise for the Maple Leafs to go up 5-1. The surprise, however, came in the form of five straight goals from the Senators leading to an overtime win for the NHL’s last place club.
Whether it was the Maple Leafs sitting back after a four-goal lead or simply not taking the Senators seriously, a point was not what the Maple Leafs were looking for in this one. And it certainly wasn’t what they should’ve come away with. With that, here’s a look at what can be taken away from Monday night’s 6-5 overtime loss to the Sens.
Jumbo Joe Returns to the Lineup
After fracturing a rib early in the season, Joe Thornton returned to the Maple Leafs lineup on Monday and back to a top line featuring Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. The duo of Matthews and Marner really didn’t lose a step without Thornton in the lineup, but sure enjoyed a boost with the big man returning to the ice.
Just over six minutes into the game, Thornton threaded a pass through the slot to Matthews who one-timed his 12th goal of the season home. The primary assist was Jumbo’s second of the season and fourth point third point of the season. He added a goal midway through the second on a pass from Matthews to give him four points in just six games this season and justified Sheldon Keefe’s decision to put Thornton back on the first line.
While he’s certainly slowing down a bit at 41 years old, Thornton still played just under 17 minutes in his return to the lineup and didn’t seem out of place. He went hard to the net on his goal and played the same kind of game that’s he’s played over the span of his career.
As for the assist in the first period, it was a prime example that the big man from St. Thomas, Ontario, still has the vision and passing ability that has made him such a prolific playmaker throughout his career. His return should help the Maple Leafs as he continues to get his feet back under him coming off the injury.
Matthews Adds to Lead
As for Matthews, he netted his second of the game and his league-leading 13th goal of the season with just under a minute left in the second period. The goal put the Maple Leafs up 5-1 on the power play and was the beginning of the end for his club in this game, as the Senators bounced back with five straight to steal the two points.
Matthews finished with three points in the contest, assisting on Thornton’s second period goal and gives him 20 points in 15 games this season, three shy of Marner for the team lead. It also continue his climb up the Maple Leafs’ all-time goals list where he sits just four shy of topping Dick Duff for 20th all-time.
Much has been made this year about Matthews’ leadership – blocking shots, getting involved physically, and his celebrations after his goals versus that of his teammates – and it was clear once again on Monday that his individual success wasn’t enough.
While Matthews extended his point streak to 13 games (10 officially if you include his game missed earlier in the year due to injury), it’s clear that Matthews would much rather find a way for the Maple Leafs to continue their success consistently and aim at having success come playoff time.
Engvall, Boyd Want to Stay
As for Travis Boyd and Pierre Engvall, both have been in and out of the lineup as the Maple Leafs continue to look for what works with their bottom six. While they’ve all but guaranteed their spots in the lineup, both made a case to stick around with goals of their own on Monday night.
Boyd scored his second goal of the season midway through the first period on a pass from Jason Spezza and even got the opportunity to join the team’s second power play unit – seeing nearly a minute and a half of ice-time with the man advantage.
As for Engvall, playing in Monday’s game made it so the Maple Leafs would have to place him on waivers before sending him down or to the taxi squad again. That said, his goal against the Senators gave him two points in his seven games this season. He play just over nine minutes on Monday night and made it every bit worth it trying to lock down his spot in the Maple Leafs regular roster this season.
While there is sure to be some changes still to come throughout the team’s bottom six as the season continues, Boyd and Engvall will have to continue to push the envelope when it comes to staying in the lineup for the Maple Leafs. Every second counts for these players – including guys like Nic Petan who has been given a shot this year.
Maple Leafs Got Comfortable
I mentioned it earlier that the loss came due to one of two things. The Maple Leafs either didn’t take the Senators seriously, or they sat back once they went up 5-1. Either way giving up five straight goals to the NHL’s worst team certainly has to raise more questions for the Maple Leafs.
After all, the Senators have scored the 12th fewest goals this season (40) and are averaging just 2.35 goals per game while the Maple Leafs have give up 12th most goals against this season (44) – averaging 2.75 per game. The team’s defence still has question marks surrounding it – especially with Frederik Andersen just not looking like himself most night’s this season.
Regardless, it’s a hole in the lineup they are going to have to fix. And it should be something they can do in house. Give aways, power plays and bad breakouts seem to be the issue for the Maple Leafs in their own end. John Tavares had three costly giveaways, while Zach Bogosian had a couple of his own.
Either way, the Maple Leafs have looked good in their own end a couple times this season, but it needs to be a consistent effort if the Maple Leafs want continued success throughout the season. That and they can’t take any opponent lightly – especially the Senators who seem to turn it on when they take on the blue and white.
Also Worth Noting…
With his two points against the Senators, Thornton has 1,513 career regular season points and sits just 19 points shy of passing Paul Coffey for 13th on the NHL’s all-time list.
Frederik Andersen and Jake Muzzin got into it with Brady Tkachuk who fell on Andersen similarly to how his older brother did on Jack Campbell earlier in the season. Campbell hasn’t been back in the lineup since injuring himself in that game, and Muzzin fired Matthew Tkachuk up in the following game by flicking the puck at him at the end of the contest. Is it a brother thing, or just coincidental? Either way, Muzzin will see a lot more of both Tkachuks this season and his battles likely aren’t over.
Prior to their game on Monday, the Maple Leafs made a move in acquiring Alex Galchenyuk from the Carolina Hurricanes who had picked him up from the Senators. The Maple Leafs moved Egor Korshkov and David Warsofsky to the Hurricanes in exchange for the forward. As for Galchenyuk, he has 321 points in 557 games over his career and had just one goal in eight games for the Senators this season.
The Maple Leafs get back at it against the Senators on Wednesday in their second of three games.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.