It might be too harsh, but the effort the Toronto Maple Leafs showed on Saturday night in their 6-3 loss at the hands of the St. Louis Blues was, well, average. It was just their second game in front of fans since the calendar turned to 2022 and Leafs Nation certainly didn’t get their money’s worth when it came to the effort put forth by their team.
Now, as is often the case, some players showed up for the Maple Leafs, but for the most part the game was disappointing if you were supporting the blue and white. That said, here’s what we took away from the Blues’ double up of the Maple Leafs on Saturday night.
Maple Leafs’ Nylander Tallies Twice
Some might call them the exceptions of Saturday night’s mediocrity on the Maple Leafs, but Jack Campbell and William Nylander were – like others on the team – average to say the least. Campbell stopped 28 of 33 shots, while the Blues took advantage of their opportunities. But Nylander was one of the sole bright spots offensively on a team that struggled for the full 60 minutes.
Nylander – who hadn’t scored in eight games dating back to Jan. 26 – tallied two goals in the loss to the Blues on Saturday. He played just over 15 minutes and nearly a minute and a half on the power play and while the team couldn’t get it done, Nylander got back into the goal column for the Maple Leafs.
Still, he finished with a 44.12 Corsi For Percentage (CF%) in all situations and didn’t have his best game on the defensive side of the puck. While the goals came at key points of the game, Nylander’s play away from the puck was just representative of how the team played overall – average.
Maple Leafs’ Campbell Still Lacking Support
While it – once again – wasn’t his best game of the season, it’s safe to say that the goals scored by the Blues weren’t exactly on the shoulders of Campbell. Sure, he’ll take the majority of the blame, as he’s done in the past, but the lack of support on the back end has been a trending storyline for the Maple Leafs this season.
Even after Saturday night’s loss, the Maple Leafs’ head coach, Sheldon Keefe, recognized how poorly the team played in their own end, saying, “We didn’t defend well enough tonight to give ourselves a chance to win.”
The lack of support has been an ongoing issue for the Maple Leafs for a number of years. It’s the reason why they struggle to shut down games in the third period – a problem that plagued them once again on Saturday night.
But it’s a team effort in front of Campbell – or Petr Mrazek when he takes the ice – that is lacking. As mentioned, Nylander had an off-night defensively and even Auston Matthews looked average throughout the night.
The frustrating part for much of Leafs Nation is that it’s expected that Campbell, or whichever goalie plays, is going to have a clean mistake-free night and that’s not always the case. Even when their netminders play an average game – like Campbell on Saturday night against the Blues – the team’s unable to get the job done in front of him. So what does that mean for playoffs?
Maple Leafs Lacking Grit
Well that just brings into question another issue the team shared with the world in their loss to the Blues. Where was the grit? Robert Bortuzzo had a few choice words for Matthews at one point and the Blues finished with 30 hits and there was little response from the Maple Leafs.
In fact, Matthews finished tied for third on the team in hits with Rasmus Sandin with three and they were just two of four Maple Leafs to have been credited with multiple hits – along with Wayne Simmonds and Michael Bunting.
The fact that Sandin was the only defenceman that had multiple hits shows the lack of toughness throughout the Maple Leafs lineup. And it can’t be chalked up to puck possession because the Maple Leafs were chasing the puck the majority of the night.
This team is going to have tough choices to make in the very near future because this game was a prime measuring stick of where the Maple Leafs are at on a competitive level and it doesn’t look good. The Blues aren’t even considered a top-tier team at this point and still the Maple Leafs struggled.
Fortunately this comes at a time where there’s not much room for dwelling on bad performances. The Maple Leafs have a big string of games over the next couple of weeks and will need to bounce back quickly if they hope to find that confidence heading into the playoffs in the coming months.
Also Worth Noting…
Blues’ forward Brandon Saad tallied his 200th career goal on Saturday night. It was his 16th of the season and he’s proven to have been a great depth piece for the Blues in 2021-22.
Following the Maple Leafs’ loss, it was announced that the team had moved Nick Ritchie and a conditional pick to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for forward Ryan Dzingel and defenceman Ilya Lyubushkin – a stay-at-home defenceman to help the maintain leads.
As for the rest of the team, they take on the lowly Montreal Canadiens on Monday as they look to get back into the win column.
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.