What looked like it was going to be a good night for the Toronto Maple Leafs took a hard turn with a few extra bumps in the road when the New York Rangers started their comeback after going down 3-1 to the Maple Leafs on Wednesday night.
The Rangers – who were playing in front of their fans at Madison Square Garden – rallied with five unanswered goals to beat the Maple Leafs 6-3 in New York, including a two-goal performances by tough guy Ryan Reaves and defenceman Adam Fox.
While it goes down as a loss in the books for the Maple Leafs, here are a few things worth taking another look at when it comes to the team’s loss on Broadway.
Maple Leafs’ Campbell Facing Fatigue
I said it in a recent piece on how Jack Campbell’s contract would look with his recent struggles in net for the Maple Leafs, and some argued that fatigue should be out of the question. After all, goalies back in the 80’s played more games on less rest and the Maple Leafs have only had four games in the past 11 days. So how in the world could fatigue set in?
Forget for a second the physical side of that and remember that these players are in the midst of a pandemic like others around the globe. They have been for nearly two years – like many others – and in the same way it’s affected some mentally it can take it’s toll on these players as well.
Add to that a couple of bad games and that can get into a goalie’s head – especially when he is being so heavily relied upon to change the complexion of this team’s future in the playoffs. It’s not simply about the games played. They are still training and making sure they are mentally checked in while awaiting their next game.
Campbell has now given up 20 goals against in his last five games. His save percentage is below .890 over that span and he has not looked good.
Even Sheldon Keefe has noticed a change, saying, “He’s not playing to the same level, I think that’s obvious.”
And that’s not to take anything away from Campbell. In fact, I’d still make the argument that he’s been the real MVP of this team this season. But he’s not looking the same right now and part of that has to be chalked up to fatigue.
Maple Leafs Missing Muzzin
Another piece that was missing on Wednesday night in New York was Jake Muzzin who is tending to a concussion and will likely miss more time moving forward. He’s been highly criticized this season for his play – especially when paired with Justin Holl – but Muzzin brings that little bit of edge to the Maple Leafs’ backend. It’s something they are missing when he’s not in the lineup.
With Muzzin and Holl out, Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren were bumped up to the second pairing and Alex Biega slotted in on the third pairing with Travis Dermott. While the two young Swedes had a tough game eating up those top four minutes, Dermott looked like a first-time defensemen who couldn’t find his way around his own end.
Of the Rangers’ first four goals, Dermott was on four three of them, while Biega and Liljegren were on for two each. Dermott finished minus-three and had a Corsi For Percentage (CF%) of 42.31 in all situations.
Say what you will about having Muzzin in the lineup, but the fact is Muzzin has the experience and leadership that the Maple Leafs need on the backend and he doesn’t shy away from the physical interactions in the corners like others might.
Simply put, if Kyle Dubas doesn’t find a fix on that backend soon, Campbell’s numbers will continue to regress and the Maple Leafs will be talking about another first-round exit come spring time.
Maple Leafs’ Multi-Goal Leads Proving Difficult
If you’ve been on Leafs Twitter, you’ve surely seen the jokes or chirps, “1967” or “it was 4-1.” And while they are losing their overall sting – since their overuse has almost become mind-numbing – the multi-goal issue still seems to be plaguing the Maple Leafs.
Once again, the Maple Leafs pulled out to an early 3-1 lead before allowing the Rangers to tally five more goals and win the game 6-3. And even recently this isn’t the first time this has happened.
In fact, as Sportsnet’s Luke Fox points out, the Maple Leafs have held 3-1 leads in four of their past five games and in each one of those contests, the opponent has erased the lead.
At a certain point this team needs to shut the door. It’s conversation we’ve had on a number of occasions when discussing this team and it starts on the back end. Still, the team as a whole needs to find a way to shut down their opponents in the later parts of games.
In the last five games, the Maple Leafs have been outscored 9-3 in third periods. Over that span they’ve had and .816 save percentage from their goaltenders while opponents combined save percentage is .938.
Also Worth Noting…
Shall we talk about more grey area in the NHL’s rulings on calling back goals? Earlier in the year, the Hurricanes were awarded a goal on a play that had a more distinct kicking motion than the Auston Matthews goal that was called back on Wednesday against the Rangers. Now, that’s not saying the Maple Leafs deserved to win, but when will these goal calls be more black and white rather than subjective.
It wasn’t all bad for every member of the Maple Leafs. William Nylander tallied his 300th career NHL point on a crisp pass to set up Marner’s first period power play tally. Nylander, who is just 25 years old, now has 119 goals and 300 points in just 395 career regular season games.
As for Marner, he broke a streak of 100 straight games without a power play goal with his eighth goal of the season. It was the first tally on the man advantage for Marner since Feb. 1, 2020, a streak that saw 426 different players score power play goals over that span.
The Maple Leafs will now have two days off before they take on the Islanders in New York 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.