The Toronto Maple Leafs led 4-1 early in the third period when the Montreal Canadiens scored four straight goals – including one on Jeff Petry’s penalty shot. A power-play goal with just over a minute left in regulation by Auston Matthews (his NHL-leading fifth of the season) tied it up, but the Maple Leafs eventually lost in a shootout.
That isn’t good news for the team. Its offense is elite, but they still found a way to lose. In watching the game, I watched a team that gave up numerous odd-man rushes and that left back-up goalie Michael Hutchinson alone against oncoming skaters far too often.
Still, the team has started the season well and has gained five points out of a possible six. That’s the good news, especially when Saturday’s game was a back-to-back.
In this post, I want to share some of the other news that is coming from and about the team.
Item One: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
About five minutes into the third period, William Nylander’s power-play goal put the team up 4-1. Then, something changed and the Canadiens picked up all the momentum. Was it the back-to-back games? Did the Maple Leafs, who to my mind were clicking on offense and looked in complete control, simply quit skating? Whatever happened, it got ugly quickly.
Obviously, this wasn’t the first nor will it be the last time the Maple Leafs have lost a game when they have had a three-goal cushion. But, there’s something about buckling up and concentrating when things seem to begin to go wrong, and the Maple Leafs were simply not able to do that. That’s
For those who like old movies, the title of this item comes from the iconic Italian Spaghetti Western directed by Sergio Leone and starring Clint Eastwood titled The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966). In another movie reference, what happened to the Maple Leafs reminded me of a classic football movie The Replacements (2000), where replacement quarterback Shane Falco (played by Canadian actor Keanu Reeves) talks about the quicksand that ensues when things begin to go wrong with a sports team.
As Falco says in the movie, “You’re playing and you think everything is going fine. Then one thing goes wrong. And then another. And another. You try to fight back, but the harder you fight, the deeper you sink. Until you can’t move… you can’t breathe… because you’re in over your head. Like quicksand.”
The Maple Leafs found quicksand on Saturday night. So far this young season, the team has shown the talent to outscore other teams, but they still haven’t learned to curb the other team’s momentum. Overcoming that issue will remain a work in progress.
As well, holding your play together when things get tough might also be something the team needs to work on. Kasperi Kapanen, from what I saw, acted out of frustration by throwing his broken stick at the Canadiens Jeff Petry. Although he claims he didn’t know the rule, it seems obvious that wasn’t the issue. Good sense and calmness under pressure dictate that one simply doesn’t throw a broken stick at another player when he has the puck. It’s a good, regular-season lesson for Kapanen.
That decision allowed a penalty shot at a crucial point in the game. Petry’s success cut the Maple Leafs lead to 4-3, and the Canadiens knew they had the Maple Leafs on the run – especially realizing Toronto was coming off a back-to-back. There was no stopping the comeback, even if Matthews scored a heroic goal with just over a minute left. Then, it was anyone’s game and tonight it wasn’t the Maple Leafs.
Matthews was one of the team’s positives. The second positive was the play of the third line of Alex Kerfoot, Trevor Moore, and young, soup-loving Russian Ilya Mikheyev. They’re good enough to rival many other team’s second lines. It will be fun to watch this group develop.
Item Two: New Maple Leafs Dressing Room Tradition
There’s a new tradition in the Maple Leafs dressing room, and it comes with an assist from another of the city’s professional sports teams – the champion Toronto Raptors. It’s a championship basketball used by the Raptors during their victory over the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. The basketball will become this season’s player-of-the-game tradition, and the first recipient was Matthews, who helped lead his team to an opening-night victory over the Senators.
As Babcock announced when he presented the ball, “We want to own the ball. We think it’s our time. We want to go out and dominate.”
Item Three: Tavares Learns from Newborn Son He’s the Captain
There’s an old expression, “Out of the mouths of babes.” But, as John Tavares found out, his news came on the jersey of his own baby. As Tavares tells it, he was asked to come to the Maple Leafs offices to go over strategy with general manager Kyle Dubas. However, when he got there, his wife and newborn son were waiting for him with a “C” on his young son Jace’s tiny jersey.
Sometimes the news from a professional hockey team can be so critical, statistical, or analytical. In this video the Maple Leafs team tweeted, you can see how the meeting went down with Tavares and his wife Aryne Fuller. The video on the tweet really is human and personal, and it’s worth a watch for Maple Leafs fans who haven’t seen it.
This one aspect of the hockey team shows some exceedingly good news.
Item Four: Don Cherry Says Maple Leafs Aren’t Tough Enough
In this news item, we move back to the critical. During his Coach’s Corner segment on Hockey Night In Canada, Don Cherry announced, “The Leafs, [they’re a] highly-skilled team, I will say. A highly-skilled team, but … you cannot win unless you’re tough in the playoffs.”
As noted in the video in this tweet, Cherry believed the St. Louis Blues’ Stanley Cup victory was evidence of the success that toughness brought. He noted that the Blues “put out” a number of the San Jose Sharks’ skill players – and that toughness helped them win.
Cherry added, “They might get by the second round but they’ll never win the Stanley Cup, I’m sorry to say, because they’re not tough enough.”
Related: Sabres Primed for Deep Playoff Run
Perhaps, he has a point. In their home opener, the team was out-hit 44-17 by the Ottawa Senators (a 5-3 Leafs win) and 20-18 in the team’s second game of the season by the Columbus Blue Jackets (a 4-1 Leafs win).
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
Speaking of the Blues, on Monday evening the Stanley Cup champs visit the Maple Leafs. Their star young goalie has continued his stellar play, and the game is likely to be a battle of two top NHL goalies. It will be a good game to watch for Maple Leafs fans.