Well, it was only a matter of time until the Toronto Maple Leafs lost their first regulation game of the season and it came with the team having played four games in six days and against the reigning Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues.
Still, it was an exciting game and one that kept fans on the edges of their seats with the Blues leaving Toronto with a 3-2 victory backed by local boy Jordan Binnington. Still, the team will look at the video over the next several days and while they will find what they need to take away from Monday night’s affair, here’s what we can take away from the team’s loss.
Spezza Should Stick
If you didn’t catch the 1-1 goal by Frederik Gauthier, be sure to have a look at it. You’ll want to watch the setup more than the goal as it was all thanks to veteran Jason Spezza that Gauthier was able to tie the game.
Whacking out of the reach of Binnington, Spezza hit it out of the air not once, but twice before knocking it over to Gauthier who finished nicely in front of the Blues’ net. The assist was Spezza’s first point with the Maple Leafs in just his second game as he seems to be one of the forwards still fighting for a spot in Mike Babcock’s lineup.
But if his effort against St. Louis was any indication of what he can bring to this lineup, it’s time to solidify Spezza as one of the team’s fourth line players. The 36-year-old played just under nine minutes for the Maple Leafs, but had three shots on goal, a primary assist and a Corsi For Percentage of 73.3 at 5v5 – good enough for second highest on the team.
Overall, Spezza’s possession numbers were good and that was with four defensive zone starts and none in the neutral zone or offensive zone, according to Natural Stat Trick. Analytics might not be for everyone, but they’re telling a story for the Maple Leafs veteran so far.
Maple Leafs Close, But Not Ready Yet
The Maple Leafs need to take some kind of silver lining from the one-goal loss to the reigning Cup champions. After all, with the Blues’ roster not changing very much since last season, the Maple Leafs handled themselves fairly well against a team that had enough in the tank to win it all.
Toronto outshot the Blues overall 34-30, which included a 15-7 showing in the first period. Aside from a small defensive breakdown on the Alex Pietrangelo goal which gave the Blues the lead for good, the Maple Leafs handled the champs pretty well in keeping the game within a goal all night. In fact, at one point the Maple Leafs even held the lead after two quick goals in the second period.
While they might not be ready just yet for a run to the finals, it’s safe to say the Maple Leafs are getting close.
Maple Leafs Singing the Blues
Close, but no cigar. That’s what they say, anyways. For the Maple Leafs, close isn’t good enough against the Blues. Their 3-2 victory on Monday marked the seventh time in a row that the Blues have walked away from the Maple Leafs with the W in hand.
So what is about the Blues that has kept the Maple Leafs from picking up that coveted win? Well, for one, they have that championship pedigree now. But could it ultimately come down to bad timing and poor defence?
In this case it could be argued that way. As mentioned it was the fourth game for the Maple Leafs in six days. Add to that some mind lapses throughout the game and some stone cold goaltending from Binnington and it’s safe to say the Blues simply have the Maple Leafs’ number… for now.
Physicality Still an Issue
We saw it against the Bruins in the first round of last year’s postseason and it’s evident yet again that the Maple Leafs are lacking the physicality to keep up with some teams. I mean, sure, they have the speed and that will counteract it to some extent, but at some point physicality becomes a weapon need for victory.
On Monday, the Blues out-hit the Maple Leafs 26-15, they doubled the Leafs in blocked shots and took one fewer penalty than the guys in blue and white.
The Maple Leafs are built with a number of smaller players this season and it’ll be tough for them to battle on the physical spectrum, but that said they will have to figure out a way to make that stat meaningless if they want to take that next step come playoff time.
A Possession Game
Possession is nine tenths of the law – or in hockey it’s everything you need to score a goal against the opposition. At least that usually the case. But not on Monday night and not for the Maple Leafs.
The Maple Leafs controlled the pace of play with a 60.6 CF% and 16 more scoring chances than the Blues. While it didn’t work out this time for the home team, it’s safe to say had Binnington not stood on his head that the Maple Leafs could’ve come out of this game with a different outcome.
Also Worth Noting…
Pietrangelo’s game-winning goal was also the 400th point of the defenceman’s NHL career. The 29-year-old has 95 goals and 305 assists in 691 career regular season games – all with the Blues.
It was the first game this season that Auston Matthews was held pointless and goalless. The Maple Leafs star has five goals through the first four games of the season.
The Maple Leafs will ready themselves for another tough test on Thursday as the blue and white take on the Tampa Bay Lightning in Toronto after a couple of days off.
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.