Well, the Toronto Maple Leafs were back at it again on Sunday night as they took on another Original Six foe in the Chicago Blackhawks. The Maple Leafs – like they have in every back-to-back this season – lost the second-half game with a 5-4 score and it wasn’t a pretty start for the blue and white in the Windy City.
Still, while no one like reminiscing about losses, there are a few things we can takeaway from the team’s one-goal loss at the hands of the struggling Blackhawks.
Did We Miss Puckdrop?
While the puck dropped at the start of the game, the Maple Leafs clearly didn’t show up until later in the evening. It took just over 12 minutes of play for the Blackhawks to take a 3-0 lead – including two goals from Kirby Dach and Patrick Kane just 10 seconds apart.
Even then, the Maple Leafs got one back at the 16:29 mark of the first period before the Blackhawks restored their three goal lead with a power play tally from Jonathan Toews at 17:28.
While the Maple Leafs did shut down the Blackhawks in the second period and only gave up one more in the third, the Maple Leafs did own the final two frames of the game. But it was too little, too late for the blue and white as they weren’t able to hold of the Blackhawks offence. And while the Maple Leafs did register 57 shots on goal, it’s hard to win after giving up four goals in the first period.
Back Up Woes Continue
What can we say about Michael Hutchinson? Well, not much needs to be said as the Maple Leafs followed up another rough game from their backup by announcing that the team was placing Hutchinson on waivers following his fifth loss of the season.
It’s been a rough go for the 29-year-old goaltender this season as he’s had the backend of the Maple Leafs’ back-to-backs this season including some pretty tough opponents – the Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins to name a few.
As a result, the Maple Leafs are 0-4-1 in the second-half of their back-to-backs this year as is Hutchinson record. That includes a 4.44 goals against average and .879 save percentage. While he can’t be fully blamed for the lack of effort in front of him, he hasn’t exactly been reliable himself this year giving up some questionable goals at times when the team needed him to come up with a big stop.
That said, with the Maple Leafs waiving the goaltender, the move makes room for Kasimir Kaskisuo who has a 6-1-1 record in eight games this season for the AHL’s Toronto Marlies with a 2.13 goals against average and 0.928 save percentage.
Where Are the Others?
It was basically a four-man show for the Maple Leafs on Sunday. That show included John Tavares, Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Andreas Johnsson. Those four combined for all of the team’s goals with Matthews tallying four assists and Nylander scoring twice to bring his season total to seven goals.
On top of that, Tavares had a goal and an assist to bring his season totals to five goals and 11 points in 12 games.
That said, where was the rest of the team? Dmytro Timashov, Jason Spezza and Nick Shore all played under 10 minutes with the other four players in Ilya Mikheyev, Trevor Moore, Kasperi Kapanen and Alex Kerfoot combined for a minus-eight rating and zero points.
That’ll hurt the Maple Leafs if they can’t get these depth players going again like they were earlier in the season – especially with the news of Mitch Marner’s absence.
Prior to the game on Sunday, the team announced that their star forward – Marner – would be out for at least the next four weeks with an ankle injury he suffered against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday.
While it will certainly leave a big hole in the lineup for the Maple Leafs, they understand that it offers other players the opportunity to showcase their play with Marner out of the lineup.
“Other guys have to step up,” said Matthews following the game on Sunday. “He’s a big part of this team. He plays some key roles, special teams, 5-on-5. He’s a special player. He’s going to be missed, obviously, but those things happen. We have to move on without him. We have to have guys who come in and play a bigger role here for the time being, got to step up and capitalize on their opportunities.”
Spezza was the first to get an opportunity after sitting for three games, but he came up a little short on Sunday with a minus-two rating in nine minutes of ice-time.
Power Play the Silver Lining
If there was one silver lining from this game – aside from the play of their four point-getters – it has to be the efforts of the Maple Leafs’ power play. While the team has struggled on the man advantage as of late, they did go two-for-five on the power play with goals coming from Tavares and Johnsson.
They had good movement around the outside of the zone and took advantage when there were holes in the Blackhawks penalty kill setup – which allowed them to find the seams and dish the puck off to the eventual goal scorers.
That said, the Maple Leafs still played an undisciplined game and gave up five power plays of their own. While they were able to kill off four of the Blackhawks opportunities, five power plays is still far too many chances for the opposition – something the Maple Leafs will have to continue to work on as they move forward without guys like Marner in the lineup to get them back in the game.
Also Worth Noting…
Nylander tallied his sixth and seventh goals of the season on Sunday, meaning he’s already met his season total from last year through just 19 games. So far, he has seven goals and 15 points through 19 games, averaging 0.79 points per game. That puts him on pace for 65 points if he plays all 82 games which would be a career-high for the 23-year-old.
The Maple Leafs have already dealt with Tavares absence from the lineup for seven games this season. During that time, they went 3-2-2 without their captain. Now, assuming Marner misses exactly four weeks, the Maple Leafs will be without him for 12 games.
The Maple Leafs will look to regroup on Wednesday when they head to Nassau Coliseum to take on the New York Islanders.
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.