Another game and another loss for the Toronto Maple Leafs who took one step further away from climbing back into a playoff spot in the NHL’s Eastern Conference. On Wednesday, the Maple Leafs gave up another two points to the New York Rangers who came out flying and tallied a handful of goals in a 5-3 beat down of the Maple Leafs.
The loss came with back-up Michael Hutchinson manning the crease as Frederik Andersen continues to recover from an upper-body injury suffered in the team’s previous contest. While Hutchinson played to his season numbers – which isn’t a good thing – the Maple Leafs didn’t give their netminder any help allowing the Rangers to fire 35 shots on net with a number of high-danger scoring chances.
With all that said, and another loss in the books, here’s what we can take away from the Maple Leafs’ latest stumble.
Can’t Stop the Cycle
A talking point surrounding the Maple Leafs this season has been their inability to stop the offensive cycle in their own end. Whether it’s poking pucks away or winning battles along the boards, the lacklustre defensive play has cost the team at times and has led some to wonder if the Maple Leafs have that shutdown switch that drives championship teams.
That was the case again on Wednesday as the Maple Leafs allowed a number of extended shifts to happen within their own end. While the Rangers didn’t necessarily score off of long cycles in the Maple Leafs’ zone, the fact that they were able to burn time off the clock in doing so is one of the many things that cost the Maple Leafs down the stretch in this game.
Stop! Drop! Goal!
While the Rangers didn’t score off extended cycles in the offensive zone, they were able to tally two of their five goals in a span of six seconds in the first period to put the Maple Leafs down 3-1 after 20 minutes.
The first – Mika Zibanejad’s 21st of the season – came at 17:18 of the first frame off an offensive zone draw and a quick shot from the top of the circle putting his team up 2-1. Chris Kreider, who assisted on the Zibanejad goal, then took the puck down the wing off another face-off win for the Rangers and drove the net beating Hutchinson in the process.
The two goals not only deflated the Maple Leafs to end the period, but it made Hutchinson look much worse than he had been playing through the first seventeen minutes of the game. He had given up three goals, however, none of them were actually his fault.
It’s tough as it is coming into a building and playing as the road team, but giving up two goals so close together and so late in the period can add to the pressure of trying to win in somebody else’s barn.
Defining Moment for Hutch?
Speaking of the Maple Leafs goalie, it was another rough night for Hutchinson who game up five goals on 35 shots and got tagged with the loss once again. The result brought his season record to 4-9-1 on the season with a 3.66 goals against average and .886 save percentage – all numbers that won’t suffice as an NHL back-up.
So was his role simply defined by yet another poor performance? Surely, the Maple Leafs couldn’t continue to put the weight of their season on the shoulders of a back-up with subpar stats.
Even as a back-up, the Maple Leafs needed to see some key saves in some situations and they weren’t getting them from Hutchinson this season. While the goals can’t simply be added to the overwhelming heat that Hutchinson is already taking in Toronto, his inconsistency this season certainly didn’t help his case.
And, almost as if Kyle Dubas was writing a book, he scripted another chapter for the Maple Leafs organization following the game – one that we will get to in just a moment.
Buchnevich Continues Strong Season
On the offensive side of the puck, the Rangers have a budding star on their hands in Pavel Buchnevich. While the 24-year-old has battled some injuries early in his career, he’s been a key component to the Rangers offence this season and continued that on Wednesday night.
Buchnevich tallied the fourth and deciding goal for the Rangers late in the second, his 11th of the season, and added two assists to bring his season total to 31 points 52 games this season.
On top of that, he finished the game with a plus-four rating, six shots on goal and two hits – adding some of the peripheral stats to his scoresheet as well. And he’s getting noticed because of it. He played just over 17 minutes and earned just over a minute of power play time and he justified the coach’s decision by tallying three points.
Matthews Tallies Two
As we always do, there was a silver lining for the Maple Leafs. Auston Matthews, who lost both draws that led to the second and third Rangers’ goals, tallied two of his own. He had four shots and successfully beat Igor Shesterkin on two of them to bring his season total up to 39 goals and leaving him one shy of the 40-goal mark for the second time in his young career.
That said, the superstar did finish with a minus-three rating and was only 53 percent on the draws which – in this game – proved to be quite costly for the Maple Leafs.
While the Maple Leafs aren’t exactly out of it yet, they will need Matthews to continue with the offence and play both sides of the puck moving forward.
Also Worth Noting…
Dubas and the Maple Leafs made a trade following their latest loss and, as mentioned, it was for a back-up goaltender and a player that should add some grit to an otherwise passive lineup. The Maple Leafs acquired goaltender Jack Campbell and Kyle Clifford in exchange for Trevor Moore, Columbus’ third round pick in 2020 and a conditional third round pick in 2021.
While it’ll be sad to see Moore go, especially with his speed and work ethic, the Maple Leafs might’ve finally realized just how important it is for them to have a solid back-up option behind Andersen.
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