The last 20 games of the NHL season were always going to be a roller coaster for the Toronto Maple Leafs. They acquired Mark Giordano and Colin Blackwell from Seattle. The Florida Panthers added Claude Giroux and Ben Chiarot. Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Lightning landed Brandon Hagel, and the Boston Bruins got their guy in Hampus Lindholm.
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What makes these additions relevant is that the Maple Leafs, Bruins, and Lightning are all within one point of each other. On the same day the Bruins and Lightning gained ground in the Atlantic Division race, the Maple Leafs stayed in place after a 4-2 loss to the division-worst Montreal Canadiens, slipping into a wildcard spot in the process.
When you look at the results on paper, one might suggest the Maple Leafs aren’t to blame for the loss. The shot count heavily favored them 51-17. But the fact of the matter is, the Maple Leafs surrendered a possible two points in a game they should have won. Here are three takeaways from the Maple Leafs’ loss to Montreal.
Maple Leafs’ and Canadiens’ Shot Totals Don’t Reflect Game
We might as well start with the one I just teased. The Maple Leafs were relentless in terms of getting pucks on net tonight, but the Canadiens made the best of their few opportunities. With Jake Allen boasting a .961 save percentage (SV%) and Erik Kallgren coming out with a lowly .824 SV%, it appears that one goaltender was significantly better than the other. But in this case, I don’t think the shot clock reflects the way the game played out.
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The Maple Leafs may have outshot Montreal by a wide margin, but in my opinion, this was one of the sloppier 45+ shot efforts I’ve seen the team play. Many of their shots weren’t super high-danger. While they certainly peppered the shots on goal, they were also rather sloppy with their passing plays. That’s not to take anything away from Allen by any means. Any time you deny the opponent 51 times, you deserve credit for the win, and Allen made some huge stops to keep the Habs in the game.
The same could be said in the other crease. Kallgren’s three goals allowed on 20 shots don’t do him any favors on the stat sheet. It’s hard for me to blame him for any of the goals he allowed. William Nylander’s lack of a backcheck on the first goal left David Savard wide open, Justin Holl committed a brutal giveaway and then took the penalty that led to Cole Caufield’s power-play goal. There’s also an argument to be made about a possible missed trip on Auston Matthews which led to Paul Byron’s game-winning goal.
After watching two months of poor play from Jack Campbell and Petr Mrazek, I’m comfortable giving the goalie a pass when he wasn’t to blame. I firmly believe Kallgren was far from the reason the Maple Leafs lost last night. He made some big saves of his own when the team needed him to. To me, he shouldn’t take the brunt of the heat for the loss.
Maple Leafs’ Second Line Desperately Needs a Shakeup
Leafs fans have been blessed with the privilege of watching Matthews, Mitch Marner, and Michael Bunting work their magic for much of the season. The downside here is that, especially lately, the second-line duo of Nylander and John Tavares has not been at the top of their game. Nylander hasn’t scored in six games. Meanwhile, Tavares and Alex Kerfoot only have one goal in their last six. The first two are under a much bigger spotlight than Kerfoot here because the latter has played some of these past few games on the fourth line.
There’s an easy fix to this problem, and that’s to switch Marner and Nylander. One thing I’ve noticed about the Maple Leafs’ standard top-six look is that when the winger pairings are Matthews-Marner and Tavares-Nylander, both duos are capable of doing sheer damage at their best. However, when they’re off their game it can be hard to watch. And right now, the second line as a whole needs a change of scenery.
I find that whenever the Maple Leafs shake up the top six and swap the right-wingers, it always seems to pay off in some form. It worked earlier this season when the Maple Leafs needed to get Marner going, and it could work again now. As a skill-built, offense-driven team, the Maple Leafs are going to need to head into the playoffs with all four of their top offensive players going. So, why not alter something that’s not working? It seems like a no-brainer with how tight the schedule is.
Maple Leafs Must Win Games They Deserve to Win
I understand some will disagree, but I’m at a point with the Maple Leafs where I’m having a really hard time giving them the benefit of the doubt for losing games that they should win. At this point of the season, they’ve had countless opportunities to widen the gap in the Atlantic Division. They’ve surrendered points to teams like Montreal, Buffalo, and Arizona on multiple occasions. The excuses don’t come easily.
That’s not to say that the Maple Leafs haven’t deserved to win some of these games lately. In fact, that’s the whole point of what I’m trying to say here. When you go into a game against one of the worst teams in the league whose short two forwards for the last 40 minutes, it’s hard to justify not winning the game. I’m certainly not saying the answer is as simple as “just win”. Hockey is a crazy sport, and bad teams are capable of beating good teams. In the end, the deserve-to-win-o-meter doesn’t win you hockey games. This doesn’t just apply to the Leafs, either. Tampa Bay has lost six of their last nine games, and you can bet they’re not making excuses for games they should have won.
Think back to Holl’s comments from about a month ago when he admitted the team tends to play down to their opponent’s level. We’re seeing that happen time and time again this year, and if the Maple Leafs want to have any success in the playoffs, they need to put a stop to this before they get there. Their roster as it stands is good enough to beat just about any team in the league, and finding ways to win important games like that is going to be one of the biggest x-factors to any success beyond the first round.
Maple Leafs Meet Florida For the First Time Tonight
It’s hard to believe that 64 games into the season, the Maple Leafs have yet to face off against the Panthers. Tonight’s game will be a massive test for this team, as they’ll be taking on a team they could very well be facing in the first round this year. Much like the Maple Leafs, Florida has had some sub-par goaltending in the calendar year, which is something the Maple Leafs must pounce on.
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This upcoming week of Maple Leafs hockey is going to be crucial in so many ways. They play Florida tonight and Boston on Tuesday, two games with major implications in the standings. Mrazek will be making the start coming off a solid performance against the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday. A strong performance from him is desperately needed, as the Maple Leafs will look to quickly move on from this one.