The Toronto Maple Leafs created some momentum and buzz with their overtime win over the Montréal Canadiens on Wednesday. Then on Saturday, said momentum skidded to a halt as the Leafs lost a 5-3 contest to the Ottawa Senators in the newest chapter of the “Battle of Ontario”.
The offense looked as competitive as ever, putting up 36 shots against Craig Anderson, but couldn’t get the puck in the net one last time as the Sens picked up a huge win on the road.
The Maple Leafs can chalk this one up to the Senators being hungrier and wanting to prove they aren’t going to be a stepping stone in the Atlantic Division this year. One game is not going to end the Leafs’ playoff hopes, although there are issues that could become problematic as the season continues.
The Good: Mitch Marner Leads the Charge
Auston Matthews continued his strong start to the year, scoring his third of the year in the second period to give the Leafs a 2-1 lead. He also had an assist on Mitch Marner’s spectacular goal to tie the game at three. Marner had a two point game, looking good after recording no points on opening night. Morgan Rielly scored his first of the year on a terrific feed from Marner for the Maple Leafs’ first goal of the game. Once again the top two lines carried the team offensively for all 60 minutes.
Frederik Andersen looked shaky in moments, especially the second period, but he still bailed the Leafs out on multiple Senators scoring chances. He’ll get tonight off as Garret Sparks makes his first start of the year on the road against the Chicago Blackhawks.
The team did better discipline wise, taking two penalties compared to the four they committed on Wednesday. This made it easier for the penalty kill, who went two-for-two and are now five-for-six on the season.
The team also looked better out of the gate than they did on Wednesday, out shooting the Sens 12 to six in the first period and dishing out 30 hits throughout the game compared to the 18 they had against the Canadiens.
The Bad: Defense and Depth
The defense looked rough, again. Defensemen gave the puck away 11 times, leaving the team wide open for the Senators to strike. Ron Hainsey didn’t look as bad as he did on Wednesday, with a far better 6.6% relative Corsi and a shot on target. Unfortunately, he was still on the ice for over 20 minutes, was outmuscled along the boards constantly and still looks like his age is beginning to catch up with him.
Igor Ozhiganov is blowing his chance in the NHL so far. He was out there for two of the Senators’ goals, and was the player Thomas Chabot blew by on his way to scoring the game winning goal.
Game winner. pic.twitter.com/jYT11PZmcR
— Ottawa Senators (@Senators) October 7, 2018
He took a penalty in the season opener and continued to look out of his element on the third pairing with Travis Dermott. He had the worst relative Corsi on the team with -13.1% and recorded only two hits. Now, it’s only two games, so we could call it nerves, but this is the NHL, and those nerves are gonna have to dealt with soon.
But the Maple Leafs didn’t lose this game from defense alone, because a team is only as good as their depth, and the depth has done nothing for the Maple Leafs so far. All six Leaf goals, so far, have been scored by either the first or second lines.
Connor Brown was on the ice for three opposing goals and had a blue line turnover in the second that led to Chris Tierney’s 3-2 goal. Josh Leivo was on the ice for four Senators goals, had a -8.1% relative Corsi and took a slashing penalty less than five minutes into the first period. Even Nazem Kadri recorded zero shots and finished the game with a -3 rating, and hasn’t done anything of note through the first two games.
The fourth line of Andreas Johnsson, Par Lindholm and Kasperi Kapanen have done next to nothing, with all three on the ice for less than 13 minutes last night and playing fewer than 20 shifts. Yes, the three lines above them have some of the best talent in the NHL, but maybe giving them a few more minutes each night could give them the chance to show Mike Babcock what they could do with longer shifts.
Time to Rebound
The Maple Leafs play tonight in Chicago to begin a four-game road trip that also includes Dallas, Detroit and Washington — and tonight’s result will dictate how the team will perform over those four games. The Maple Leafs need to put the Senators loss in the rearview mirror, and what better way to do that than to walk into the United Center and knock off a Blackhawks squad that is 2-0-0. If the depth can perform as well as we believe they can, the Maple Leafs should have an easy time creating chances against an aging Blackhawks defense.
A hockey fan straight from the Lonestar State. No matter the team or league, I’m always here to spread the word on the world’s greatest sport.