I titled one of my recent posts, written immediately after Michael Hutchinson shut out the Vancouver Canucks 5-0 on Saturday evening, “How Good Does the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Hutchinson Feel Right Now?” I was tempted to give this post exactly the same title, only adding “Part Two.”
The party was simply too good to last. Hutchinson, the game after registering the fourth shutout of his career, was on the other end of the score. Feast to famine: the ups-and-downs of hockey. I’m not Hutchinson, but I’m disappointed myself: I was really rooting for the guy.
The Predators Are on a Roll
The Nashville Predators should have been tired: they were playing their third game in four nights on their season’s longest road trip (six-games). So far, so good as they’ve a point in every game. After a 4-3 overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Friday, the Predators beat the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday 4-1. Then, two nights later on Monday, they shutout the Maple Leafs 4-0.
Not that losing to the Predators is such a crime. The Predators are, like the Maple Leafs, a really good NHL club. Still, for Hutchinson, after facing 32 shots and saving 28, the ensuing .877 save percentage isn’t impressive. But, perhaps less impressive is that the entire Maple Leaf team mustered only 18 shots on goalie Pekka Rinne. That’s simply not enough shots.
What About the Maple Leafs’ Offense?
It was a frustrating night for the Maple Leafs’ offense and for the fans. The game had the feeling of the recent match with the New York Islanders on Dec. 29, a game that ended in an Islanders 4-0 shutout. It just wasn’t going to happen for the Maple Leafs. Instead, it felt like one of those nights when the team was snake bit. They hit three goal posts and had a goal erased because a player was offside.
Still, I repeat, the team only had 22 shots. That’s not enough, I’m thinking, especially against a strong team like the Predators and an equally-strong goalie like Rinne. The third period is typically a period when the Maple Leafs show up: last night they didn’t.
As unlucky as they were, the Predators were equally lucky. The Maple Leafs’ goal that wasn’t a goal came on a neat pass from Andreas Johnsson to Auston Matthews. It tied the game. But, after the Predators wisely challenged the goal, the game became un-tied. William Nylander had entered the Predators’ zone just ahead of the puck.
No goal, and none coming. The Maple Leafs’ best chance was when nine-minutes-a-night Frederik Gauthier had a partial breakaway but shot the puck over the netting.
The night was especially frustrating for Matthews. Not only was his first goal taken away, he missed goals two and three by hitting iron twice. His first goal post ricochet might have gone in, but it simply didn’t. Then, on a power play, Matthews hit the goal post a second time. That one was particularly egregious because Rinne was completely out of position and the net was wide open. All in all, it was a frustrating night for the Maple Leafs.
For the Predators …
Rinne’s shutout tied him with Marc-Andre Fleury, Bernie Parent and Ed Giacomin for 21st on the all-time shutout list. Filip Forsberg returned to the Nashville lineup after missing 17 games with a hand injury. To show just how balanced the Predators’ scoring is, although Forsberg has been out with an extended injury, his 14 goals still ties him for the team lead with Craig Smith.
For the Maple Leafs…
The team has now lost three of its last four games after a great five-game winning streak in December. Kasperi Kapanen’s scoring pace has slowed. After doing an admirable job as Nylander’s fill-in at the beginning of the season, he has scored two goals over his last nine games. He, too, rung one off the goal post last night. When Nylander returned from his holdout, Maple Leafs fans were excited by the prospect of Kapanen sliding down to the third line to give Kadri a highly-skilled scoring winger to create another scoring line. It hasn’t worked that way.
Coach Mike Babcock reported for at least the 200th time that he doesn’t know when starter Frederik Andersen (groin injury) or regular backup Garret Sparks (concussion protocol) might return to the active lineup. The reports I read suggest that Andersen has practised (or at least skated) three times since last Friday and the prognosis is so-so. His groin feels good one day, but not the next.
The Maple Leafs have a quick, one-game road trip to face the New Jersey Devils on Thursday, then the Boston Bruins come to town Monday. I’m sure the team wants to get back into game action soon, just because the feeling of losing stinks. However, an extended rest might settle some of the team’s goaltending issues, although it’s too early to tell. Someone should, for sure, remember to ask Babcock tomorrow.