To say the Toronto Maple Leafs were disappointed with their start to the season is an understatement. The Leafs started the young campaign with two consecutive losses to the Canadiens and Penguins and exited Saturdays loss to the bellowing boo’s of the Toronto faithful – a blue and white jersey making its way over the glass thanks to a disgruntled fan.
Kessel on criticism from Carlyle: You guys need to relax a bit. It's Game 1. Obviously we want to be better but there's 81 more left here."
— Stephen Whyno (@SWhyno) October 10, 2014
But it was their simple spoken franchise player – Phil Kessel – that said it best following the Leafs first game: “Guys, it’s Game 1,” he said in an article by Michael Traikos. “You guys need to relax a bit here.”
And he’s not wrong. In fact, while the team was severely outplayed throughout the first week, losing 4-3 to Montreal and 5-2 to the Penguins, they were still working on gelling as a team. The Leafs were without Cody Franson for the first couple games and had young Stuart Percy working the point in his place. They also had newcomer Mike Santorelli and returning agitator Leo Komarov working to find their place in the Leafs’ lineup.
At the same time, it’s these early games that team’s need to find a way to pull out. Often, playoff teams are decided by two, four or ever six points and it’s the missed opportunities early on that could’ve changed the way things played out.
October 8: Montreal at Toronto (L 4-3)
The Leafs opened the season once again against their Atlantic Division rivals – the Montreal Canadiens. While the score suggests another story, the Habs outplayed the Leafs for most of the game.
With a 2-1 lead heading into the second, the Leafs would give up the lead only to tied it up again in the third. But just over a minute later – and under a minute to go in the game – Habs’ forward Tomas Plekanec netted his second goal of the game to hand Montreal a win in regulation.
Continuing Last Year’s Trend
It seemed to be an on-going joke last season with every other team around the league, but the Leafs rarely found a way to outshoot their opponents in 2013-14. This season was supposed to be different in their defensive end. Instead, the Leafs opened the season being outshot 32-27 by their arch rivals.
Defensively, they were average. In net, Jonathan Bernier allowed a couple questionable goals, but didn’t get much help otherwise. And the winning goal – was an absolute fluke. However, the Leafs deserved to lose that game and the top line – of Bozak, JVR, and Kessel – were on the ice for two of Montreal’s four goals.
Young Brandon Kozun played 13 minutes for the Leafs in their season opener. While he wasn’t able to pot a goal of his own, Kozun was individually responsible for the Leafs first goal of the season – his shot tipped in by Nazem Kadri.
The Leafs should also be impressed by their special teams. The team went 1-for-3 on the powerplay – the top line scoring the goal – and were a perfect 2-for-2 on the penalty kill. Shutting down the Habs point production on the PP is a huge feat a team that struggled on the PK over the past many season – and it’s something the Leafs should consider a step in the right direction.
October 11: Pittsburgh at Toronto (L 5-2)
Outshot (again), and outplayed (again), the Maple Leafs came out of the week with a brutal game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. From the start of the game, the Leafs were fighting an uphill battle – giving up three goals in the first period to a team that is so dominant with the lead.
Shot attempts tonight: Penguins 55, Leafs 32 for a cool 37%. Only Winnik and Kadri were 50% or better.
— James Mirtle (@mirtle) October 12, 2014
The Tale of Two Special Teams
While the Leafs had a good penalty kill in their opener, it was a different story in Game 2 against a strong Pittsburgh powerplay. Toronto gave up three powerplay goals on five opportunities after playing so well on the penalty kill against Montreal to start the season. Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz, and Evgeni Malkin all potted goals with the man advantage with the Leafs only shutting down the strong offence twice.
On the other hand, the Leafs were able to add to their powerplay totals scoring two more goals in five chance on the man advantage. Stuart Percy had the chance to play on the point during the Leafs powerplay – a compliment to the young defenceman.
Percy’s assists on a late Tyler Bozak goal was his second point of the season and furthered the argument to keep the rookie in the lineup. Morgan Reilly also added his second point of the season, assisting on Joffrey Lupul’s powerplay goal in the second period and left Jake Gardiner the odd man out with the imminent return of Cody Franson to the Leafs lineup.
While Bernier did allow five goals – losing for the second straight game – he did face over 40 shots and looked pretty confident behind a questionable defensive effort by the team in front of him.
Positives will be taken from the Leafs game each and every week, however, positives don’t win you games unfortunately. The Leafs do have a lot to look forward to this season and will continue to grow as a team. But in the first week, they’ve got a lot of growing to do.
Week 1 Team Summary:
The blue and white finished Week 1 with a record of 0-2-0-0. They were outscored 9-5, killing off four of seven penalties and scoring on three of eight powerplay opportunities. While they did outhit their opponents 69-56, they lost in the battle of face-offs (71-61) and defensive accountability by blocking shots (31-27).
They had less giveaways (22-20) and more takeaways (21-19) than their opponents which is something to look at as an all-around positive for the week. Regardless, the Leafs do have parts of their game that they have to improve on and it won’t be good enough to play the way they played in Week 1.
For more, follow Andrew on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes or his column at @Tape2TapeTHW.
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.