By Stan Smith
In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs’ “Good, Bad & Ugly,” I’ll review the game from these perspectives.
Ugly, Lots of Ugly
Not Ready To Play
This whole game was ugly. The Maple Leafs did not appear to come ready to play in this game period. I think this was the ugliest loss the Maple Leafs have suffered this season. It is much uglier than the losses to either Montreal or Arizona. In both those games, it was obvious the Maple Leafs were the better team. They just failed to execute and failed to finish on the chances they had. In this game, the Golden Knights looked like the much better team for the vast majority of the contest.
The Maple Leafs took a lazy too-many-men penalty right off the get-go when Micheal Bunting coasted back to the bench and Pierre Engvall jumped on the ice with Bunting still a good ten feet the other side of center. That seemed to set the tone for the night.
It appeared the Maple Leafs avoided the bullet on the power play as a close offside negated the first goal Vegas scored on a coach’s challenge, a goal that would have been former Maple Leafs Phil Kessel’s 400th if it would have counted. But, no worry for the Golden Knights. Nicholas Roy scored on the same power play to make it 1-0 anyway.
Bunting had the Maple Leafs’ second shot of the first period at the 12:06 mark of the period. Prior to that Vegas outshot the Maple Leafs 8-1.
Bunting had the Maple Leafs’ second shot of the second period. This time it was quicker, at the 7:04 mark, but the Golden Knights had outshot the Maple Leafs 7-1 by that point.
Then, in the third period, with the score tied 1-1 and the Maple Leafs lucky the game was still tied, the John Tavares line with Morgan Rielly and TJ Brodie on the backend got completely schooled by the Jack Eichel/Mark Stone/Chandler Stephenson line before ultimately giving up the 2-1 goal.
High Danger Chances
In Toronto’s first six games this season they gave up an average of ten High-Danger Scoring Chances at five-on-five according to Naturalstattrick.com. In this game, they gave Las Vegas 19 High-Danger five-on-five chances. That was close to double the 11 chances the Maple Leafs had in the game.
Struggles to Start Season
The loss to the Golden Knights gives the Maple Leafs a 4-3 record to start the season. While not good enough, it is still better than their start last season where they were 2-4-1 in their first seven games.
Even in a game this ugly there are some good things to take note of.
Ilya Samsonov did everything he could to keep the Maple Leafs in this game. If they could have bounced back and made a game of it, won it, or even got a point out of it, this would have been one of those games where the goalie would have stolen something.
Unfortunately, it was not to be. Hopefully, someone on the team gets the message across to Samsonov that this loss was in no way his fault. If not for him the score would have been much worse.
There was a scary moment in the third period where Tavares went down and was writhing on the ice in pain after taking a 97-mile-an-hour slapshot from Rasmus Sandin off the side of the knee. I think we were all amazed, and greatly relieved, to see him return to the ice later in the period.
On a side note, Sandin let go of a 97-mile-an-hour slapshot. Maybe we need to see more of that.
The Bad, and What’s Next
We have been discussing that Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner have not yet hit their stride. After the Vegas game, Matthews and Marner have one goal each. They do have nine assists between them and are both still close to a point-a-game pace, but that is no longer acceptable for these two players.
Maybe there comes a time when, rather than waiting for them to break out, a bit of a shake-up is needed. Tavares and Nylander have been carrying the load and doing the bulk of the scoring to this point of the season. It might be nice to see Sheldon Keefe mix those two lines up for a shift or two to see if it can get Matthews and Marner moving in the right direction.
The Maple Leafs decided to take a bit of a holiday this week, travelling right to Vegas immediately following the Winnipeg game on Saturday night and staying there until Wednesday before heading to San Jose to take on the Sharks Thursday. The Sharks’ game will be the start of a three-game in four-night weekend in California.
We don’t think the intention was supposed to include taking Monday night off against the Golden Knights as part of that plan. Hopefully, the Maple Leafs can use the embarrassment of the Vegas game as motivation going into this weekend. They need to take advantage of three struggling teams to start the season.
A three-game sweep would go a long way to getting the ship righted.