By Stan Smith
The Toronto Maple Leafs have had three embarrassing losses in the early going of this season. After the first two of those losses, the Maple Leafs were able to come back with bounce-back wins. They tried to make it three for three in San Jose but came up short.
Unlike the Vegas game when giving up the 3-1 goal seemed to suck any life out of them, the Maple Leafs were able to come back in this game led by the players you expect to lead. Mitch Marner scored off of a beautiful tic-tac-toe play between Morgan Rielly, Alex Kerfoot, and Auston Matthews. Then Matthews scored his first goal of the season in which he actually shot the puck on the power play in the third period to tie the game.
Marner played a role in all three Maple Leafs’ goals. On the first goal, he carried the puck into the Sharks’ zone and exchanged passes with Justin Holl before dishing the puck off to Kerfoot, who relayed it to David Kampf. Kampf scored his team-leading third five-on-five goal to tie the game at one.
Marner started and finished the play that made the score 3-2 Sharks with 22 seconds left in the second period.
On the tying goal, Marner timed a perfect screen on Sharks’ goalie Kaapo Kahkonen on the one-timer by Matthews.
As we mentioned earlier, Matthews’ goal was the first time he shot the puck into the net. His first goal was off of a tip of a Mark Giordano shot against the Washington Capitals. Matthews finished the game with seven shots on the net. Hopefully, he can carry some momentum into the weekend.
The Fourth Line
This was by far the best game of the season for the Maple Leafs’ fourth line. Kampf’s goal was scored on a line change so neither Pierre Engvall nor Zach Aston-Reese was involved in that play. However, when the three of them were together at five-on-five, according to Naturalstattrick.com they had 81 percent of the Expected Goals. They also had three High-Danger Scoring Chances For at five-on-five and zero against.
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One of the announcers during the game brought up an interesting statistic about Giordano. He’s not had a single game in which he’s been a minus in plus/minus. Looking over his game-by-game stats on Hockeyreference.com, he was plus-2 in one game, a plus-1 in three games, and a zero in the other four.
Further research shows that, at five-on-five, Giordano has yet to be on the ice for a single goal this season. At the same time, the Maple Leafs have scored four five-on-five goals with Giordano on the ice.
Poor Puck Movement
Head Coach Sheldon Keefe stated after the game that he felt one of the team’s biggest problems has been their ability to move the puck efficiently up ice. In his postgame presser, Keefe stated; “in terms of moving the puck from our defence up to our forwards and getting onto the attack, we had a real hard time with that. Vegas was similar. Our inability to move the puck right now is really slowing us down.”
He added; “our inability to move the puck up the ice efficiently is slowing down our game on offence and really hurting our game defensively as well. We are just getting stressed. In the second period, we could never get our defence off the ice because we just couldn’t move the puck up.”
When queried as to where exactly the problem was Keefe pulled no punches by stating; “It starts with the D.”
Related: 7 Observations from the Maple Leafs First 7 Games
Missing the Net
I think back to when Nylander ended his holdout back in 2018. When he came back, Nylander appeared to have difficulty hitting the net. It seemed every time he was in tight he either shot high or wide. That played a big part in his only scoring seven goals that season.
Right now it seems like the whole team is having that same problem. The Maple Leafs had several good looks that ended up missing the net in this game. According to Naturalstattrick.com, they had 49 shot attempts of which 10 were blocked by the Sharks’ players.
They ended up with 25 total shots on the net in the game. That means they missed the net 14 times. In total, more than one-third (36%) of the Maple Leafs’ unblocked shots missed the net in the game.
The question is, is that bad luck, or are the Maple Leafs trying to be too cute with their shots? On a positive note things like this usually work themselves out.
This loss in this game boiled down to three things that happened that took up less than a minute’s worth of action.
Logan Couture’s opening goal came 26 seconds into the game. That goal came down to three mistakes. A missed pinch by Rasmus Sandin; Holl losing a battle for the puck with Matt Lieto; and, Matthews failing to pick up and cover Couture, leaving him all alone to score the goal.
Two penalties were taken simultaneously by the Maple Leafs at 4:33 of the second period. One penalty was a trip by TJ Brodie and the second was a hook by Engvall. That sequence of penalties led to a five-on-three and a five-on-four power-play goal by the Sharks to give them a 3-1 lead.
A giveaway at the Sharks’ end of the ice by William Nylander gave Erik Karlsson a 150-foot breakaway.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
The Maple Leafs get right back into action Saturday night in Los Angeles when they face the Kings. They follow with a game Sunday in Anaheim when they take on the Ducks.
Ilya Samsonov is scheduled to get the start Saturday night with Erik Kallgren coming right back on Sunday. One worrisome tidbit came from Keefe before Thursday’s game. The reason Kallgren started two of the three games was that Samsonov was ill.
Mark Masters tweeted the following Keefe statement following practice on Wednesday regarding Samsonov “he’s been a little under the weather throughout the trip.”
Hopefully, whatever has been ailing Samsonov won’t affect his play against the Kings. The Maple Leafs need to win that game to remain above .500 this season.
Related: Four Takeaways from Maple Leafs’ 4-3 Loss to the Sharks