By Stan Smith
By the eye test, this was a game in which the Toronto Maple Leafs deserved a better fate. It wasn’t to be though, as they fell to the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-2.
The Maple Leafs started the game strong outshooting Pittsburgh 6-1 in the opening ten minutes. They also took a one-to-nothing lead at the 13:49 of the first when 5-foot-9, 180-pound Denis Malgin bodied 6-foot-4, 205-pound, Brian Dumoulin, off the puck in the Penguins zone. Malgin then created some open ice for himself in the corner of the rink before firing a shot on the net. Penguins’ goalie Casey DeSmith stopped the shot but Zach Aston-Reese knocked in the rebound to score his second goal of the season.
With the Maple Leafs down 2-1 in the second period and on the power play, William Nylander and Morgan Rielly made a nice Nylander to Rielly back to Nylander for the one-timer play to tie the game.
The second period was by far the Maple Leafs’ best period of the game as they owned the puck. According to Naturalstattrick.com, the Shot Attempts in the period were 33-16 for Toronto. The Shots were 16-9 for Toronto. The Scoring Chances were 18-5 for Toronto, and the High-Danger Chances were 9-1 for Toronto. The Maple Leafs had 80% of the Expected Goals in the period. Unfortunately, other than the one power-play goal, they were not able to capitalize on their chances.
At the end of the first period the Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and Alex Kerfoot line had a terrible shift. With less than a minute to go in the period, they had multiple chances to get the puck out of the zone and deep into the Penguins’ zone but failed.
First Matthews turned the puck over inside his own blue line. Then Marner skated the puck safely out of the zone but turned it over in front of the Maple Leafs’ bench attempting a cross-ice pass to Matthews. Matthews again turned the puck over in almost the exact spot he did previously before Chad Ruhwedel took a point shot that TJ Brodie blocked.
Unfortunately for the Maple Leafs, the puck bounced off of Brodie right to Malkin, who was left alone by Justin Holl. Malkin made no mistake, firing the puck into the empty net with just 36 seconds on the clock.
Between the two of them, according to the NHL game stats, Matthews and Marner had six giveaways between them in the game – three giveaways apiece.
The Maple Leafs went into the third period tied 2-2 after the power-play goal by Nylander. The tie did not last long though. Malgin, who had had a strong game until then, turned the puck over in the neutral zone trying to stick handle through Danton Heinen’s legs. Heinen picked up the puck, entered the Maple Leafs, and dropped it back to Brock McGinn. McGinn took a wrist shot that went between Mark Giordano’s legs in a failed block attempt. The puck found its way between Maple Leafs’ goalie Erik Kallgren’s arm and his body to put the Penguins up 3-2.
The shot was taken far enough out that, despite going through Giordano, Kallgren should have been able to stop it. Kallgren was visibly upset during the post-game interviews that he had allowed that goal.
The goal did seem to suck the life out of the Maple Leafs and they mounted little in the way of sustained offence the rest of the way. As well, the Penguins did a good job shutting things down. It took Pittsburgh three attempts before Jake Guentzel finally found the open net with 13 seconds left in the game to make the final score 4-2.
There were a few plays that I could have written about that might be considered ugly in this game. I’m going to use this space to complain about the lack of “Ugly” on the Maple Leafs’ part.
This team can score some pretty goals. The type of goals that show up on highlight reels and make you say “Wow.” They very seldom score ugly goals.
They lack that Dave Andreychuck, Nik Antropov, or James Van Riemsdyk type of player who can create havoc in front of the opponent’s net while at the same time using their stick to deflect pucks and bang in rebounds. This is the area where I have the most criticism of the Maple Leafs. I often think that Wayne Simmonds could fill that role. But, even when he does play, he isn’t used in that manner.
The Maple Leafs get to come right back at it tonight as they take on the Vancouver Canucks on Hockey Night in Canada. This is the third game of a five-game Eastern road trip for Vancouver. They split back-to-backs in Ottawa and Montreal this week, beating the Senators 6-4 on Tuesday night before losing to the Canadiens 5-2 on Wednesday.
The 4-7-3 Canucks have been having a difficult time keeping the puck out of their net this season. They have been averaging just over four goals a game against. (Why does that scare me?)
When asked who his starter against Vancouver would be following last night’s game head coach Sheldon Keefe stated that Matt Murray would not be ready to go. He declined to name his starting goalie though.
The third goal in the Penguins game aside, Kallgren has played well this season, at least well enough to give the Maple Leafs a chance to win every game he has played. But, I would rather see Keith Petruzzelli get the start. I have no problem with Petruzzelli getting into his first NHL game. This young goalie put together a 6-0 record with the Marlies this season, with a .922% save percentage and a 2.31 goals-against average
It will be interesting to see Ilya Mikheyev in his first game back since signing a four-year $4.75 million per season deal with Vancouver in the offseason. Mikheyev is off to a good start, scoring four goals and adding four assists for eight points in eleven games. He missed his first three games due to injury.