By Stan Smith
There was a lot to disseminate in this hockey game, both Good and Bad. We are going to start by looking at the Ugly.
It would be easy just to say this whole game was ugly, especially in regard to the 6-3 score. However, I feel that would be a bit of a cop-out. There were two Arizona goals that I thought deserved to be in this section.
Ugly Goal One
The first goal of the game at the 46-second mark of the first period had a bit of a smell to it. The play started innocently enough with the Coyotes’ Lawson Crouse making a simple clear out of his zone by banking the puck off the glass. Mark Giordano backed off on the play as he should but Michael Carcone did manage to get a step behind him.
Because there was no one else breaking out for Arizona, Justin Holl made the proper play by coming over the support Giordano. Holl gloved the puck over his head, knocking it down toward Giordano in the neutral zone. As he is doing that Carcone hits Holl, knocking him down. Holl falls as the puck bounces off of Giordano back into the Maple Leafs’ zone.
Giordano then trips over the falling Holl. Auston Matthews is the first forward back and attempts to play the puck but misses it. Nick Bjugstad, who was following up the play, breaks in alone, puts a nice deke on Matt Murray, and scores on the backhand.
Ugly Goal Two
With the score tied 3-3 with 16 minutes left in the third period, Timothy Lilejgren dishes a cross-ice pass in his own zone over to Morgan Rielly. Rielly knocks it down and then tries to force a pass through Crouse to Matthews at the Arizona blue line, creating a turnover.
Rather than taking a defensive posture, Rielly compounds the problem by attacking. That allows Bjugstad to get behind him. Crouse knocks the puck up to Bjugstad on a give-and-go. Bjugstad gives the puck right back to Crouse, who is now behind Rielly, giving Crouse a two-on-one along with Jack McBain.
Liljegren, the only man back, tries to tie up McBain who is breaking for the net but fails. Crouse puts the puck right on McBain’s stick for an easy tap-in.
So many bad things. So little space.
I can’t say that any of the four goals that Matt Murray allowed were actually bad goals but four goals on 21 shots and a .810 save percentage are not what I would consider a strong outing for him. This game was the third in Murray’s last four starts where he has had a save percentage under .900%.
With Ilya Samsonov struggling in his last three starts the Maple Leafs need Murray to be better. In his defence with the Christmas break, and Samsonov getting back-to-back starts going into and coming out of the break, it was Murray’s first game in nine days.
Core Four’s Worst Game?
This was only the second game this season where one of Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, or John Tavares failed to score a point. The other game was the 3-1 loss to the New York Rangers on December 15th.
Not only did the Core Four fail to score, but they were (counting Michael Bunting) also a collective minus-15 in the game. Matthews and Nylander were each minus four while Marner and Tavares were each a minus-2. Bunting was also a minus-3.
The fact that it was Rielly’s first game in five weeks also showed. He was the worst defenseman on the team at minus-3.
Tavares and Marner each took penalties in the game to add to their woes.
A Changed Penalty Call
I do feel the need to mention something the announcers made a lot of noise about that I thought was not a big deal. The penalty call on Marner at 6:46 of the second period. It was first called a hook on Pontus Holmberg. It was then changed to a trip on Marner.
The reason it was no big deal was they got the call right. This is not the first time I have seen this happen and it is one of the benefits of the two-referee system. One got the call wrong. The other got it right. It was unfortunate for the Leafs as it took a key penalty killer (Marner) off the ice. It took the Coyotes a whole six seconds to score on the power play.
After scoring seven points in the first 42 games in his short NHL career, Conor Timmins has eight points in his last nine games for the Maple Leafs. He added two assists to that total in this game.
Calle Janrkrok continued his hot hand scoring his third goal in three games. He has a four-game scoring streak going adding three assists to his three goals to give him six points in those four games, and nine points in his last eight games.
Alex Kerfoot had an excellent shift in the second period. He started the play in his own zone, skated through four Coyotes’ players before circling the net, dishing a pass back to Giordano at the point, and heading for the front of the net. Giordano moved to the middle of the ice and fired a shot that was deflected by Bunting right to Kerfoot who banged in his sixth goal of the season.
After starting the season with just one goal and six points in his first 20 games, Kerfoot now has five goals and 11 points in his last 16 games.
The Second Power Play Unit
Head Coach Sheldon Keefe, like a lot of coaches in the NHL, likes to load up his first power-play unit. The second unit is almost an afterthought of leftovers. He has lately gone to having five forwards on the first unit in an effort to create more scoring.
It was the ragtag second unit of leftovers that came through twice in this game with both Holmberg and Jarnkrok tallying power-play markers. Another interesting note was the second unit included two defensemen in Timmins and the returning Rielly.
A Rink With Character
I’m old. Old enough to have seen the Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup. I remember a time when each rink in the NHL was unique and had its own distinctive character. There was a time when a team had more of a home-ice advantage because of their rink’s uniqueness. Now all the rinks are the same.
The appropriately named “Mullett Arena” takes a step back into the past. I can see where a team like the Coyotes could enjoy the advantage of playing in a rink as different as this one.
The Maple Leafs close out 2022 with a New Years’ Eve visit to Colorado to take on the defending Stanley Cup Champion Avalanche. Similar to the Maple Leafs, the Avs are going through injury problems of their own but still playing winning hockey.
Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Josh Manson are three top players presently out with injuries. Despite that, the Avalanche are 6-2-2 in their last ten games. They have lost their last two games, however. One of them was an identical 6-3 loss to the Coyotes. Another interesting note is that four of Colorado’s last five games have been decided in overtime or a shootout.
Hopefully, the Maple Leafs’ problem in Arizona was because they were looking forward to the Colorado game. They will need to get back to defending better and will also need better performances from their core four if they want to close out 2022 with a win.
It will be interesting to see who gets the start in goal.