By Stan Smith
The NHL regular season consists of 82 games over six months. At some point in that season, you will have games you just need to flush and move on from. This was one of those games.
It wasn’t even really a whole game. The score in this game was 2-2 just shy of three seconds from the halfway point of the game. The Senators scored three unanswered goals in a span of just over 14 minutes from the 9:57 mark of the second period to the 3:31 mark of the third period to put this game out of reach.
Even in a game like this, it is not all bad or ugly. The Maple Leafs played a decent first period. At five-on-five the shots in the first period according to Naturalstattrick.com were 12-6, the Scoring Chances were 11-3, and the High-Danger Scoring Chances were 6-1, all for Toronto. They also scored the only goal of the period at five-on-five.
On that goal, the play started behind the Maple Leafs’ net when both Morgan Rielly and Justin Holl took hits along the boards to make plays. Holl upped the puck to Alex Kerfoot at the Toronto blue line. Kerfoot carried the puck through the neutral zone with speed along with Zach Aston-Reese and Joey Anderson. Rielly jumped into the rush as well.
Rielly and Aston-Reese headed for the front of the net drawing three Senators players with them as Kerfoot went West to East once he entered the zone. Anderson held up in the middle of the ice creating some open space for himself in the slot. Kerfoot found Anderson, and Anderson beat goalie Anton Forsberg over his right shoulder with the wrist shot.
In the second period, after going down 2-1 with Nikita Zaitsev off for tripping Pontus Holmberg, Rielly makes a nice play at the Ottawa blue line to keep the puck in the zone. He gets the puck to Mitch Marner, who finds John Tavares in front of the net. Tavares spins and fires a shot that Forsberg stops but the puck goes right to William Nylander, who taps the puck into the net.
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Two “Bad” things happened for the Maple Leafs before this game even started. The first was the announcement the day before that Auston Matthews will be out for three weeks because of a knee strain.
Samsonov Suddenly Gets the Start
Then, after taking the warmup, it was announced that Matt Murray, who was scheduled to start the game, would not be playing. Instead, Ilya Samsonov would be getting his fifth consecutive start and sixth consecutive game.
The fact that Samsonov was starting wasn’t bad news. He has played spectacularly over the past six games. It was more Samsonov getting the nod at the last second that left a bit of a cloud over the situation.
The Senators opened the scoring at 1:32 of the first period. With Michael Bunting and Brady Tkachuk in the box for coincidental roughing penalties, Calle Janrkrok beats out an icing in the Senators’ end but Ottawa gets control of the puck. As they head up the ice, Janrkrok gets “picked” and knocked down by Eric Brannstrom at center ice with no call. That creates a four-on-three situation for the Senators as they enter the Toronto zone. Tim Stutzle finds a trailing Thomas Chabot. Chabot fires the puck over Samsonov’s right shoulder into the net. Rasmus Sandin attempted to block the shot but failed.
After tying the game and having the score end up one-one after one, the Maple Leafs lose the opening draw of the second period. David Kampf gets control of the puck deep in the Toronto zone and tries to skate up the boards with it. He is levelled by Tkachuck causing a turnover. The puck ends up at the right point where Travis Hamonic one-times it toward the net. Tkachuk, who got in behind Rielly on the play, tips it past Samsonov.
Bad Luck Rears Its Ugly Head for the Maple Leafs
The next “Bad” is pure bad luck. With the score tied at two, Holmberg takes a tripping penalty giving the Senators a power play. With 35 seconds left in the power play, Claude Giroux passes the puck to Derick Brassard in tight beside the Maple Leafs’ net. Brassard attempts to pass the puck across the goal crease. The puck deflects off of Timothy Liljegren’s stick into his own net.
With the score 3-2, Ottawa the Senators dump the puck into the Toronto zone. Shane Pinto and Brassard win the battle for the puck against Sandin and Kampf. Pinto finds a wide-open Drake Batherson who beats Samsonov on the glove side to put the Senators up two.
After Pierre Engvall bounces a shot off the crossbar of the Senators’ goal, Holl turns the puck over not once by twice. Ottawa works the puck around in the Toronto zone and Tkachuk takes a shot through both Rielly and Kerfoot into the top left corner of the net to put the game out of reach.
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I have been a Maple Leafs’ fan for a long time. I watched them win a Stanley Cup.
During the lean years, I have seen many times where the rink was almost empty for a good chunk of the third period (not counting the pandemic) because the game was long over before the final whistle blew.
I have to say that win or lose I can’t remember seeing many games over the past five or so seasons where the majority of seats were empty halfway through the third period. Tonight’s game was a grim reminder of those lean years the Maple Leafs had in the past.
The Maple Leafs have two tough games to close out their five-game homestand. Sunday evening (5 PM start) against the Washington Capitals, and Wednesday night when the Boston Bruins come to town.
With the exception of Marner, after the Boston game, the rest of the Maple Leafs get eight days off for the All-Star break. They then play home-and-home and back-to-back against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Following that they only play one game in six days.
The home-and-home with Columbus is part of a stretch where the Maple Leafs play just three games in sixteen days. That should allow Matthews plenty of time to heal. If he is back in three weeks as projected he will only miss five or six games. It will also give TJ Brodie, Murray, and whoever else may be dealing with any issues time to recover.
Just as importantly, it will give the team time to reset, get some valuable practice time in, and get ready for the run to the playoffs.
Related: Three Takeaways from Maple Leafs’ 6-2 Loss to Senators