By Stan Smith
Usually, these posts report the good, bad, and ugly aspects of each Toronto Maple Leafs’ game. In them, I stick pretty much to the details of the game. Last night’s game seemed like an afterthought to everything else that was going on with the Maple Leafs off the ice. While I am going to touch on the game, my GBU for this report is going to also include the situation the team finds itself in.
By any measurement this game was ugly.
It was not just one of the worst games the team played this season; but, it was the worst game they played, period. How bad was it? Naturalstatrick.com had the High-Danger Chances at five-on-five in the game at 14 for the Oilers and 1 for the Maple Leafs. In all situations, which would add penalty kills and power plays, the High-Danger Chances were 16 to 2 for Edmonton.
According to Naturalstatrick’s metrics in 60 minutes of action in this game, the Maple Leafs had two good scoring chances.
The 5-2 score was definitely flattering to the Maple Leafs. Connor McDavid scored to make the score 2-1 Edmonton on a goal that Samsonov should have stopped easily. (I don’t care if it was McDavid who scored it.)
Then, Samsonov made spectacular saves on the next five scoring chances the Oilers had. All these could easily have been goals. On top of that, Edmonton had two goals called back that could have counted.
The score of this game could have easily been eight, nine, or ten to two for the Oilers.
Sheldon Keefe was asked after the game how much of the way the Maple Leafs played he would chalk up to the changes the team made.
His answer was “Zero”.
I don’t know if he was being facetious or was just avoiding answering the question. The changes the team made in the 48 hours prior to the game had to have an effect on the players. How could it not?
I don’t know if I would call the moves a shock. Maybe culture shock would be the better term. To have one-third of the skaters that had been on the team for the majority of the season replaced in under a week had to have an effect.
I dreaded watching this game and knew it was not going to be pretty. I don’t expect the game in Calgary to be a whole lot better.
Despite winning their first game in Seattle, this West coast road trip could be just as ugly as their first one back in October.
Keefe has a monumental task ahead of him to get this all sorted out, and it is going to take time. In the meantime, we could see a lot more “Bad” and “Ugly” than we see “Good.”
It is good that there are still 21 games left in this season for Keefe and the coaching staff to figure out a number of key questions? Who is best suited to play with whom? What forwards should be in his top six and bottom six? Who are his top-six defensemen? And, who will be the most effective at playing with whom?
On paper, this team is now head and shoulders better than it was a week ago. It is going to take time, and a little patience, for the improvement to show up on the ice. In the long run, these changes should be good.
But, at the same time that Kyle Dubas has been making these changes, the already strong competition in the East has been making its own changes. They’ve improved as well. The question yet to be answered is, will the changes Dubas has made be “Good” enough to put the team over the top?
It is right back at it tonight. The Maple Leafs take a short hop south to take on the Calgary Flames. While I don’t expect this game to be as bad as the Oilers’ game, it’s still going to be a tough uphill struggle for the Maple Leafs.
We might see one or both of the other two new additions in uniform tonight. I am going to guess that Luke Schenn will replace Timothy Liljegren for two reasons. Liljegren was obviously hurt late in the game. And, although he did return for a shift, he did not have a great game in Edmonton.
It will be interesting to see if Keefe sticks with the O’Reilly/Kerfoot/Lafferty third line he assembled in the third period Wednesday night. Or, will he reunite Ryan O’Reilly with John Tavares?
Joseph Woll will get the start.
After Tonight’s Game
The team gets a day to rest before visiting the Canucks in Vancouver on Saturday night.
After that, they only play one game in the next six days (in New Jersey). I expect they will travel home after the Canucks’ game and get in some valuable practice time in the days surrounding the Devils’ game.