The Toronto Maple Leafs saw their record on their West coast road trip fall to 2-2. Last night they lost 4-1 to the Vancouver Canucks.
This game was a lot similar to the tight low-scoring game in Calgary on Thursday night…..until it wasn’t.
The Maple Leafs followed their excellent third period against Calgary with a great start to this game. They outshot the Canucks 10-1 in the first 12 minutes of the first period despite Vancouver having two power plays to the Maple Leafs’ none.
Toronto extended that shot advantage to 14-3 with a power play of their own. They had an 18-5 advantage in shot attempts by the 17-minute mark of the period.
The final shot total in the period was 14-5 for the Maple Leafs. According to Naturalstattrick.com, the Maple Leafs had six High-Danger Scoring Chances to two for the Canucks. They also had 84% of the Expected Goals in the period.
Jump forward to the third period. With the Maple Leafs down a goal, Tyler Myers was called for hooking after he got his stick up into the hands of Mitch Marner.
The Maple Leafs took full advantage of the powerplay. William Nylander found Tavares breaking for the net and fed him a perfect pass to give Tavares his 28th goal of the season. That’s one more goal than Tavares scored all of last season. It’s also the most goals he’s scored as a Maple Leafs’ player since his 47-goal inaugural season with the team.
Unfortunately for the Maple Leafs, they were unable to capitalize on their dominant play in the first period. Thatcher Demko stopped everything he faced in the period.
Bad luck played a role in the Canucks taking a 1-0 lead late in the second period on the power play. Andrei Kuzmenko deflected a point shot by Brock Boeser wide of the Maple Leafs’ net, but it hit Justin Holl on the inside of his left leg and deflected into the goal.
Related: Three Takeaways from Maple Leafs’ 4-1 Loss to the Canucks
Interesting Jake McCabe Call
For the second game in a row, head coach Sheldon Keefe went with an 11-forward and 7-defenseman setup. I’m guessing that plan was to figure out where the two new acquisitions on the backend, Jake McCabe and Erik Gustafsson were going to best fit in.
It worked out in his favour right off the bat. Jake McCabe was forced to sit out 17 minutes of the first period following his fight with Tyler Myers. This fight was a situation where it makes it difficult to believe the referees in the NHL are all governing the game using the same rule book.
Back in the Edmonton Oilers game, when Justin Holl laid out Kailer Yamamoto with a solid body check behind the Maple Leafs’ goal. He was forced to drop his gloves and defend himself when he was jumped by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Both players got five minutes each for fighting and nothing else.
Flash forward to this game, and an identical situation happened. This time Tyler Myers laid out John Tavares at the 59-second mark. McCabe jumped in and both he and Myers dropped the gloves. But, this time McCabe was hit with five for fighting, two for instigating, and a ten-minute misconduct.
Someone, please explain to me why two situations that appear to be exactly the same have two completely different calls by the officials. As it was, it didn’t have much bearing on the game. That said, it is still puzzling.
Matthews Hobbled by Blocked Shot
Later in the game, Keefe’s decision to go with one less forward came back to haunt him. With 1:18 left in the first period, Auston Matthews took a slap shot from Noah Juulsen off the inside of the left leg just below the knee. He lay on the ice for a couple of minutes before leaving the game.
Matthews did return late in the second period and finished the game. However, he stated afterward that he was in considerable pain the rest of the night. While Matthews appeared to be lucky not to suffer a major injury on the play, it would not surprise me if he once again misses some time.
The Maple Leafs appear to be playing it safe with minor injuries, giving players time to let these types of injuries heal fully rather than having them play through them.
Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Murray, Zohorna, O’Reilly & Woll
Ryan O’Reilly Hurt on Matthews Shot
Of more serious concern was what happened late in the second period. After Matthews returned to the game, he fired a shot on the Vancouver net that hit Ryan O’Reilly in the hand. It hurt O’Reilly badly enough that he left the game and did not return. Keefe stated that they will announce on Monday the seriousness of O’Reilly’s injury.
If it is a broken bone, the timeline for an injury like that is usually about six weeks. If that’s the case it is possible O’Reilly might not be available for the first round of the playoffs. That would be a devastating blow to the Maple Leafs. Hopefully, the injury will not be that serious.
It was really easy to come up with the “Ugly” part of this game.
At 6:31 of the third period Phillip DiGiuseppe took a high sticking penalty on Morgan Rielly. That came shortly after the referees missed a similar high-sticking call when McCabe caught Boeser in the face with his stick.
The Maple Leafs are probably wishing the referees had missed this call as well. What seemed to be a blessing turned into a curse. The Maple Leafs gave up not one, but two shorthanded goals on this power play. The goals came 44 seconds apart.
The Cancucks showed the value of having two offensively skilled players out on the penalty kill. Both J.T. Miller and Elias Petterson took turns helping each other score shorthanded goals to put the Canucks up 3-1.
Any thoughts the Maple Leafs had of coming back in this game were doused when Nils Aman scored at the 12:34 mark of the period to put the game out of reach.
The Maple Leafs return to the Eastern Time Zone Sunday and play their fifth and final game on this road trip. On Tuesday, they visit New Jersey and take on the surprising Devils who are ahead of the Maple Leafs in the standings by two points with two fewer games played. New Jersey has only lost two of their past 22 games in regulation and trails the Metropolitan-leading Carolina Hurricane by just two points.
We will have to keep our fingers crossed that both O’Reilly and Matthews will be healthy and able to play in the game. While there are still over five weeks and 19 games left to play in the regular season, the sooner Keefe can get the team settled with its new acquisitions the better.
Matt Murray’s Game
I didn’t mention that Matt Murray got his first start in six weeks in Vancouver after coming off of LTIR. He played well for the most part. He gave up three goals on six shots in the third period but none of them were on him. It will be interesting to see if Keefe goes right back to Murray in New Jersey to get him the work, or if Ilya Samsonov will get the start.
The contest with the Devils is the only game the Maple Leafs play in six days. That should give the team plenty of much-needed practice time this week.
They then play five games in eight days. Four of those games are at home; and, they head back out on the road for five games.
Luckily for the Maple Leafs, as they struggle to acclimate the new players, the Tampa Bay Lightning are having a similar problem. They have lost seven of their last nine games and sit five points back of the Maple Leafs, with a game in hand.
The Maple Leafs blew a big opportunity to put seven points of breathing room between them and the Lightning by losing the game in Vancouver.
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