By Stan Smith
The Toronto Maple Leafs ventured into Canada’s Capital to take on the Senators less than 24 hours after defeating the Carolina Hurricane on Friday night in Toronto.
The number one “Good” thing that happened in this game was the Maple Leafs won a game they fully deserved to lose.
I am sure some media and fans will make a big deal out of the fact that Matt Murray gave up four goals for the sixth time in six consecutive starts in this game.
To me, he gave up three goals (that counted). There is no way that Murray could face any blame when the puck went into the net the first time. It was a total fluke as the puck virtually fell from the rafters into the net.
Murray did give up four goals in the game (not counting the shootout goals). However, fortunately for him and the Maple Leafs, the original tying goal was called back on a coach’s appeal for offside. Maybe that was the hockey gods evening things out a little bit.
How well Murray played in the game was demonstrated by his being named the second star in the game despite giving up four goals.
Murray faced 52 shots in regulation and overtime. That’s the most shots the Maple Leafs have given in over five seasons. (They gave up 57 shots in a 6-3 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on February 15th, 2018.)
Not only did Murray face a lot of shots in this game, but he also faced a whopping 23 High-Danger Scoring Chances according to Naturalstattrick.com.
I see the phrase “The goalie stole the game” tossed around a lot in this game. I think it is used too much. Rarely does a goalie truly steal a game. This game might have been one of those rare occasions.
One interesting stat of note is that the Maple Leafs are 3-3 in the six games in which Murray has given up four goals.
Head Coach Sheldon Keefe made a roster move that seemed a bit unusual. He had Auston Matthews line up with neither Mitch Marner nor William Nylander to start a game. I cannot recall a game in which Matthews started without one or the other beside him. Instead, he had Jarnkrok and Alex Kerfoot on Matthews’ wings.
It appears putting that line together was a genius move by Keefe. Matthews and Jarnkrok combined for two goals in this game. The first goal was a one-timer by Jarnkrok to put the Maple Leafs up 3-2 in the second period. Janrkrok’s second goal, off a two-on-one pass from Matthews in the second, increased the lead to 4-2.
It appears, to this point in this season at least, that Dubas acquiring Jarnkrok was an equally genius move. Jarnkrok’s goals in this game, his 16th and 17th on the season, equalled and surpassed his previous career high 16 goals scored in 2015-16. He also repeated this in 2017-18 when he was playing with the Nashville Predators.
Jarnkrok’s 35 points this season ties his previous high point total, also in the 2017-18 season. With 13 games left to play Jarnkrok is on target to score 20 goals and 42 points in the 2022-23 season.
When the Maple Leafs acquired Jake McCabe from the Chicago Blackhawks along with Sam Lafferty just before the trade deadline, McCabe was billed as a strong physical defensive defenseman. He is just that. McCabe has registered 827 hits and 813 blocked shots in his 492-game NHL career.
What most of us fans weren’t aware of was McCabe’s strong play with the puck.
On the opening goal of the game, McCabe’s offence was on full display. He started the play behind his own net with a nice stretch pass off the boards at center ice to John Tavares. Tavares entered the
Senator’s zone and placed a no-look backhand on the stick of Mitch Marner. Marner’s shot rebounded back to McCabe who joined the rush late. McCabe made no mistake with a wrist shot into the top right corner. The shot flew past Senators’ goalie Mads Sogaard, who was screened by Tavares on the play.
McCabe’s defensive prowess, and his speed, were evident in the Maple Leafs’ third goal. After getting caught up-ice just outside the Ottawa blueline, McCabe raced back to intercept a pass to Tim Stutzle in front of the Maple Leafs’ net. Ten seconds later the puck was in the Senator’s net. McCabe did not get an assist on the goal, but he played a key role in the goal.
McCabe was plus-three in the game, the highest of any player on either team.
I think it is time to stop the narrative that Marner can’t score goals. Yes, he is a playmaker first; however, in his past 117 games, Marner has scored 55 goals. That’s a 39-goal, 82-game pace.
Marner now has 63 assists, this season, which is fourth in the league. His 89 points are presently sixth in the NHL.
How badly did the Maple Leafs play in this game? Not only were the Maple Leafs badly outshot in the game (52-29), but according to Naturalstattrick.com at five-on-five the Shot Attempts were 71-42, the Scoring Chances 31-18, and the High-Danger Scoring Chances 16-10 all for the Senators. The Maple Leafs only had 32% of the expected Goals in the game.
Talk about momentum swings.
Despite the shots being 11-8 for the Senators in the first 14 minutes of the first period, the Maple Leafs were leading 1-0 and carrying the play. Then Ottawa got a literal lucky bounce to tie the game on their 12th shot.
Over the next 15 minutes to end the first period and start the second, the Senators outshot the Maple Leafs 20-2. Fortunately for the Maple Leafs, they scored on one of their two shots while Ottawa only managed a single goal on their 20 shots.
The Maple Leafs have an off day on Sunday, get a full practice in on Monday, and then head to New York to take on the Islanders on Tuesday.
They have a tough week ahead. First, they take on the Islanders, who have won five of their last seven and are fighting to hold onto a Wildcard spot in the East.
They then travel to Florida to play the Panthers on Thursday. The Panthers are one point out of a Wildcard position and have won five of their last six games.
Things don’t get any easier, as they take on the Hurricanes on Saturday in Carolina.
The Maple Leafs then move on to Nashville on Sunday to take on the Predators. Nashville is another team fighting to get into the playoffs. They sit five points out of a playoff spot in the West but hold three games in hand over the Winnipeg Jets, who presently occupy the last Wildcard spot.
The only saving grace for the Maple Leafs in that game is that the Predators are also going to be playing the second of back-to-back games. Nashville will have the benefit of five hours extra rest as their Saturday game has a 2:00 pm start.
I fully expect we will see several lineup changes throughout the week as Keefe tries to figure out his optimum forward lines and defensive pairings for the start of the playoffs.
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