By Stan Smith
The Toronto Maple Leafs finished their three-game homestand to start the season with a clunker of a game losing 4-1. No, wait, 3-2, nope, 4-1 to the Chicago Blackhawks.
There wasn’t much “Good” in this game so I figured I would get it out of the way first.
The best player for the Maple Leafs in the first period was Joseph Woll. He stopped everything he faced in the period. The final tally for shots in the first period was 9-7 Chicago. But, just like the scoring at the end of the game, the shot count for the first period kept changing. At first, it was announced as 8-5 Chicago. At the start of the second period, it was changed to 10-6 Blackhawks. Now I see the official scoresheet has it a 9-7.
Whatever the shots were Woll stopped them all, including some difficult ones. Woll gave up three goals on 30 shots in the game, a 0.900% Save Percentage. All three goals he gave up were off the rush and there was only one where I think any blame could be placed on him.
Woll was definitely better in this game than Ilya Samsonov was in the first two games.
The results of this game were earned by the Maple Leafs. This was a team defeat; and, John Tavares, as the captain of the team, has to take as much responsibility as anyone else. But, Tavares did have a good moment. Just over two minutes after Chicago took a 1-0 lead, Tavares received a pass from William Nylander between the faceoff circles in the Blackhawk zone. He immediately wristed the puck past goalie Arvid Soderblom to tie the score at one.
That goal added to the five assists Tavares got in the first game giving him six points in his first three games to tie him with Auston Matthews and Nylander for first on the team in points. Nylander’s assist on the goal was his third assist and sixth point of the season as well.
Mark Giordano set up the Tavares’ goal with a long backhand stretch pass from deep in the Maple Leafs zone to Nylander at the Chicago Blueline. Giordano also had a number of nice defensive plays in the game to break up the Blackhawks’ offensive plays.
I try to keep track of times when Maple Leafs players do something defensively exceptional to turn the play the other way. I had six notations of Giordano for that in the game. Giordano was credited (debited?) with a minus in the game when Cory Parry snuck behind everyone to score what was eventually the game-winning goal. However, Giordano had stepped onto the ice just prior to Perry receiving the pass. He was in no way responsible for the goal.
Oddly, Plus Players
You rarely see any players in the pluses in plus/minus when you lose a game 4-1. However, both Calle Jarnkrok and Timothy Liljegren were plus-1 in this game.
In a stinker like this, it is sometimes difficult to separate the “Ugly” from merely the “Bad.” But, I am tasked with the challenge and will attempt to do that.
The first “Bad” was a penchant for giving up odd-man rushes. This was something the Maple Leafs had not done much of in the first two games. Chicago plays more of a trap style of hockey. Instead of playing hard on the forecheck, they clog up the neutral zone and wait for opportunities to intercept passes to turn play the other way. That, in itself, was the story of the game. That, and the Maple Leafs big guns not being able to finish on their chances.
Klingberg’s strength is his play with the puck. His weakness is his play without it. That weakness was on the forefront as Klingberg looked lost out there at times. He got a close look at Connor Bedard’s offensive abilities as Bedard walked around him for a good scoring chance.
Klingberg also appeared to be indecisive when it came to choosing whom to defend against when more than one choice was available. I also noticed, and I hope this is not true, that Klingberg seems to have problems skating backward.
I think I noticed that Domi was on the ice maybe three times in the game. As it was he played 11:37. Noah Gregor was more noticeable in the 7:03 he played. If Domi is going to be tasked with playing with the two rookies, he needs to have a lot more positive presence on the ice.
Mitch Marner is a streak player. When he is on, he is one of the premier playmakers in the league. When he is off, he struggles at times to make the simplest of passes.
Marner was so-so in the first two games. He wasn’t great but not horrible either. He did score the Shoot Out goal that won the first game of the season. And he has three points, all assists in three games. But in this game, he struggled and struggled badly. Too many plays died on his stick.
Tyler Bertuzzi was supposed to bring everything Michael Bunting brought, just more of it. He was also supposed to be better at staying out of the penalty box than Bunting. That was not the case in this game. Bertuzzi took two minors in the second period. One of them resulted in the power play goal that put Chicago ahead 3-1.
We understand the need for video replay in a sport as fast as the speed at which hockey is played. Things got a bit ugly, and farcical near the end of this game. With 54 seconds left in the third period and the score 3-1, Taylor Hall picked up an attempted block of a pass by Marner right at the Maple Leafs blueline. He got control of the puck and wired it into the net that had been vacated by Woll for an extra attacker. Game Over.
Sheldon Keefe appealed the goal and the replay showed that both Hall’s feet were over the blueline as he gained control of the puck just outside of the zone. Challenge won. No goal.
Then with 6.2 seconds left, Nylander fires a shot that beats Soderblom. Leafs within one at 3-2.
Chicago head coach Luke Richardson challenged the goal. It turns out that when Marner entered the zone with the puck 45 seconds earlier Nylander lifted his skate a fraction too soon while straddling the line and was offside. The score went back to 3-1.
Finally, Taylor Raddysh scores into the empty net with six seconds left again. There is no appeal. Game ends 4-1.
One funny thing is that Chicago winning their appeal of what would have been the 3-2 goal scored by Toronto could have worked in the Maple Leafs’ favour. They only had six seconds left with the faceoff at center ice. The odds of scoring a goal in that time, while possible, would have been slim. The goal being erased also put 45 seconds back on the clock. If the Maple Leafs had scored quickly after they would have had more time to get the tying goal.
The Blackhawks may have been better off just letting the goal stand. In the end, it made no difference.
The Maple Leafs head out on their first Florida trip to play the Panthers on Thursday night. They shoot over to Tampa to take on the Lightning on Saturday night. Both Florida teams are 1-2 in the early going.
Although the Maple Leafs are 2-1, they have yet to play what most would consider a good game. It will be interesting to see if Keefe makes any changes to his lineup.