By Stan Smith
The Toronto Maple Leafs concluded their five-game road trip with a 3-2 overtime loss to the Nashville Predators.
It’s funny how this game goes at times. In the two previous contests, the Maple Leafs were outplayed for long stretches and came out on the losing end of the underlying statistics in both games but because of stellar goaltending and timely scoring they won both games. In this game, they were the dominant team. However, they were the victims of stellar goaltending and timely scoring by the opposition. The end result was a loss.
The First Weak Penalty Call on the Maple Leafs
Both of the Predators’ goals scored in regulation were power-play goals by Ryan O’Reilly. Both penalty calls that led to Nashville going on the power play were weak. The first call was a roughing penalty on TJ Brodie after a multiplayer scrum in front of the Toronto net. Nine of the ten skaters on the ice were involved in the scrum. Morgan Rielly and Kiefer Sherwood were the first two combatants. In the melee that ensued, Brodie simply wrapped his arms around Sherwood and held him. That was it.
We know that referees are instructed, at times, to pick one player out of a scrum thus awarding one of the teams a power play. The idea of that is to make players think twice before getting involved in these activities. In this case, the Maple Leafs had just scored a power-play goal; and, with the game in Nashville, I guess they decided it would not bode well for them if they called another penalty on the Predators.
The easy decision was to pick a random Maple Leafs player. The league has been accused of having an “even up” mentality when it comes to penalties. It is hard to argue that this was not an “even up” call.
O’Reilly scored the first of his two goals on the ensuing power play when he was awarded way too much time and space and left alone with the puck down low in front of the Toronto net.
The Second Weak Penalty Call on the Maple Leafs
On the second penalty, there was a scramble in front of the Maple Leafs net. At one point the puck ended up between the feet of Nashviile’s Cory Sissons. Both Morgan Rielly and Calle Janrkrok attempted to play the puck. Both players’ sticks made contact with Sissons’ skates causing Sissons to trip. Jarnkrok got the tripping call on the play.
The tripping rule in hockey is pretty basic. If you cause another player to trip it is a penalty. Period. But, there is usually some leeway given if a player is playing the puck and an opposing player gets tripped up in the process. Ironically there were two blatant trips, one for each team, that were not called in the game.
O’Reilly scored his second power-play goal on the power play on a deflection that Maple Leafs’ starter Samsonov had no chance on.
This is the second game in a row in which the Maple Leafs lost a defenseman. This time it was Timothy Liljegren. After taking a hit from Yakov Trenin behind the Maple Leafs net, Liljegren was in some discomfort on the bench before leaving the game and not returning.
That left the Maple Leafs with five defensemen to finish the game. One of those defensemen was the newly called-up William Lagesson. Lagesson actually held his own pretty well in limited ice time. He was not noticeable much either negatively or positively, which is not a bad thing for a defenseman.
Lagesson only played 10:56. That meant that once Liljegren left the game head coach Sheldon Keefe pretty much relied on four defensemen for the rest of the game. Brodie, Rielly, Mark Giordano, and John Klingberg all played more than 20 minutes. Rielly led the way at 27:48 TOI.
Too Many Men Penalty
The Maple Leafs took two too-many-men-on-the-ice penalties in the third period. They were not scored upon on either penalty; however, it did cost them four minutes of ice time they could have spent trying to score the winning goal instead of having to try and prevent a goal from being scored by Nashville.
The Maple Leafs got off to a good start in the game. They outshot the Predators 12-6 in the first period. According to Naturalstattrick.com, the Scoring Chances in the period were 15-5 Toronto and the High-Danger Scoring Chances were 4-1 Toronto.
They stated at the beginning of the game that if either William Nylander or John Tavares got a point in this game it would tie a franchise record for a consecutive point streak to start the season. Both had points in the first seven games the Maple Leafs had played this season. A dive into the record book showed that Frank Mahovlich (1961), Lanny McDonald (1976), and John Anderson (1982) all have a share in that record.
It didn’t take long for Nylander to tie the record. After a slashing call on Nashville’s Flip Forsberg when he got his stick in on the hands of Auston Matthews, Nylander finished off a nifty passing play by Mitch Marner and Matthews with a one-timer. Juuse Saros had no chance on the shot.
Tavares saw his point streak come to an end leaving Nylander alone atop of the team scoring with six goals, and six assists for a total of 12 points in the first eight games
I had a difficult time deciding where to put Samsonov’s performance in this game. He only allowed two goals in regulation. Both were power-play goals. One he had absolutely no chance on. The other, he probably should have had. He had body position on O’Reilly’s first goal. It still got past him.
Funny thing how close stats can be. Samsonov stopped 21 of the 24 shots he faced in the game, which works out to a sub-par 0.875 save percentage. In regulation time, Samsonov stopped 21 of 23 shots. That works out to a Save Percentage of 0.913%.
If we were reporting that Samsonov finished the game with a 0.913 save percentage, we would be praising him for a job well done. But, that OT goal dropped his save percentage by 0.038 points to 0.875%. One goal. Huge difference in stats.
By the eye test, Samsonov looked like he was playing scared in the first period. He did appear to settle down as the game went on. While I can’t say he ever looked totally comfortable, I can say he looked competent.
It would have been nice if the overtime had gone the other way. It probably would have gone a lot further to restore some confidence in Samsonov’s game. But, baby steps.
Just past the halfway point of the second period the line of David Kampf, Matthews Knies, and Max Domi along with defensemen Klingberg and Giordano had a great shift and spent 53 seconds in the Predator’s zone. The five players got 20 different touches of the puck before Klingberg found Domi down low in front of the Nashville net. Domi took a shot that Saros stopped with his stick. The rebound went to Kampf, who tipped the puck to Giordano who had snuck down from the point. Giordano deposited the puck into the open cage to put the Maple Leafs up 2-1 at the time.
For some strange reason, the official scoring had the goal as Giordano from Kampf with no assist given to Domi. I have no idea why Domi would not get the secondary assist on the goal. No player for Nashville played the puck, and the only Predator to touch it was Saros.
It was Giordano’s first goal since February 26 of last season.
To me, the “Ugly” in this game started with 22 seconds left in the third period. At that time Rielly gave the puck to Giordano behind the Toronto net. Giordano did absolutely nothing with the puck from that point on. He just ran the clock out. He didn’t even attempt to make a play with it.
I fully understand the importance of having the game go into overtime and gaining that one point in the standings, but 22 seconds is a long time in a hockey game. I would have rather seen Giordano try to make some kind of a play to give the Maple Leafs a chance to win the game in regulation.
The “Ugly” carried into the overtime. The Predators scored 2:13 into the OT. They maintained possession of the puck from the opening faceoff of the overtime until Roman Josi fired it past Samsonov to win the game. Matthews was the only Maple Leafs’ player to have the puck on their stick at all. He had it for about five seconds before he was stripped of it by Tommy Novak just before the winning goal was scored.
I couldn’t help but wonder if the way the game ended was karma getting back at the Maple Leafs for the weak way the third period ended.
It was a very successful road trip by the Maple Leafs as they finished it with a 3-1-1 record. The team captured seven out of a possible ten points. They return home in second place in the Atlantic Division and third place overall in the Eastern Conference.
They get two days to rest and practice before taking on the 4-2-2 Los Angeles Kings on Halloween night in Toronto.
We await the news on Liljegren’s injury status.