By Stan Smith
After a lacklustre performance at home on Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Kings, the Toronto Maple Leafs were hoping for a bounce-back game against the Bruins in Boston on Thursday night.
They played better and took the Bruins into overtime and a shootout before ultimately losing the contest 3-2. Boston scored on their first two chances in the shootout.
After playing a decent first period and holding their own for almost nineteen minutes of the opening stanza things got ugly in the last 1:09 of the period.
Boston got on the board at the 18.51 mark of the period when Pavel Zacha was left unbothered in front of the Toronto net and redirected a pass from Brandon Carlo past Ilya Samsonov. The ugly part of that goal was that all five skaters for the Maple Leafs, Morgan Rielly, John Klingberg, John Tavares, William Nylander, and Tyler Bertuzzi were all an arms-length away from Zacha in a circle around him on the play.
No one made an attempt to tie Zacha, or his stick, up. As often happens, the Maple Leafs’ players all seemed to have all of their focus on the puck as opposed to open players in front of their net.
Twenty-one seconds after that goal while chasing a puck deep in the Toronto zone, Brad Marchand got his stick between Timothy Liljegren’s legs and performed the classic “can opener” on him. Liljegren fell hard to the ice on the play. He hit the back of his head on the ice and got his left leg jammed against the boards.
It is difficult to say what exactly the injury, or injuries, Liljegren might have suffered on the play. He appeared woozy when he attempted to struggle to his feet and fell back to the ice. Head coach Sheldon Keefe stated after the game that he expected Liljegren’s injury to be significant. More is expected to be known today after Liljegren undergoes further tests.
Marchand was not penalized on the play as both referees did not see the infraction.
I want to note here that I have seen a lot of criticism from the fans about no one on the Maple Leafs going after Marchand for the play. I don’t personally have an opinion on that. I do know that Marchand would not have stood up to anyone, and he probably would have drawn a penalty from whoever would have confronted him.
Because there was not a call on the play the Maple Leafs would have most likely been the team penalized on the play. I think this is a case where the Maple Leafs need to have a long memory and wait for an opportunity to even the score at a later date.
Whether or not the way the first period ended had an effect on how the second period started I can’t say. But, the second period did not start well for the Maple Leafs. Boston outshot the Maple Leafs 7-1 in the first two and a half minutes of the period.
The Bruins also increased their lead to 2-0 on a rush chance by Marchand and Jake DeBrusk. The Maple Leafs had four men back on the play. TJ Brodie, who had fallen in the Boston zone, managed to recover quickly enough to cover Marchand but let him get away from him. Debrusk head-manned the puck to Marchand to send him in alone on Samsonov.
Samsonov made a great save on Marchand but the rebound came out directly onto Brusk’s stick. This time three Maple Leafs’ players had DeBrusk surrounded but no one checked him. Mitch Marner was the closest player to DeBrusk but failed to tie up DeBrusk or his stick.
The Maple Leafs Came Back to Tie the Score at 2-2
The score was tied at two at the end of regulation. In the overtime, just after Rielly almost ended the game when he rang a shot off the goalpost behind Boston goalie Jeremy Swayman, Nylander took an uncharacteristic holding penalty when he threw David Pastrnak to the ice. That forced the Maple Leafs to just hold on for the last two minutes of the overtime period.
In the shootout, Jake DeBrusk and Charlie Coyle both scored while Nylander and Auston Matthews failed to, and the game ended 3-2 Boston.
The Maple Leafs came out with a lot more purpose to their game than they did against the Kings earlier this week. While I wouldn’t say they outplayed Boston in the first nineteen minutes of the first period, they were at the least equal to the Bruins.
After their poor start to the second period, Marner and Matthews scored goals just over a minute apart to tie the game at two. From the two-and-a-half-minute mark of the second on, the Maple Leafs dominated the play and had numerous close-in chances to take the lead. After being outshot 7-1 early in the period, the Maple Leafs outshot the Bruins 14-4 in the remainder of the second.
Nylander had the secondary assist on Marner’s goal. He corraled the puck in his own zone and fed Matthews a nice stretch pass at the Boston blue line to start the play. Matthews entered the zone and passed the puck to Marner who fired it home from there.
That extended Nylanders’ point streak to ten games from the start of the season, setting a new franchise record. It also helped Nylander maintain his lead in team scoring with 14 points in 10 games. If Nylander can keep up this pace, he will end up with 114 or 115 points by the end of the season.
Nylander led the Maple Leafs with seven shots on goal in the game.
Matthews scored his eighth goal of the season when he one-timed a feed from Calle Janrkrok from the left corner of the Bruins’ zone past Swayman. After scoring six goals in his first two games, Matthews had only managed one goal in his next seven games. He now sits one goal out of the lead in the NHL behind the Ducks’ Frank Vatrano and Detroit’s Alex DeBrincat. After ten games Matthews is on pace to score 65 goals.
The two points Matthews acquired in this game allowed him to move into a tie with Tavares for second in team scoring with 12 points in 10 games.
Marner showed signs of getting his game back in this one. While not up to his usual play, Marner had still managed to score nine points in the first ten games. He has also put together a little five-game point streak of his own.
Noah Gregor and William Lagesson
While he did not figure into the scoring, Noah Gregor had his best game as a Maple Leaf. He used his speed to generate four good scoring chances for himself. Gregor got rewarded for his play when Keefe shortened the bench and went with three lines. Ryan Reaves and Pontus Holmberg sat most of the last half of the game while Gregor continued to take a regular shift.
Despite being one of the Maple Leafs’ players who played “Ring Around the Rosy” with Zacha on the first goal of the game, William Lagesson had his best game. He made a nice play to keep the puck in the zone on the Matthews’ goal and garnered his first assist as a Maple Leaf on the play.
Samsonov had by far his best game of the season. He looked like the Samsonov of last year. He appeared in control right from the start of the game and he made numerous saves on good scoring chances by the Bruins to keep the game close. According to Naturalstattrick.com, Boston had 22 High-Danger Scoring Chances in the game. Samsonov stopped 38 of the 40 shots he faced to finish the night with a 0.950 Save Percentage.
Game Notes from the Maple Leafs 3-2 Loss
The Maple Leafs failed to score more than two goals for the third consecutive game. They have a total of five goals scored in those three games. A team is not going to win many games if they can’t generate more than two goals a game. The big four of Matthews, Nylander, Tavares, and Marner have accounted for 22 of the Maple Leafs goals this season. The other 18 skaters the team has used to this point have scored just nine goals.
Keefe put his lines in the blender late in the game to try and spur more offence. Matthews Knies finished the game alongside Tavares and Nylander. Gregor got some shifts with David Kampf and Max Domi. Tyler Bertuzzi was relegated to the fourth line with Holmberg and Reaves and saw little ice time in the third period. Bertuzzi played the third least minutes of the Maple Leafs’ forwards at 11:32.
When Keefe was asked about Bertuzzi’s demotion he stated “Today, we had a very simple plan. He failed to execute that, so other guys had to take his place.” It will be interesting to see what the lines are in the next practice.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
Samsonov alluded to the Maple Leafs having Friday off before they get ready to take on the Buffalo Sabres in Toronto on Saturday night. That will be the first of a five-game homestand that takes place over eight days. The first three games of the homestand will be against division rivals, Buffalo, Tampa Bay, and Ottawa. The last two games will be a back-to-back against Calgary and Vancouver. It is good that Samsonov seems to finding his game as I would expect the starts to be split 3-2 between him and Joseph Woll on the homestand.
The team then doesn’t play for five days. But, during that time they will be packing and flying to Stockholm Sweden where they will be playing two games as part of the 2023-24 Global Series. In those two games, they will be taking on the Detroit Red Wings and the Minnesota Wild.