This was supposed to be the game that the Toronto Maple Leafs could use to launch a good November run. The Buffalo Sabres were on their second game of back-to-backs, their third game in four nights, and coming off of a lacklustre 5-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. The Maple Leafs were playing just their third game in seven days.
But, it wasn’t to be. Every time the Maple Leafs did something good, they followed it up with something bad. After they went down 2-1 early in the second period, whenever the Maple Leafs scored they would give up a goal shortly thereafter.
I’m not going to bother going through each successful play they made when they scored their goals. I’m also not going to dissect what went wrong and who made which error when they were scored against. There were too many goals, and too many mistakes to list them all. Instead, I will focus on the high and low lights in the game.
Auston Matthews scored his third hat trick of the season and now has 11 goals in 11 games. He now leads the NHL in goals. Matthews has 15 points in those 11 games to tie him for the team lead in scoring with William Nylander.
William Nylander assisted on Matthews’ first goal to extend his scoring streak from the beginning of the season to 11 games. Each game he continues this streak Nylander will set a new franchise record.
Mitch Marner finally broke out, like we knew he eventually would, with a four-point night. His goal was a nice breakaway goal to open the scoring and he assisted on all three of Matthews’ goals.
Marner now has 13 points in 11 games and has a six-game point streak going of his own.
Despite Marner scoring four points in the game, he was even in plus/minus. Despite Matthews scoring three goals he was even in plus/minus in the game. This has been a theme for the Maple Leafs’ top players this season.
Matthews, Marner, Nylander, and John Tavares have scored a combined 26 goals and 55 points in the first 11 games of the season. Yet, they are a combined minus-4 in plus-minus rating. Nylander is minus-2, Marner and Tavares are minus-1, and Matthews is even. Despite all of the scoring the top four have done to this point of the season the plus/minus numbers indicate as a group they are getting outscored at even strength.
The Maple Leafs’ Fourth Line Is a Disaster
To make matters worse for the Maple Leafs, the bottom six forwards can’t score. They also have a difficult time keeping the puck out of their own net. The fourth line has been a complete disaster. Ryan Reaves was minus-2 in this game and is minus-8 on the season. Putting that another way, at five-on-five Reaves has been on the ice for zero Goals For, and eight Goals Against in 11 games. That would suggest that, despite playing under eight minutes a game, Reaves has cost the Maple Leafs almost a goal a game.
The Maple Leafs were supposed to be the fresher team last night. As I wrote earlier, the Sabres were on the last of three games in four nights. Despite that, the third period was dominated by a Buffalo team that should have been out of gas. In the third period, according to Naturalstattrick.com, the Sabres had 71% of the Scoring Chances, 78% of the High-Danger Scoring Chances, and 83% of the Expected Goals.
After his last start where Joseph Woll gave up four goals, Woll had five get by him in this game. Similar to his last game, I can’t say that any of the goals were “bad” goals. Still, nine goals in two games is not good. To be honest, the fault lies as much on the skaters in front of Woll as it does with Woll.
John Klingberg was on the ice for three of the six Buffalo goals. I read someone else wrote that the Klingberg experiment is starting to look like Tyson Barrie 2.0. Because of injuries to Jake Mccabe, Timothy Liljegren, and Conor Timmins as well as the call-up of two AHL defensemen in William Lagesson (12:29 played in the game) and Maxime Lajoie (4:54 ice time), Klingberg played 25:04 in this game. Klingberg is being forced to play heavy minutes against top opposition. He’s struggling to handle it.
Don’t get me wrong, Marner had a great game overall. But, he set the tone for the game in the second period. After the Maple Leafs killed off a 1:34 of three-on-five, they had a chance to build off the momentum of that kill. They were awarded a power play of their own just over three minutes later.
On that power play, Marner attempted to pass the puck through 6-foot-6 Tage Thompson just outside the Maple Leafs blue line. Thompson blocked the pass and walked in all alone to score and put the Sabres up 2-1. That left the Maple Leafs playing catch up the rest of the game.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
The Maple Leafs head into a week where they play four games in six nights. They start with a visit by the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday night. After the loss to Buffalo, the Maple Leafs are presently tied with the Montreal Canadiens with a record of 5-4-2. Luckily for the Maple Leafs, other than the Boston Bruins running away with a 9-1-1 record to start the season, the rest of the Atlantic Division is struggling to put wins together. Only four points separate Detroit, Tampa, Toronto, Montreal, Buffalo, and Florida.
What I Would Like To See
I think GM Brad Treliving and Head Coach Sheldon Keefe need to do something to shake things up. I expect we will see Simon Benoit in place of Maxime Lajoie versus Tampa. Despite having a poor preseason and dealing with an injury issue in the early going, Benoit has looked pretty good in two games with the Marlies. At the very least, he will bring some physicality to the roster.
With Liljegren on LTIR, the Maple Leafs could send Lajoie and Holmberg back down to the Marlies, and bring up Nick Robertson and Alex Steeves. Robertson has five goals and six assists for eleven points in nine games for the Marlies. Steeves has six goals and four assists for ten points.
The team could then be able to sit Reaves for a game and insert Robertson and Steeves in the lineup in Reaves’ and Holmberg’s place. Steeves is not only good offensively, he also plays a decent defensive game. That would allow Keefe to put together a shutdown line of Kampf between Steeves and Noah Gregor. The other bottom six line could be Max Domi centering Matthew Knies and Robertson.