By Stan Smith

There is so much to unravel about this game. Once again, I am not going to examine each goal and who did what on them.  

If you like high-scoring games with wide-open hockey, this was your cup of tea. It definitely was an entertaining game, that’s for sure. 

Related: Insider Questions Maple Leafs’ Lack of Response to Marchand

The Ugly

Like the last time these two teams met when the Lightning scored three times on their first four shots, this game started ugly for the Toronto Maple Leafs and their fans. This time, Tampa Bay scored four goals on their first 13 shots.  

In their first meeting, Ilya Samsonov got the start and lasted 13:29 before he was pulled after allowing the three goals on four shots. I guess you can say he improved this time. It wasn’t until the 15:13 mark that he got the yank after allowing four goals on 13 shots.  

Ilya Samsonov, Maple Leafs starting goalie

Samsonov has given up seven goals on 17 shots in 28.42 of ice time in two starts against the Lightning this season. That works out to a 0.588 Save Percentage and a 14.63 Goals-Against-Average against the Lightning. I want to note that this is not solely on Samsonov. The skaters in front of him are equally to blame. 

It was the Nikita Kucherov show in the first period as he was in on all four Lightning goals. Kucherov scored two of them and assisted on the other two. That gave Kucherov nine points in two games as he registered a goal and four assists in Tampa’s 6-4 win in Ottawa on Saturday.

The Bad

The Maple Leafs have given up four or more goals in every home game they have played this season. They have had four goals against in three of the games, five against twice, and six against once. They have somehow managed a 3-3 record in their six home games.  

The penalty kill continued its struggles in the first period of the game. Two of the four goals Tampa scored came with the man advantage. To date, the opposing teams have scored at just over a 28% rate on their power play. 

The John Tavares, William Nylander, and Tyler Bertuzzi line was on for the two even-strength goals the Lightning scored in the first period. After their hot start, Tavares and Nylander have cooled off as of late. Tavares has one power-play goal in his last five games and is minus-5 in plus/minus in those games. 

John Tavares & William Nylander, Maple Leafs

Nylander has a point in each of the last five games, but none of those points has been on his regular line at five-on-five. They have come on the power play, in overtime, or when Nylander has been on the ice with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. Nylander is also minus-5 in plus/minus in his last five games. 

What is with the “Too Many Men” penalties this team is taking? According to the website, the Maple Leafs lead the league with four “Too Many Men” penalties this season. I thought it was more than that. I know they had two in one game recently. 

The coach usually gets the blame for these penalties, and I’m not going to argue against that. But, what I see is players not being aware of the game situation and what is happening with the puck. They are not getting off the ice quickly enough. Or, they are not watching what is happening with the puck as they are exiting and entering the ice. This is an area that needs to be cleaned up. 

The Good

The best thing about this game was the fact that the Maple Leafs overcame the three-goal deficit and came back to win the game. For two-thirds of this game, it was the most cohesive this team has looked this season. 

Matthews, Marner, and Knies

Mitch Marner had his second four-point game in a row. Marner scored the goal that put the Maple Leafs up 5-4 in the third period. He assisted on both Matthews’s goals and Matthew Knies’ goal to open the scoring. Marner has got his mojo back. He is skating faster both with and without the puck and making crisp, clean passes. Marner also has had seven hits in his last two games. 

Auston Matthews scored two more goals in this game and could have easily had his fourth hat trick of the season if not for some good goaltending by Jonas Johansson. Matthews leads the NHL with 13 goals in 12 games. That puts him three goals up on second-place Brock Boeser of the Vancouver Canucks. Matthews also had an assist to give him three points in the game. He moved into 10th place in all-time scoring for the Maple Leafs with 560 points, tied with Ted Kennedy.

Auston Matthews RC

Matthew Knies made the most of his promotion to the top line. He showed a goal-scorer’s touch on the first goal of the game. Knies batted the puck out of mid-air down to his feet and then kicked it from his skate to his stick while skating between the goalie and a Tampa defender. He then backhanded the puck over a sprawling Johansson into the net. 

Knies added an assist on the Marner go-ahead goal and one of Matthews’ two goals. That gave him his second multiple-point game of the season. Five of Knies seven points this season have come against the Lightning.  

Knies sits second in NHL rookies scoring. His seven points tie him with Connor Bedard and is one point out of first in rookie scoring. If Knies can keep producing and sticks with Marner and Matthews he has an excellent chance of fighting for the rookie scoring title. 

Related: Would Auston Matthews Really Leave the Maple Leafs?

Jarnkrok, Domi, and Robertson

The new line of Max Domi, centring Calle Jarnkrok and Nick Robertson, was the second-best line for the Maple Leafs in this game. I’m not sure if it was the players he was playing with or the fact that he was excited to be back at center, but this was by far Domi’s best game as a Maple Leaf. His playmaking skills were at the forefront of this game. 

Domi’s and Robertson’s speed created havoc for the Lightning. Jarnkrok was in the right place at the right time twice in the game. The first time was to cash in on a rebound from a Robertson shot. The second was when Jarnkrok was rewarded for his play in regulation by getting a shift in overtime with Nylander and Morgan Rielly. Jarnkrok won the game when he deflected a pass from Rielly behind Johansson. 

William Nylander

While the Nylander/Tavares/Bertuzzi line has been struggling as of late, Nylander extended his record-setting points streak from the start of the season. Unlike the last few games where Nylander was involved in the scoring early in the game, he literally waited until the last seconds of the game when he skated into the zone with the puck before dishing it back to Reilly on the winning goal. That is 12 games and counting for the Nylander. 

Joseph Woll

Once again Joseph Woll came in with the Maple Leafs down in a game and gave the team stellar goaltending, allowing them to claw themselves back into the game. This time Woll stopped 18 of the 19 shots he faced.

Keefe, Treliving And The Coaching Staff 

Sheldon Keefe has come under a lot of criticism for his roster choices and his line combinations. I’m not sure the decisions are 100% his. The GM usually has a say in who is on the roster and the coach has to do what’s best with the players he is given. The assistant coaches also have some input as to who plays where. It’s not all just Keefe, but he is the coach and is front and center on the decisions.

Whoever had the input to three lineup changes made by the Maple Leafs deserves some credit.  

Change #1

Moving Knies up to the first line was a great move. That line accounted for four goals and ten points in the game.  

Change #2

Replacing Pontus Holmberg with Nick Robertson, moving Domi to center, and putting Jarnkrok on that line gave the Maple Leafs the best third line this team has had this season. 

Change #3

Benching Ryan Reaves and going with eleven forwards made the fourth line much better both offensively and defensively. The fourth line for the Maple Leafs is most effective with David Kampf on it and taking defensive zone draws. Reaves was too much of a defensive liability to have him out there for defensive zone shifts. Removing Reaves from that line allowed Kampf to take more draws in the Maple Leafs zone and to be more effective defensively. 

What I Would Like To See

I know why Reaves is in the lineup. But, it is just not working. I think it is time to put Reaves on waivers and see if he can clear or not. I do think with his contract that teams will think twice before claiming him. 

Once Reaves clears waivers, it gives the Maple Leafs more flexibility under the salary cap. It gives them another $1.15 million in cap space. Reaves can stay with the team like Wayne Simmonds did if the team wishes and move in and out of the lineup as needed. 

If Reaves does not clear waivers, the Maple Leafs have Kyle Clifford who could step in if needed. I have been watching the Marlies games this season and Clifford is playing quite well. He has two goals and five points in nine games.  

With the success that Robertson had with his callup, I would like to see Alex Steeves get a chance in the lineup. I think a line of Kampf, Noah Gregor, and Steeves would be an effective fourth line for the Maple Leafs with and without the puck. Bobby McMann is another choice. But, after coming into camp injured, McMann either suffered another injury or aggravated one he had and missed time in the early going with the Marlies. He has not been effective when he has played and needs more time to rediscover his game. 

Nick Robertson, Maple Leafs

While Samsonov’s confidence is fragile, the Maple Leafs have to keep giving him starts. After having an amazing start to the season Woll has cooled off as of late, allowing nine goals in his last two starts. The Maple Leafs are going to need both goalies playing well if they want to compete for a top two or three spot in the Atlantic Division.  

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

The Maple Leafs have three more games in their five-game homestand. They take on the struggling Senators on Wednesday night. Struggling or not, Ottawa always gets up for games with the Maple Leafs. They then get visited by both two Canadian teams from out west in back-to-back games. 

The Calgary Flames are in town Friday night followed by the surprising Vancouver Canucks on Saturday. If I were to guess, I would think that Woll will get the starts for Ottawa and Vancouver while Samsonov gets the nod against Calgary. 

Then we have five days of no games as the Maple Leafs make the trek to Stockholm Sweden for games against the Detroit Red Wings and the Minnesota Wild.

It will be interesting to see if this game was the game that turned the season around for the Maple Leafs.

Related:  Marlies Earn Weekend Split: Laval Wins, and Marlies Bounce Back

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