The Toronto Maple Leafs came out of the Christmas break and fell short against the Ottawa Senators, losing 4-2 in a game that was probably closer than it should have been.  

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The Bad

The first “Bad” I want to talk about is bad luck. This game reminded me of the last Rangers game. In that game, it was unlucky goals scored that bounced into the net off of Maple Leafs’ players. In this game, it was in the opposing team’s crease where Toronto did not have any luck. There were five times in this game where the puck was loose in the Ottawa goal-crease with their goalie down and out. 

For whatever reason, either the ability of a Senators player to get his stick on the puck or the failure of a Maple Leafs player to get their stick on the puck, none of those chances ended up in the Ottawa net. If any one of those found its way past the goal-line the outcome of this game could have been completely different. 

I don’t have any stats to back this up but it seems that games involving the Maple Leafs have had a lot of blown multiple-goal leads, be it by Toronto or by their opposition. In this game it was the Maple Leafs that blew a two-goal lead, giving up four unanswered goals after building that lead.  

The Matthews/Knies Marner line along with Morgan Rielly did not have good games. Rielly was on the ice for all three goals against and finished the night with minus three. According to Naturalstattrick.com at five-on-five, the Matthews line was on the ice for a combined 36% High Danger Scoring Chances and 38% Expected Goals. 

With the loss, Toronto lost ground to both the Boston Bruins, who defeated the Buffalo Sabres 4-1, and the Florida Panthers who were 3-2 winners over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday night.  

The Ugly

Each of the goals given up by the Maple Leafs had an ugly aspect to it.  

Senators Goal Number One

The first goal Ottawa scored and the one that was the key turning point of the game, was scored with Toronto on the power-play. After Auston Matthews entered the Senators’ zone with control of the puck he dropped it off just inside the blue line to John Tavares. Tavares would try to return it down the wall to Matthews but fail. Despite having four players deep in the Ottawa zone the Maple Leafs were never able to gain control of the puck. The Senators would work it around the boards to Claude Giroux. 

Giroux broke out two-on-one with Parker Kelly. Morgan Rielly was the only Toronto player back, but William Nylander was able to use his speed to get back into the play. It was just inside the blue line where things got ugly. The defending Rielly, and the speeding back Nylander both played the puck-carrier Giroux leaving Kelly all alone. Giroux dished the puck over to Kelly, who beat Martin Jones over his glovehand.  

While Nylander is skating back into the play he actually passes Kelly trying to track down Giroux. Nylander would have been better off covering Kelly leaving Rielly one-on-one with Giroux. 

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Senators Goal Number Two

On the second Ottawa goal, the two players who made ugly choices were TJ Brodie and Mitch Marner. After Drake Batherson wins a battle for the puck with Matthews in the neutral zone, Tim Stutzle enters the Toronto zone with the puck. Brodie falls allowing Stutzle to get past him leaving Rielly as the only player between Stutzle and the Toronto goal. Despite Rielly having Stutzle covered when Brodie gains his feet he just skates back toward his goal ignoring the trailer Batherson. 

Meanwhile, Marner trails behind Batherson from center ice just coasting. Stutzle gets a shot away on Jones. which Jones stops. But the rebound goes right to the trailing Batherson who is left with a wide-open cage. If either Brodie or Marner had made any effort to cover Batherson the goal might never have happened. 

Senators Goal Number Three

The third goal was really ugly. After the Maple Leafs failed to get out of their zone, Batherson one-timed the puck from below the Toronto goal line toward the net. Jones is not tight to his post allowing the puck to hit behind his left shoulder and drop into the net.   

Martin Jones, now with the Maple Leafs

I’m not sure if it is because he has played well for the Maple Leafs but the broadcast team seemed to be willing to chalk the goal up to luck and give Jones a pass on it. I am sure if it was Ilya Samsonov between the pipes, the story would have been completely different. In my opinion, the goal was a bad goal. Jones was caught off guard by the play and should have been tighter to his post. 

The Good

The Maple Leafs were the better team in the first period and were deserving of their 2-0 lead. It was nice to see Matthews Knies and Tyler Bertuzzi get the two goals. With any “Good” luck, Bertuzzi could have had one or two more goals in the game. I think this may have been his best game as a Maple Leaf.  

Nylander assisted on Bertuzzi’s goal to extend his point streak to twelve games. His 46 points keep him in a tie for fourth in NHL scoring.

Even though he didn’t get the goal because it tipped off Knies’ skate, Matthews extended his present point streak to eight games. He has twelve goals and five assists for 17 points in those eight games.  

At five-on-five, the Domi/Jarnkrok/Robertson line had 94% of the High-Danger Scoring Chances and 93% of the Expected Goals. The Tavares/Nylander/Bertuzzi line had 84% of the High Danger Scoring Chances and 70% of the Expected Goals.

What’s Next?

The Maple Leafs travel to Columbus to play their third game in 16 days against the Blue Jackets. They split the first two games with Columbus winning 6-5 in Toronto and the Maple Leafs winning in Columbus 4-1. They then close out 2023 on Saturday night at home versus the Carolina Hurricanes.  

I am going to guess that Ilya Samsonov will get the start in Columbus and Jones will get the go against the Hurricane.  

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