By Stan Smith

The Toronto Maple Leafs visited Edmonton on Tuesday and lost the first game of their four-game Western road trip 4-2 to the Oilers.

Related: Reviewing the Good, Bad, & Ugly of Maple Leafs Red Wings Loss

The Good

The good in this game is the same as the good in the previous three games. The Maple Leafs came out flying. In this game, they controlled play, scored 27 seconds into the game, and did not allow the Oilers a shot on the net until the 4:34 mark of the first period. 

Auston Matthews got the Maple Leafs on the board on his first shift. After being apart for one game, Matthews and Mitch Marner were reunited. It didn’t take long for their chemistry to become obvious. After Matthews gave the puck to Marner in the Edmonton zone to the left of Oiler goalie Stuart Skinner, he circled and broke toward the net. Marner found him with a perfect backdoor feed which Matthews deposited behind Skinner.

Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs

It was Matthews’ 34th goal in 41 games and keeps him on pace to score 68 goals this season. 

Toronto would increase their lead to 2-0 at 10:52 of the second period when Morgan Rielly jumped into the play and beat Skinner down low. It was the Matthews line that did the work to get the puck to Rielly. Matthews picked up a deflection of a Marner shot off of Pontus Holmberg’s skate and slid it over to Rielly on the play. The goal was Rielly’s 18th point in his last 20 games.  

The Bad

The bad in this game is the same bad as it has been in the previous three games. After getting a lead, the Maple Leafs are incapable of keeping it. In the last half of the game, Edmonton scored three goals on Martin Jones and added an empty-netter to win the game 4-2. 

In the past four games at one point in each of those games Toronto had the following leads:

Islanders: 3-1 at the 4:17 mark of the second period;

Avalanche: 3-0 at the 5:26 mark of the second period;

Red Wings 2-1 at the 2:45 mark of the third period; and,

Oilers 2-0 at the 15:40 mark of the second period.  

If I total that up, it comes to Toronto outsourcing their opponents 10-2 in just over 128 minutes of play.  

In those four games, the score for the remainder of each of those games was as follows:

Islanders: 3-0 from the 4:18 mark of the second (3rd goal scored 21 seconds into OT);

Avalanche: 5-0 from the 5:27 mark of the second period;

Red Wings: 3-0 from the 2:46 mark of the third period; and,

Oilers 4-0 from the 15:41 mark of the second period.

That is 15-0 for the opposition in just over 112 minutes.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Third-Straight Blown Lead Raises Alarms

Sheldon Keefe’s Comments

Rather than blame his team’s defensive play following the Edmonton game, Keefe blamed the Maple Leafs’ lack of scoring and adding to the 2-0 lead. He might have had a point. The main cause of all four losses may be more of a case of failing to score more goals after Toronto had built a lead in each game. 

I have written many times in the past the importance of scoring more than three goals in a game. If a team scores three goals in an NHL game, they have a 50% chance of winning the game. If they score two or less their chances of winning drop to 25% or lower. However, if they score four or more goals, their chances of winning are 80% or higher. 

The Maple Leafs have scored an average of 2.5 goals in their last four games. Regardless of when those goals were scored; the fact Toronto scored those 10 goals in the first half of each of those games is not as important as the fact they failed to score a single goal in the latter half of each game. 

Don’t get me wrong, defensive errors have played a part in the losses, but every team makes defensive errors. Defensive errors on the part of New York, Colorado, Detroit, and Edmonton played a part in the ten goals scored by the Maple Leafs. If no one made a mistake in hockey, every game would end 0-0. But the numbers don’t lie. If you score more than three goals a game, you win. Score less than three goals you lose. Score three and it’s a toss-up. 

Nylander And Tavares Slumping

With the lack of scoring for Toronto in mind, we know the Maple Leafs’ top-heavy talent must score. Specifically, the bulk of their scoring has to come from the core five players. If we look over the past four games, we see that Matthews, Marner, and Rielly have scored six goals and accounted for ten points. We also see the players outside of the core five have scored four goals and accounted for twelve points. The leader is Pontus Holmberg with a goal and three assists.  

John Tavares & William Nylander, Maple Leafs

William Nylander and John Tavares are pointless in those four games. That is 40% of Toronto’s core offence which is shooting blanks over that stretch.  

If Toronto wants to win games they need Nylander and Tavares to get on the scoresheet. 

The Ugly

I wrote at the end of December that the Maple Leafs had lost the same number of games they had won. They were 17-17 in games won and lost at that time. Their actual record was 17-10-7 so they had seven extra loser points to help bolster their place in the standings. However, they still had lost as many games as they had won. Then they went on a four-game winning streak to start 2024. They not only solidified their third-place standings in the Atlantic Division but were closing in on both Boston and Florida ahead of them.

After losing four straight, they have given that all back and are right back where they started the new year. They have once again lost as many games as they have won (21-21). The Detroit Red Wings followed up their win over Toronto with a 3-2 overtime win in Florida on Wednesday night to move one point ahead of the Maple Leafs into third place in the Atlantic.

With dropping to fourth place in the division, Toronto now has the first Wild Card spot, one point ahead of Tampa who occupy the second Wild Card position. The Maple Leafs are two points up on Pittsburgh, Washington, and the Islanders. If they get passed by any of those teams, they will be out of a playoff position.  

What’s Next?

Things don’t get any easier for the Maple Leafs. They take on the Flames in Calgary tonight. The Flames have won their last four games and are fighting for a Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. They then play back-to-back games on the West Coast this weekend. The first game is Saturday night against the first-place Vancouver Canucks and Sunday against the Seattle Kraken. The Kraken are tied with Calgary and have lost their last two games. But, they won their previous nine games before losing two. Every single one of those games is going to be difficult to win.  

Joseph Woll, Maple Leafs

There is some possible good news to end with. Not only is Joseph Woll skating but it has been reported he is accompanying the team on this trip. Could we see him in a game, maybe in Seattle on Sunday? Just the fact that he is on the ice and with the team is good news. Even if he doesn’t play on this trip, with the All-Star break coming up, the Maple Leafs only play two games in 14 days. That will provide Woll, and any other Maple Leafs players with ample time to heal whatever ails them.  It could also provide a reset for the team before the push for the playoffs.  

The All-Star game also gives the league GMs a chance to meet and talk deals. It traditionally kicks off the month leading up to the trade deadline. Unfortunately for the Maple Leafs, 25 of the 32 teams in the league are within five points of a playoff spot. That leaves only seven teams that might be considered sellers at this point of the season. As a result, the pickings might be slim and the cost high for any available players. 

Related: Joseph Woll Is Progressing on the Road to Recovery

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