Head Coach Sheldon Keefe summed this game up perfectly.
“We played well enough to win the game, but we did just enough to lose. That is why you lose games.”
The “enough to lose” that Keefe was referring to was mistakes. The Maple Leafs made enough mistakes to lose the game. Mistakes led to each of the Islanders’ three goals.
Matt Barzal entered the Toronto zone with the puck and circled back to create space. He hit Mike Reilly with a pass at the top of the right circle. Reilly one-timed the pass off the goalpost. The rebound came right back to Barzal, who had the whole net to shoot at for the goal.
On the original shot by Reilly, Ilya Samsonov reads the play. He gets over in time to be in position at the top of his crease to stop the shot and he is not screened. But, the puck goes under his glove and over his pad off the post. If he makes that stop the play is dead.
When Barzal first circled back, the Maple Leafs players on the ice appeared to have things covered. Then, as the puck goes to Reilly, Simon Benoit has Bo Horvat boxed out down low. However, the other four Maple Leaf players on the ice are just standing there watching Reilly take the shot. No one covers Barzal or anyone else for that matter. With Samsonov committed to the Reilly shot, once it gets past him it rebounds off the post to Barzal so quickly Samsonov has no time to react.
As Keefe succinctly pointed out after the game, this is the NHL, not Peewee hockey. Everyone on the ice should know when a penalty is going to expire. Yet no one even attempts to cover Kyle MacLean coming out of the penalty box. Cal Clutterbuck hits MacLean with a pass and MacLean is in all alone on Samsonov with all the time in the world.
With the game tied and just over two minutes left in the third period, TJ Brodie banks a pass to Morgan Rielly behind the Toronto goal. Rather than just get the puck out of the zone Rielly tries to relay the puck through Brock Nelson to Nick Robertson inside the zone. Nelson easily picks off the pass attempt. After Kyle Palmeri misses trying to one-time the pass from Nelson, Palmeri finds Nelson alone in the slot. Nelson one-times a shot on Samsonov which Samsonov stops. But, Rielly fails to cut off Pierre Engvall’s path allowing him to walk out from behind the goal and get his stick on the rebound, sliding it under Samsonov. That was not one, but two errors on Rielly.
I don’t like putting this in the “Bad” section but I don’t know where else to put it.
Samsonov kept getting praise from the broadcast crew for how well he was playing. He did make some excellent saves. But I thought he looked very nervous in the net. He was a little slow to react to plays and was forced to make saves that looked more difficult than they should have been. Samsonov did not play terribly. He did play well enough to give Toronto a chance to win the game. He just didn’t look as in control as he had the few games before the All-Star break. In his defence, he was off for eight days so a little rust might be expected. Plus he was still miles better than he was a month ago.
The Bottom Six
With both Calle Jarnkrok and David Kampf out, Keefe was forced to make a hodgepodge of the bottom two lines. For the most part, when they were on the ice they spent a lot of their time chasing the puck in their own end. Five of the bottom six forwards were at the low end of the underlying stats in the game. The exception was Ryan Reaves. While the other five bottom-six players were all on the negative side of the statistics Reaves had 59% of Expected Goals and 50% of the High Danger Chances at five on five.
Getting back to Keefe’s statement about playing well enough to win the game. Toronto created plenty of excellent scoring opportunities in this game. And, if not for some excellent goaltending by Ilya Sorokin and a double iron shot by Auston Matthews, this game could have easily gone the other way.
According to Naturalstattrick.com Toronto had 62% of the High-Danger Scoring Chances in the game and 60% of the Expected Goals in all situations in the game.
All six points the Maple Leafs skaters had were from their core five players. John Tavares had a goal and an assist. Mitch Marner had the other goal. Matthews, Rielly, and William Nylander all had assists.
Tavares was the best Toronto player on the ice. He had the goal, the assist, and a team-leading six shots on net in the game. After going pointless in their previous nine games, Tavares now has three points in his last two games.
Tavares’ goal moved him into a tie with Rick Vaive and Steve Larmer for 70th All-Time in NHL goals. Tavares is also tied with Larmer for 95th in All-Time points with 1,012. That’s one point behind Pat Lafontaine.
As for Toronto franchise scoring, Tavares’ 169 goals as a Maple Leaf place him in 24th All-time, five goals behind Dick Duff for 23rd. His 391 points as a Maple Leaf has him sitting in 26th for points All-Time. He needs two points to catch John Anderson and three to catch Phil Kessel.
Anyone paying attention to the officiating in this game might have a difficult time figuring out exactly what is and what isn’t a penalty in the NHL. Reaves’ boarding call in the first period would have been boarding if Reaves had hit Matt Martin into the boards. I watched that play over again a few times and Martin never made contact with the boards.
Right after that Tyler Bertuzzi was called for interference on Barzal while the two of them battled for the puck. But, when Benoit did exactly the same thing to MacLean and Clutterbuck did it to Matthews in the third period there was no call.
Late in the second period in a scramble in front of the Islanders’ goal by Toronto’s fourth line. Engvall grabbed the puck out of mid-air in or near the crease, closed his hand on it, and dropped it down to his stick. That should have been a least a two-minute call on Engvall. And, depending on whether or not the puck was hovering over the blue paint (it was hard to tell with the angle shown), it could have been a penalty shot. No one else seemed to even notice it either on the ice or the broadcast crew.
Toronto gets right back at it Wednesday night when the Dallas Stars are in town. They then pay Ottawa a visit on Saturday night.
Before the game, Keefe stated that we should not expect to see Joseph Woll any time soon. It was speculated before the bye week and All-Star break that Woll was close to returning. He does continue to skate but it appears he will be out for a while yet.
With Samsonov not playing for over a week before the Islanders game, I would expect we will see him back in the net against the Stars on Wednesday. Then, with two days off before and after the Senators game on the weekend I would be surprised if Samsonov didn’t start that game as well.
We will have to await word on the status of both Jarnkrok and Kampf.
This article first appeared on Old Prof Hockey and was syndicated with permission.