There was plenty of talk in the offseason about how the Toronto Maple Leafs’ possession statistics weren’t sustainable and that the Leafs, constantly being outshot and out-attempted, were due for some regression if they didn’t change their style of play.
However, regression doesn’t mean "you were lucky before, now you’ll be unlucky." Instead, you simply assume things will return to a more normal-ish state of affairs.
On Tuesday, though, the Leafs got a taste of their own medicine, out-attempting Colorado in a game that it felt like they had more control of, only to run into a hot goalie in Semyon Varlamov. The Leafs fell 2-1 to Colorado, seeing their perfect record fall to 3-1-0 while the impressive young Avalanche move to 3-0-0.
The Leafs got things started with a few early chances centered around strong zone entries. Phil Kessel and James van Rimesdyk both took this approach, and shortly after Colton Orr weakly dumped a puck in that hardly went anywhere. This would become a theme on a night in which Orr inexplicably played over nine minutes, some spent wasting the creativity of Nazem Kadri (not to mention a shift with five minutes left in a one-goal game). But I digress, for now.
The Leafs were strong throughout the first nonetheless, outshooting Colorado 12-10 and firing 27 attempts to just 18 for Colorado. Randy Carlyle clearly took the first three games of the season to heart, playing Mason Raymond for 7:09 and Dave Bolland, the hometown kid wearing the ‘A’ in Jay McClement’s absence, 6:41. Despite the strong attempt totals, he’d diverge from that.
In the second, the Leafs opened the scoring when Joffrey Lupul jammed home a Carter Ashton "rebound," using a generous definition of the term rebound. That’s why you put the puck on net, I suppose.
Unfortunately, Cody McLeod changed the game at that point by fighting Troy Bodie…on the road…in the offensive zone…in a one-goal game. Momentum, though, and just a few minutes later the value of fighting manifested itself when Cory Sarich fired an unexpected wrist shot top corner from the bottom of the circle to tie the game. Raymond seemed to not expect a shot, and it looked as if Jonathan Bernier, too, was bracing for a cross-ice pass.
Early in the third, the value of fighting presented itself again…in the form of a sloppy Colton Orr turnover that led to a 2-on-2 rush the other way. While Jake Gardiner played the rush sloppily and Paul Ranger, who had been attempting to change, hardly exerted an effort to stop either player, Jamie McGinn slid a pass to P.A. Parenteau for the go-ahead goal.
At the halfway point of the period, Morgan Rielly drew a penalty in what presented the Leafs’ best opportunity to even the score. Unfortunately, the powerplay only created chances. Late in the frame, some sloppy zone exit attempts killed about 25 seconds off of the clock and prevented Bernier from exiting the net, leaving the Leafs just 30 seconds of 6-on-5 attack time. As you know by now, nothing doing in that regard.
Why the Leafs lost
Varlamov is the top reason, turning away 27 shots, although there weren’t many times you threw your hands up at a great Varlamov save. Instead, the Leafs had most of their best chances result in non-shots, including a few late passes that skipped a stick or just didn’t settle (in the case of a JVR-to-Kessel saucer pass).
The faceoff battle was a tough one, too, with Colorado taking 57 percent of draws and 75 percent on special teams. You can win without winning draws, especially when you control the possession game. But small sample or otherwise, failing to gain possession of the puck in special teams situations hurts.
The Leafs honestly didn’t play poorly, but they didn’t outplay the Avs either, and those kind of games are gonna be 50-50 propositions.
Cody Franson did an excellent job keeping the puck in on tight plays at the offensive blueline and was the only D-man showing comfort skating with the puck in his own zone. His 24 minutes were second to only Dion Phaneuf and he was credited with three shot attempts, a low number given how big a part he played in helping create the few opportunities the Leafs managed.
*Orr played over nine minutes. This is inexcusable in the worst of times. Sure, McClement was out so Bodie, Jamie Devane and Trevor Smith were all in the lineup, but you’d have a really tough time convincing me any of those three are a worse option than Orr. Not only did he have the turnover that led to the second Colorado goal, he also had a brutal turnover at the Leafs blueline where he hit Nathan MacKinnon in the gut with a clearing attempt, giving him a short break that Bernier turned away. Hey, if you can’t punch the good players, hit ’em with a puck, right?
*Think the cap crunch matters, now?
*Bernier was really solid despite the loss, tallying 31 saves and turning away a few in-close opportunities he could have been forgiven for letting in. That includes a few clear shots from the hashmarks and high slot, though the Leafs did a pretty good job keeping Bernier’s sightlines unobstructed on point shots.
*Tyle Bozak is snakebitten. He had a few solid shifts late that might hide his ho-hum game in retrospect, but he couldn’t finish right now if he was on a line with two pornstars.
*Nazem Kadri was largely wasted in this one; I know his style of play can grind on Carlyle, but his skillset is such that it really doesn’t benefit the team to play him with non-skill players.
*Orr played nine minutes. Worth repeating a third time. Colton Orr. Nine minutes.
*With eight minutes left and a scramble in the offensive zone, Jan Hejda blatantly pushed the Colorado net off. Homerish to point out, maybe, but also kind of a bushleague play.
*Morgan Rielly played a defense-low 16:15. That’s enough icetime to make the trial worthwhile, and he looked pretty good in open space and the offensive zone (which is exactly what’s to be epxected). With that said, through two games he’s not making a case that they can’t send him down after nine appearances.
*We do it all again on Thursday at Nashville.