You can argue either way whether you think the Maple Leafs are going to be good or bad this season, eventually the team’s record is going to tell the story, but you can’t deny that the team is weird. This team has managed to win games in the weirdest ways and they don’t lose much. They lost a very weird one on Thursday, probably a weirder loss than all of their weird wins on the season combined. If there is an absolute value of weirdness, the Leafs lead the league.
The above image is courtesy of Fox Sports Carolina. It was a harmless icing call by Ron Hainsey. Morgan Rielly may be used to no-touch icing, but maybe he isn’t. He let up, as did Carolina forward Radek Dvorak, and Dvorak barely beat Rielly to the hashmarks and icing was waved off. The puck bounced off the end boards and Jonathan Bernier seemed unsure whether to play it or not, and the puck took a wild bounce off of his skate and in. One of the weirder winning goals the Maple Leafs have conceded in their long history, but it capped a three-goal Carolina comeback.
Leafs lose, 3-2.
The worst play of the game wasn’t the winning goal, but 32 seconds in, when Josh Leivo accidentally ran James Reimer who was stretched out and vulnerable trying to cover a puck he bobbled. Reimer had to leave the game early, bringing in a cold Jonathan Bernier, but the Leafs gave him a lot of help early on, making Cam Ward work off some sloppy early play by the Hurricanes.
It wasn’t all bad. The Maple Leafs had a couple of great chances in the first period. Phil Kessel was robbed by Cam Ward on a rebound opportunity and Mason Raymond was flat-out mugged by Ward on a shorthanded two-on-one with Tyler Bozak. The Leafs actually out-shot Carolina 12-10 in the first period, taking advantage of some granted possession time thanks to some bad penalties taken by the Canes.
In the second, the Leafs struck first on a pair of goals, both coming off of odd-man rushes. Joffrey Lupul, who had a wonderful first period, stuck with a puck that he misplaced trying to pass to Nazem Kadri, and wound up chipping the puck over Justin Faulk and Ward for the 1-0 goal. A few minutes later, the first of two former Kitchener Rangers to score their first NHL goal on the night took advantage of another Leafs’ two-on-one:
It was a pretty ugly play for Andrej Sekera, but Leivo showed off his size and his speed on that play. Even a turnstile on the subway would have slowed him down a little more than Sekera did there, but Leivo also accelerated to create the two-on-one with a lot of space. Faulk and Ward were dead to rights. Great little play.
Then… an early third period penalty from Nazem Kadri put a very quiet Carolina powerplay to work, and Ryan Murphy, another ex-Ranger, to score his first NHL goal with a slap shot. Carolina had been pressing to that point, with Tuomo Ruutu and Drayson Bowman both missing clear opportunities. Carolina’s second goal came on a great wrist shot by Eric Staal. Faulk held the line on a Carl Gunnarsson clearing attempt and took a shot that deflected off Gunnarsson and set itself up perfectly onto Staal’s stick from a prime area. The puck was a bit on its edge, meaning the shot wasn’t just hard, but probably had a bit of a knuckleball effect and beat Bernier high glove.
And then this:
Jonathan Quick and Roberto Luongo have a companion on the blooper reel.
The Leafs could barely mount an attack in the final minutes, although Nazem Kadri hit the post on the near side in the last offensive sequence of the game, but then he boarded Pat Dwyer from behind and effectively ended the threat. Leafs lose the game and one of their goaltenders.
WHY THE LEAFS LOST
Ultimately, Toronto failed to establish control in the Carolina end in the decisive third period. The Hurricanes were forechecking relentlessly in the third period and wound up possessing the puck in the Leafs’ zone 20 times to 16, and 20-14 if you exclude empty-net situations. It doesn’t sound like a big difference, but the Leafs should have mounted much more pressure when they were down 3-2. Other than a couple of strong rushes by Lupul, the Leafs entered the zone with no speed, preferring the ineffective chip-and-chase game and giving the puck up to the Canes’ puck-moving defencemen.
The powerplay slowed down too. They went 0-for-4, officially, but more importantly generated just three shots on goal in 7:52 of 5-on-4 time. The once dominant special teams took a step back tonight, with the Hurricanes generating an additional 9 shots in their 5:35 of powerplay time, as well as the goal. I’ve made a point that the Leafs’ PK has been giving up a dangerous amount of shots, and that’s something that needs to be rectified as we go forward.
Lupul was the best Leaf on the night by a long shot. He had five shots on goal, the opening goal of the game, and by far the most active Leaf in the neutral zone. He was also the Leaf closest to even in Corsi, just a minus-2 on the night (+15/-17) for a 46.9% rate, per Extra Skater. I had him down for nine controlled zone entries, with five of those coming at 5-on-5. Both markers should have led the Leafs tonight, though I haven’t tallied every player yet.
- Per Chris Johnston, Brett Willows of the Toronto Varsity Blues was called in to be the Leafs’ emergency goaltender had Bernier become incapacitated for some reason. Bernier was okay, however.
Officially, per Carlyle, Reimer has a “headache”. That’s not a good sign, knowing his concussion history.
- The Leafs were out-shot just 13-12 in score-tied situations (again, per Extra Skater), although Carolina generated 23 shot attempts to 17.
- In the final 6:56 of the game, the Leafs generated just five unblocked shots, which isn’t very good for a pressing team. Phil Kessel was held to three shots on net and Nazem Kadri to just one.
- Score effects were a big reason the Leafs were out-shot so decisively. When you play most of the game with the lead, the other team is going to push the play more. I wouldn’t pay too much attention to the 38-26 discrepancy. The bad goal against is going to change a lot of people’s judgment about this game, but I highly doubt that happens again.