Photo Credit: Tom Szczerbowski/USA TODAY SPORTS
The Leafs fell 2-1 to the Carolina Hurricanes tonight and if that surprised you, I’m not sure what to tell you. Midweek game? Check. Sunbelt team? Check. Former Leaf scores winner? Check. This game was as traditional as you’ll see this year from the Leafs. Let’s recap what happened and where it all went wrong.
The Hurricanes came into Toronto as one of the hottest teams in the league, winning four straight before making it five tonight. The Leafs struck first blood early with a blast from the point from beautiful human being Jake Gardiner, but failed to convert on any of their other 25 shots on Cam Ward.
Almost 12 minutes later, Jeff Skinner tied the game up with a very weird goal on the powerplay, one that appeared to go in off Matt Martin’s skate. That would be his first as a Leaf – only took 19 games – so I believe some congratulations are in order. Also on the ice to mark the momentous occasion were Ben Smith, Roman Polak and Matt Hunwick. I’m surprised Carolina didn’t score sooner to be honest.
It was an eventful first, but the rest of the game was mostly a snoozer. Viktor Stalberg ended up with the winner midway through the second off a shorthanded breakaway, but we already knew that was gonna happen before the game started. The breakaway started with an errant Bozak giveaway pass in an attempt to enter the zone, but really full credit should go to Stalberg for his hand-eye as Bozak did what he could to get the puck off the ground safely.
The third period was mostly uneventful and the Leafs rarely looked like they may tie it up. After going up 2-1, Carolina looked mostly in control of the game, which is crazy to say about a team with Cam Ward between the pipes.
Why The Leafs Lost
The Leafs possess one of the league’s best offenses, but they didn’t look very dangerous tonight. They seemed to have trouble getting pucks into the high danger areas of the ice and the Canes did a decent job of clogging up the middle. Carolina did a decent job of supporting Ward who had a stellar game in net. In previous seasons that would be a surprising sentence to read, but he’s actually been better than usual to start the year, posting a .916 save percentage (his career average is .910).
Carolina ended up winning the shot attempt battle 49-43, which isn’t surprising considering how good they’ve been in that department this season. Still, that’s a very close count which turns the game into one where a single bounce changes everything. In this one, a puck literally bounced over Andersen, off of Martin’s skate, and into the net. Sometimes those are the breaks, and sometimes that’s all it takes for a team to lose.
Auston Matthews had a helluva game tonight, and it sure looks like he’s about to go on a goal-scoring spree. He’s creating chances on most shifts and his line is consistently controlling play. The Leafs looked mostly inept in the offensive zone tonight, except for when the Matthews line was out there. I know it seems like Matthews will never score again, but if he plays like that the goals will come.
Matthews had the highest Game Score of any non point scoring Leaf. His mark of 0.84 is very high for a player that contributed nothing on the scoresheet and is indicative of how well he played. The penalties he drew were a big plus. Here’s how the rest of the team fared.
On To The Next One
The Leafs play the Devils tomorrow night, which should be a very winnable game despite being a road back-to-back. If the Leafs lose this one they’ll fall back below .500 which is not ideal for their playoff hopes.