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Maple Leafs feel the Blues, lose 4-1

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A dispiriting loss for the Leafs

NHL: St. Louis Blues at Toronto Maple Leafs Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

First Period

  • [19:39] The Leafs end the first shift by icing the puck when it was totally unnecessary to do so. Par for the course.
  • [19:10] Early on, it looks like Nazem Kadri’s line will be used to match against the top St. Louis unit of Schwartz - Schenn - Tarasenko. They have a positive first shift, playing more offense than defense against that group.
  • [17:06] The Leafs fourth line has a very successful ‘fourth line’ shift, where they completely dominate the Blues territorially, but create no actual offense. Still, that’s unambiguously a positive shift.
  • [15:01] The best chance of the first five minutes goes to St. Louis, as Rielly loses a gamble at the offensive blueline to keep the puck in. That creates a 2-on-1 for St. Louis, but Andersen is able to save the Schenn attempt that ensues.
  • [13:28] Another strong shift for the fourth line — worth noting that they were up against Ryan O’Reilly and his linemates (Zach Sanford and David Perron). Not trivial competition by any means.
  • [12:46] Early on, it seems like it’s been a matchup heavy game. Kadri is indeed up against Tarasenko’s unit, but I wouldn’t expect him to move heaven and earth to maintain it.
  • [11:18] Freddie Gauthier got a decent shot on net, which I think means the Blues are now relegated.
  • [8:30] It’s always a little bit of a mixed situation when your fourth line has been your best, because it usually means your stars aren’t doing amazing. That’s been the case for the Leafs so far, as their fourth line has been excellent. They get another chance, as Leivo fires an uncontested slot shot, but Allen saves it.
  • [6:52] Connor Brown makes a phenomenal play in the offensive zone to strip the puck of Jordan Schmaltz after Kadri fires a weak shot at the net. Eventually, the puck ends up with Rielly at the blueline, who attempts a very ill-advised toe-drag on Tarasenko. The Russian strips him of the puck and heads the other way alone. Mercifully, he was out of gas and the Leafs defense could recover.
  • [2:47] Hainsey takes a tripping penalty at the blueline... Blues are off to the power play.
  • [1:52] Brown nearly makes another excellent play with an aggressive forecheck of the Blues while on the PK, but nothing comes of it.
  • [1:40] As the puck goes the other way, the Blues set up a cross-ice pass to Tarasenko, and I expected him to bury the puck when it got to him. But he didn’t, instead ringing the post, and we stay scoreless.
  • [0:45] The rest of the power play passes without much of anything occurring.
  • [0:00] The period ends with the Blues putting immense pressure in the Leafs zone, aided by some truly pitiful clearing attempts by the Leafs. However, there aren’t a ton of chances, even then, and this was the only extended zone time the Blues have had against the Leafs on 5v5 (and it was aided by the effect of a power play just having expired).
  • All told, that might have been the most boring period the Leafs have played this year. It was excellent from a defensive point of view, anemic from an offensive point of view, and boring from a recapping point of view.

Second Period

  • [19:14] So this is eye-test only, but Jake Gardiner and Nikita Zaitsev have looked really awful to me. Misplaced breakout passes, weak on the cycle, all the usual problems.
  • [18:38] While I was kvetching, Jaden Schwartz takes an interference penalty. Honestly, I think that was a bit of a soft call. However, it’s worth noting that Par Lindholm drew the penalty, something he’s made a habit of early in his NHL career. The Leafs go to the power play.
  • [16:37] The power play ends up being ineffective, but I think it had more to do with St. Louis’ strong penalty killing. They won a few puck battles and were efficient in clearing the puck whenever they got a semblance of control over it.
  • [15:15] The Blues score, and befitting the game, it was ugly. After an offensive zone faceoff, the Leafs fail to clear the puck. It ends up on Robert Bortuzzo’s stick at the top of the left circle, and his shot is deflected by Travis Dermott past Andersen. Blues lead 1-0.
  • [14:31] Kadri’s line responds with some zone time, but typical of the Leafs game tonight, they don’t create amazing chances.
  • [13:01] It’s been striking how ineffective the Tavares and Matthews units have been. Rare to have a game where both units have just gotten nothing going offensively.
  • [11:46] I’m having a hard time deciding if the offense is really bad in this game, or if the defense is good. Realistically, it’s a bit of both, but I really have no idea which is more culpable. I’ve seen a lot of thing we’d ascribe to sloppiness from both teams, but that could just be confirmation bias.
  • [8:29] The Leafs have another Leafy shift in their own zone, where they look like complete nincompoops because of their inability to clear the puck, but the Blues don’t generate any great chances as a result.
  • [7:39] Andersen makes what I’d describe as the first strong save of the evening, as Tarasenko finds Schenn in the slot. Andersen moves brilliantly to cover it and keep the Leafs within striking distance.
  • [6:55] Unfortunately, he can’t stop the next one. The Blues have strung together a couple strong shifts in a row now, and the result is predictable. David Perron finds Zach Sanford at the faceoff dot, and he fires it past Freddie. Perron lifted Dermott’s stick on the forecheck to initiate that sequence after a dump-in. 2-0 Blues.
  • [5:27] To make matters worse, Kadri takes a penalty. Blues to the power play.
  • [3:23] The Leafs kill the penalty, but in the eimmediate aftermath of it, Maroon wins a 1v2 battle against Dermott and Rielly. He passes to Tarasenko who is also behind the net, who centres to Ryan O’Reilly. ROR makes no mistake, and it’s 3-0 Blues. In particular, that was a poor shift from Rielly, who had a couple chances to clear the puck, in addition to losing the board batttle (with help from Dermott) to Maroon.
  • [0:28] Auston Matthews draws a penalty while entering the zone with control. He drops it back to Kapanen on the delayed call, who rifles it off the post. That would’ve been a nice momentum changer, but instead, they settle for a power play.
  • [0:02] Matthews gets a good shot from in tight, but Allen saves.
  • [0:00] The period ends, and the good news is that it was more exciting than the first. The bad news is that the Leafs still generated next to no offense at 5v5. The defense in the last half of the second was what we’re accustomed to seeing from the Leafs. However, on aggregate, their defense hasn’t been that bad tonight. More worrying is that they’ve not even got close to troubling Allen, despite actually firing off more shot attempts than the Blues. In short, it seems like they’re actually getting into the offensive zone, but not succeeding there, which isn’t the usual way that this team struggles.

Third Period

  • [20:00] The Leafs start this period on the power play. Hopefully they do something with it.
  • [18:28] They do not. At least, not in terms of goals. They do get a couple decent shots away. Little victories.
  • [17:49] Andersen makes another big save after the Leafs lose another set of board battles in their own zone. This time, it’s off a Maroon backhander from point blank range.
  • [15:38] The Leafs finally look like the brilliant offensive team we know them to be and it pays off in a goal! Tavares and his group capitalizes off an offensive zone draw. JT passes it back to Gardiner, who walks the line brilliantly and finds Marner in the slot. His path is obstructed, but he finds Rielly, on the right flank, who cuts to the middle and fires it by Allen. The Leafs have hope, down 3-1.
  • [15:03] Worth noting that Rielly and Gardiner started that shift together, on an offensive zone draw. Pretty standard ‘go for offense’ move by Babcock.
  • [14:12] The energy of the stadium ticks up, and Matthews accelerates that further with a brilliant zone entry and deke to get to the middle of the ice. His backhand shot is saved by Allen though.
  • [13:37] After an icing, the Tarasenko group abuses Tavares’ + Dermott/Ozhiganov. Freddie makes a couple nice saves to keep this vaguely competitive. Incidentally, I think Dermott and Ozhiganov have struggled today.
  • [13:11] Matthews has done a bit better as the game has gone along. His line hasn’t really had major defensive issues, and Matthews himself has fired a bunch of rubber to the net.
  • [11:00] The Leafs take a penalty, which damages their chances of coming back into the game. Wisely, the Blues kill an additional 30 seconds or so on the delayed call.
  • [10:57] The penalty was to Lindholm, for holding.
  • [8:57] The Leafs kill it off.
  • [7:42] With the Leafs chasing the game, we see Marner and Matthews play together briefly. Not much of note occurs with it though.
  • [7:19] Schenn takes another needless penalty, this time for tripping in the offensive zone. Leafs with a shot to cut it to one.
  • [5:33] The second unit generates some great chances, but no goals. And sadly, Johnsson takes a penalty towards the end of it which will effectively kill the game. A bit of a soft call, but thems the breaks.
  • [2:58] The Leafs bring out the extra man (who very easily could have been called for a too many men penalty), and he draws a penalty on Schwartz. The Leafs get a small lifeline, but they need to use it.
  • [1:43] They do not. Barbashev ices the game with a short handed empty net goal.
  • [0:00] The rest of the game passes without too much happening. A disappointing loss for the Leafs, who will have four days to stew on it before a home and home with the Jets.

Thoughts

  • I don’t think the Leafs defense was really a huge problem tonight... they had their usual flaws, but this game was lost because the Leafs had little 5v5 offense to speak of, especially with regards to shot quality.
  • It seems like Babcock might have overplayed some of the bottom six forwards at even strength in the first two periods... I saw some discussion of that on my Twitter feed, but I didn’t have a great sense of it from watching the game. It’s not out of the question, by any means.... we’ve seen Babcock get suckered into underplaying his stars to chase matchups before.
  • This was a very Morgan Rielly game... weak defensively, but a glimpse of his offensive spark, on a team where no one else seemed to do a whole lot on offense at 5v5.
  • Gardiner didn’t stand out to me after the first few shifts, which is probably a good thing.

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