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Leafs blown away by Hurricanes

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Curtis McElhinney waved back.

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Maple Leafs got buried in the Earth’s crust in the first period against the Carolina Hurricanes, fought their way back over the course of the next two periods, but it wasn’t enough to beat the Corsi Gods from Raleigh. Final score 5-2 with two empty net goals from the Canes.

Frederik Andersen stopped 40 of the 43 shots he faced, good for a .930 SV% on the night. His former partner, now counterpart, Curtis McElhinney — who has a 4-2-0 now — stopped all but two shots from John Tavares and Kasperi Kapanen to earn himself his fourth win of the season.

First period aside, the Leafs looked great. They were consistently offensively, and held the Canes to only 16 shots in the last two periods. That, along with some puck luck, should’ve been enough for a win, but that freak of a first period really did throw a wrench in the whole affair. Can anyone explain to me how the Canes went from 29 shots on net to two (2) across one intermission?

First Period

The Leafs had to take a step back right off the top as they reeled from Carolina’s early speed. For the most part, the top two pairings of Morgan Rielly, Ron Hainsey, Jake Gardiner, and Nikita Zaitsev held their opponents to chances from the outside [Editing note: It didn’t stay that way.], but reigning second-overall pick Andrei Svechnikov burned Travis Dermott on a rush (how many times have you heard that) to get a great chance on Freddy Andersen, sparking a shift full of dangerous chances against the third line and third pair for the Leafs. From there, it was a flood.

Like most nights on this recent Leafs hot-streak, the fourth line got the best chances offensively. Tyler Ennis has been skating really well and has gotten the bulk of the chances for his line. Josh Leivo has been good, but I really wish he shot the puck more. There were many times he wound up for a shot with teammates heading to the net but instead tried to pass with his linemates not looking. Just shoot the puck, Josh, do what you did in San Jose!

0-1

Svechnikov was a real pain in the Leafs’ ass in this game. Once again, he was below the hashmarks, hounding the defense for the puck. Eventually, he was able to strip Igor Ozhiganov behind the net for a wraparound chance. The puck got loose and a scrum ensues. Except not really because most of the Leafs in the area (Dermott, Connor Brown) were just standing there watching Trevor van Reimsdyk bat the puck past a down-and-out Freddy. The Leafs challenged for goalie interference, but were denied.

I know Leafs fans don’t like to criticize exciting young/new players like Dermott, or Garret Sparks, or Kasperi Kapanen, but I believe in this period Dermott deserves it. Oz was doing so much of the work around the puck, trying to get it to safety. His stick was around others trying to tie them up, he was skating into players trying to push them off the puck, and I simply didn’t see that from Dermott on the shift.

Let’s take the above goal as an example. He lost the puck way too easily behind the net seconds before the goal, he was way to quick to try and chip the puck out, and when a Canes player skated by him through the blue paint, he did nothing. He didn’t tie anyone up, he didn’t get on the ice to cover the puck. I really do need to see more from Dermott, especially against competition like Svechnikov before he fits into my top-four. I guess that’s what this season’s meant for.

0-2

While being out-shot 6-17, the Leafs started to get really sloppy in front of the net. Zaitsev was covering Justin Williams, but had to switch off him in order to grab the puck carrier Calvin de Haan. John Tavares was right there in front of the net to take Williams, but he was too slow to get to his spot and the Canes captain redirected a centering pass perfectly through Freddy’s legs. Definitely not a good start.

1-2

Williams gave the Leafs one right back when his cross-ice pass to his defenseman was cut off by Tavares with a great touch. JT walked down the slot against Curtis McElhinney and ripped a shot low blocker side to bring the Leafs back within one.

After One

The Leafs were lucky to leave that period within one goal. They out-shot an astonishing 11-28, but what if all of Carolina’s shots came from the outside and were easy to save? Nope. No matter which shot metric you use, the Leafs were behind by a big margin. Shot attempts? 21-38. Scoring chances? 9-22. High-danger scoring chances? 6-14.

It’s not even like the Leafs weren’t getting anything done offensively. They got 11 shots and scored a goal. All those numbers above would be great if the Freddy didn’t have to stop a scoring chance every time Carolina crossed the blueline.

The Leafs have had a lot of bad seasons in their history, I’m sure I don’t need to remind you. And yet, they were still four off their franchise worst defensive effort in a period.

And for a franchise that isn’t as storied, this was a record-breaking 20 minutes.

On the bright side, Freddy Andersen has a .931 save percentage after only one period despite giving up two goals. That’s right on par with his SV% this year, which is .935.

Second Period

Okay, so the start of the second was really interesting. The Hurricanes sent 10 shots towards the Leafs net in the first five minutes of the period, but none of them were technically on net. The Leafs on the other hand, took 11 and had seven of them on McElhinney. At the end of this stretch of play, Andreas Johnsson drew an interference penalty on Dougie Hamilton and the momentum was all in the Leafs favour after a strong power play.

Tavares drew his own interference penalty, this time on Jordan Staal with a little more than seven minutes left in the second. They were out-shooting the Canes 9-0 in the period up to that point. On the kill, Kadri found himself all alone in front of McElhinney with the puck. His shot didn’t go in, but Kadri nudged McElhinney a little bit and the veteren goaltender flew all the way into the net. We all know McE is a swimmer, but he didn’t need to dive like that.

Stat update: It only took 18:09, but the Hurrcanes got their first shot of the period and it was a dump-in from the blueline by Staal that was going wide anyway. 29 shots in one period, and then one in another. I guess this is the mystery of the Canes? Yikes.

After Two

Is the ice tilted in Carolina or something? After an utter shellacking by the Canes in the first period, the Leafs held their opponents to a measly two shots in the second frame. The Leafs themselves put 12 on McElhinney with the help of two power plays, but they were unlucky to get a goal to tie the game up. The Canes had chances in this, don’t get me wrong, Jordan Martinook actually hit the post after blowing by Dermott from the wing, but that along with the other with 13 of the other 15 shot attempts in the period failed to test Freddy Andersen, which is the aim of the game.

Here are the even-strength shot numbers for the second period: shot-attempts (21-16), shots (11-2), scoring chances (10-10), high-danger scoring chances (4-3).

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Third Period

As much flack as I gave the Leafs in the first period for all the shots they gave up, they did a really good job throughout the next two periods to really lighten Freddy’s workload. First off, the Leafs were much more aggressive in the neutral zone and forced a lot of dump-ins and chips into the neutral zone that they were able to retrieve.

1-3

Johnsson took a tripping penalty 200ft away from his net, sending the Leafs to the PK for the first time in two games. On the kill, the Leafs had two chances to clear the zone but both times they failed. Hainsey had the puck on his stick and had a clear lane to throw the puck into the Canes zone, but he failed to get the puck up and Ferland was able to one-time a pass from Teuvo Teravainen past Freddy.

Twitter, expectedly, was not happy with the 39-year-old.

2-3

Kyle Dubas shouldn’t trade for Dougie Hamilton because Kasperi Kapanen made him look silly when he burst down wing from the red line and whipped a shot through the former Bruin and past McElhinney, bringing the Leafs back into the game. The goal is ninth of the season in 22 games. Kapanen is on a 33-goal pace for the season. By comparison, Wi-- no, I won’t go there! He’s really good, okay!

The Empty Netters

The Leafs pushed hard from that goal onward. They played Rielly, Gardiner, and Dermott almost exclusively on defense, and pulled Freddy for Josh Leivo with two minutes left. Unfortunately, Nazem Kadri was unable to keep a bouncing puck in the zone and Sebastian Aho scored off Rielly’s skate.

Babcock pulled Freddy again after that goal since his team had an offensive zone draw, but Svechnikov beat everyone to a cleared puck and potted home a well-earned goal.

And with that, Curtis McElhinney beats the Maple Leafs.