It was a very informative night for the Maple Leafs for defense and coaching reasons, but at the end of it all, they failed to come away with any points. The Colorado Avalanche used two goals on special teams to sneak past the Leafs in a close game that ended 3-1 in the road team’s favour.
Frederik Andersen was in net for the second game of the back-to-back and stopped 27 of 29 shots in the loss, including some ten-bell saves. He was not the problem. The problems that cost the Leafs came in the forms of mistakes by the fourth line. First, Dmytro Timashov took a brutal hooking penalty all the way in the Avalanche zone, which led to Nathan MacKinnon scoring on the power play. Then, when the game was tied, Jason Spezza put himself on all the blooper reels with a really awkward play at the offensive blue line while on the power play. Valeri Nichushkin scored on the breakaway that results from that.
And that was the game. Alexander Kerfoot and Zach Hyman combined for a nifty goal in the second period for the Leafs only goal, and the team had many chances before and after it, but nothing got behind Philipp Grubauer and in the net.
Andreas Johnsson blocked a shot at the end of the second period with his ankle and did not return for the third. Sheldon Keefe provided some information on the injury after the game, stating soreness, which is much better than an MRI. Hopefully he’s able to play on Saturday when the Leafs are in St. Louis.
Sheldon Keefe said Andreas Johnsson was too sore to return for third period tonight. Will need more information before making a determination on his health.— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) December 5, 2019
On the first shift, Mitch Marner picked up the puck bobbled by Ryan Graves at the blueline and got his first puck-touch in almost a month. He tried a spin-o-rama pass to John Tavares or Ilya Mikheyev following up the play, but missed. Good first attempt, you’ll get ‘em next time, Mitchy!
Jesus Christ, Cale Makar is a monster. He broke up two offensive rushes for the Leafs, immediately creating offense for his own team on both occasions within the first four minutes of the game.
I have to say this, Dmytro Timashov is utterly useless on offense. Playing with Pierre Engvall and Jason Spezza in the first period just made this even more clear. He couldn’t get the puck over the red line on two shifts, forcing the defensemen to stay out longer than they wanted with the Tavares line doing the work to get it out.
On his third shift, he had the puck on a 2-on-1 with Spezza. While the veteran scorer was basically being iso’d Timashov tried to pass, even though he had a wide open lane to the net in front of him.
It’s hard for me to forgive screwing up a breakaway like that, but what was more significant for me was the fact that he couldn’t keep up with the play when asked to do a routine breakout. Put him on waivers.
In the first commercial break, we got Nazem Kadri’s tribute video.
Thank you for everything, Nazem. pic.twitter.com/d9QSfY4ago— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) December 5, 2019
And here was the reaction by Kadri and his parents. Why is the room I’m in so foggy?
Applause for Kadri and his family #Leafs x #LeafsForever pic.twitter.com/WL9iUiqQtp— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) December 5, 2019
Later in the period, we got a magical moment of a half-change where Marner, William Nylander, and Auston Matthews were all on the ice together. Nylander got the play going, Matthews attacked the defense and pushed them into the slot before giving it to Marner. MArner tried to dangle the puck, and got Philipp Grubauer swimming, but couldn’t find a spot to put the puck in the net. Kid has to shoot that. The trio was put together a second time a few minutes later for more offense. Keefe definitely is willing to ride his stars hard on the SEGABABA.
Keefe put Matthews and Marner together and then this happened #Leafs x #LeafsForever pic.twitter.com/Us6GwL6bjj— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) December 5, 2019
Before getting into the first period stats, I want to make notice of how the defense pairs were being iced by Sheldon Keefe. Morgan Rielly and Tyson Barrie were put together for this game and they were given five offensive faceoffs (out of the 11 the Leafs had) and two defensive faceoffs (of the Leafs five in the period). Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl were played similarly, but with fewer offensive zone starts and more in the neutral zone.
Travis Dermott and Cody Ceci were almost exclusively used with on-the-fly shifts. Of their 10 shifts, eight of them started on the fly and the other two were in the offensive zone. I think there’s a real concerted effort to keep them away from set pieces. This also means they are solidly the third pair.
In terms of stats from the period, the Leafs were really solid and did all the things they wanted to do. At 5v5 (which was the whole period), the Leafs were ahead in shot attempts (19-17), shots (12-10), and scoring chances (7-5). In terms of Moneypuck expected goals, the Leafs were ahead by a small margin of 0.68 to 0.60.
The Leafs got shelled in the first few minutes of the second period, but they came back strong with two good chances by Nylander and Tavares right in front of the net.
Matthews and Nylander nearly combined for the first goal of the game#Leafs x #LeafsForever pic.twitter.com/tVlSk1eTLL— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) December 5, 2019
Mikheyev finds Tavares in front #Leafs x #LeafsForever pic.twitter.com/0YtjPGOUZc— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) December 5, 2019
Thank you, Freddy.
Full stretch Freddie. #LeafsForever pic.twitter.com/mzkKpcmf4W— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) December 5, 2019
The Leafs were having a pretty steady period until this Timashov penalty put the team on the backfoot. Timashov was stripped of the puck pretty easily and decided to hook his guy for good measure. Fourth liners cannot be taking penalties, especially 200ft from their own net. I repeat, Timashov is not an NHLer.
Here was the hooking call on Timashov #Leafs x #LeafsForever pic.twitter.com/24H9GfUSUP— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) December 5, 2019
And promptly following the Avalanche getting on the power play, Nathan MacKinnon sniped on Andersen for the first goal of the game. Assists went to Mikko Rantanen and Cale Makar. The usual suspects.
I’m calling this the work-horse line because Alexander Kerfoot, Kasperi Kapanen, and Zach Hyman saved the Leafs from spiralling for the rest of the period with a great combination of creativity and dedication. Kerfoot got a primary assist against his former team when he spun around his defender and threw the puck to Hyman in front of the net. Hyman got already his third goal of the season by banging home the centering pass. Great play that gave the Leafs a lot of energy.
Zach Hyman waving to the Leafs fans at home#Leafs x #LeafsForever pic.twitter.com/A2IZ3yPz2G— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) December 5, 2019
Late in the period, Johnsson blocked a slap shot off his ankle and had to walk off the bench to the dressing room to get it looked at.
Closeup on the block from Johnsson#Leafs x #LeafsForever pic.twitter.com/pMDs6V2oJO— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) December 5, 2019
The Leafs had to weather a couple firestorms at the beginning and end of the period, but they had a strong, consistent middle of the period. That said, they were down in 5v5 shot attempts (18-25) and scoring chances (7-15), but they tied in shots (11-11). Moneypuck has the Avalanche up in expected goals: 1.82 to 1.38. MacKinnon’s power play goal was 47% likely to go in.
I’m happy to say my analysis of the defense usage from the first period was consistent in the second. I find it really interesting that, even though half the Leafs defensemen are awful, Sheldon Keefe has not trusted Dermott to play in the top-four at all. It’s one thing that Babcock never did this, but it’s much more significant that Keefe has agreed.
Johnsson didn’t return for the start of the third period while Muzzin got four minutes for high sticking Rantanen. Good start. Good start.
Maple Leafs forward Andreas Johnsson will not return to tonight's game due to injury (leg). #LeafsForever— Leafs PR (@LeafsPR) December 5, 2019
Thank you, Freddy.
Freddie with two big stops on the penalty kill#Leafs x #LeafsForever pic.twitter.com/DlniNZKTDu— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) December 5, 2019
Engvall is going to get cut when Trevor Moore returns, even though he is a very good fourth liner who penalty kills like this:
Engvall works #Leafs x #LeafsForever pic.twitter.com/MN2jau5FdA— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) December 5, 2019
Meanwhile, Timashov didn’t get a shift on that four-minute penalty kill. I’m not mad. It’s actually funny to me.
Dammit Jason Spezza. Poor Morgan Rielly. Leafs down for the second time in the game. Valeri Nichushkin with the shorthanded breakaway and snipe. He’s quietly been a very good offensive addition for the Avs for very little money.
From this point on with Johnsson out of the game Sheldon Keefe basically freestyled his offensive lines for the remaining eight minutes. The wingers were moving up and down the lineup and the only constant was that at least one of the stars was on the ice at all times. I really liked that.
Dmytro Timashov did not have a shift in the third period. Engvall and Spezza each had three, including special teams and shifts with the top-nine. #Leafs— Hardev Lad (@HardevLad) December 5, 2019
The Leafs ended up giving up the empty net goal with two minutes left in the game, and proceeded to try to throw Rielly and Marner in the net after that while Kadri tried to score a couple empty netters. That’s the game. They tried, but didn’t have enough to get the win or even a point.