The Toronto Maple Leafs fell to the Arizona Coyotes for a second time this season in a 2-0 loss in Auston Matthews’ yearly return to his home state. Usually Auston brings his A-game against his childhood team, but tonight he had only two shot attempts at 5v5, his only shots on goal came on the power play that ended up going 0/4 on the night, and he was on the ice for a goal against. Rumour has it his expected goals percentage was in the single digits.
He wasn’t the only Leaf to have a bad game. All but William Nylander, Connor Brown, Jake Gardiner, and Mitch Marner were below 50% in shot attempts on the night, and not a single player was above 42% in 5v5 shots on goal. The Leafs were only able to muster 21 on target all game. Their effort simply wasn’t good enough.
To me, the best Leaf on the ice in that game was William Nylander. He was playing in the tough areas, he was driving play on both lines he was a part of, and ended up “scoring” the only goal the Leafs thought they scored in the game.
The Leafs started the game strong. It felt like they were in the offensive zone a lot, and even though they weren’t getting a lot of chances from their sustained pressure, they were keep the puck out of the hands of the Coyotes. Shots were two or three apiece by the middle of the period, which is when the Coyotes started to turn the tide.
One thing that really stood out to me in the period was the speed of Vinnie Hinostroza. There was one moment when he beat Kasperi Kapanen as the two were skating into the Leafs’ zone. All period Hinostroza was buzzing and dangling and pushing the play into the offensive zone. The Coyotes have a good player in him.
Then in the second half of the period, everything fell apart. In the span of eight minutes, the Coyotes out-attempted the Leafs 12-0, hemming the Leafs in their own zone incessantly the entire time. Eventually, the Matthews line was able to get out of their own zone and draw a penalty to close out the period. The second unit had a couple chances (Jake Gardiner with a shot from the point, and Patrick Marleau getting a few wacks at the rebound), but on the whole, the power play was rendered inert.
The first period was terrible. It got worse when a certain someone felt the need to pioneer the death of fun during the intermission. The Leafs were tentatively out-shooting their opponents at the beginning of the period, but by the end, they were down 15-22 in 5v5 shot attempts, 4-11 in shots, and 9-13 in scoring chances. Nothing was going well.
Once again, the Leafs started the period really well, but the moment the Coyotes got in the Leafs zone, things fell apart. The Leafs failed to get the puck out of their zone and Jordan Oesterle fed Alex Galchenyuk for the game’s first goal. On this goal, all three of Mitchell Marner, John Tavares, and Zach Hyman had a chance to get the puck out after Morgan Rielly won a puck battle down low. That forward line just wasn’t good enough and I think that was the cause of Rielly’s frustration following the play.
Just over two minutes later, the Coyotes came back again. This time against Travis Dermott, Jake Gardiner, and the Matthews line. Gardiner was double-teamed along the boards (because Matthews didn’t bother to go in and help), but he was able to get the puck over to the far wing. Dermott was too slow and way too passive and just allowed Derek Stepan to freely walk into space. Gardiner and Lawson Crouse were tied up together in front of the net, so good on Gardiner for that, but Matthews continued to shadow those two for some reason. He drifted way too far into the left side of the ice and didn’t even notice or think to cover the cutting Josh Archibald, who ended up scoring a tap-in.
Things went from bad to embarrassing when the Leafs were given six minutes of power play time with Clayton Keller and Oliver Ekman-Larsson in the box, but were unable to do a single damn thing. I think William Nylander fed Tyler Ennis for a chance on a bouncing puck in front of the net one time, but honestly the rest of the power play was a snorefest.
Somehow the Leafs were able to have more 5v5 shot attempts than the Coyotes in the second period (14-10), but still found a way to get out-shot 1-8 at even strength. The power play had six shots, but the all-situations shot clock still read 11-19 after two periods.
Mike Babcock shuffled his lines to start the third period. He moved Marleau to the Nazem Kadri line with Connor Brown, Marner to the Matthews line with Kapanen, and Nylander to the Tavares line with Hyman. The first shift for all three lines did well, especially for the new-look Tavares line who ended up looking like they scored a goal.
Nylander was standing in front of the net and tipped a free-falling puck behind him, off his shoulder, and into the back of the net. Unfortunately, after a review it was deemed that *something* was high-sticked — I’m still not sure whether it was Hyman hitting Archibald, Hyman touching the puck with a high stick, or Nylander touching the puck with a high stick — and the goal was called off.
the way he's played tn (and the last month) nylander rly deserved this goal to count, but it did not pic.twitter.com/mcSPZuUcmP— william andrew michael junior nylander altelius (@DylanFremlin) February 17, 2019
I wanted to write about anything else the Leafs did for the rest of the third, but literally nothing was working. They weren’t able to sustain pressure in the offensive zone, they were slow, sluggish. They looked like they didn’t care. Eventually, Babcock pulled Frederik Andersen for the extra attacker, reminding the stars that they should actually give a damn. Actually, scratch that, the Coyotes had more shot attempts at the empty net than the Leafs had on Darcy Kuemper.
Next game for the Maple Leafs will be Tuesday night at 8pm against the red-hot St. Louis Blues. That should be fun.