I did a poll, asking people if they hated the Leafs who blew leads more than the team who started games slowly. The blown leads team won by a landslide. I would like to add a column after this team’s 6-2 loss against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night. I hate the team that shows all the dynamism, talent, speed like the one we know and love, but refuses to put together a full mental effort and allows rudimentary mistakes cost them games. I also hated seeing Garret Sparks give up a goal within three minutes of the Leafs mounting a comeback. Just throwing that out there.
Garret Sparks came out strong in his first game since the Chicago game, but it was only because the Leafs skaters in front of him were playing like total trash in the defensive zone. It became clear after the first few minutes that the Sens were going to throw puck on net and try to bang home the rebounds, a strategy that’s been known to beat Sparks consistently in the past. Unfortunately, the Leafs didn’t give him any support, namely Morgan Rielly in the clip below who got caught drifting out of position and forced Sparks into a couple desperate pads saves.
Garret Sparks with a couple of huge pad saves to start the game. pic.twitter.com/gnbVwIYVDh— Flintor (@TheFlintor) March 16, 2019
Honestly, the Leafs should know better.
Puck takes a weird bounce and nearly goes in off the post. Crazy. pic.twitter.com/XgDUWpUggu— Flintor (@TheFlintor) March 16, 2019
The Leafs continued their plan to not care about protecting their own zone when Max Veronneau and Christian Wolanin were able to string together a couple passes to get by Mitch Marner, Zach Hyman, and Ron Hainsey and across the offensive blueline. From there, even Cody Ceci could’ve scored on the chance that was provided to him. The only player who looked like he knew what he was doing on the Leafs was John Tavares, who did a good job of boxing out his man in front of the net.
At one point, the shots in the first period were 1-8 in favour of OTtawa. They were out-working the young Leafs massively. The bright side came when William Nylander and Auston Matthews woke up in the second half of the period. Matthews was able to catch the Sens on a change, but missed his shot a little wide. Nylander has been dominant through the neutral zone lately, including in this game. One thing that he showed in his game was the ability to carry the puck past the neutral zone and drive the net. He’s looked amazing. Also, it must be said that the fourth line was great against the competition they were given? Trevor Moore had three shot attempts, including a scoring chance on his own.
It wasn’t a good period for the Leafs, but there were signs of improvement. The players didn’t *look* terrible on their own, but as a group they just weren’t clicking properly. At 5v5, the Leafs trailed in shot attempts (20-33), shots (9-17), but tied the Sens in scoring chances at five.
The Leafs came out of the second period well, but Hyman took a holding penalty less than three minutes in that put them on the back foot. The kill was successful, with Marner getting a half chance shorthanded and Johnsson getting a partial break as Hyman stepped out of the box, but the Sens had the early momentum.
Once again, the Sens scored with a shot from distance and a won rebound in front. This time, Dylan DeMelo took a shot from the point that Sparks stopped. From there, it was utter chaos for the Calder Cup Champion. He was sideways, swimming to get back into position, just as Brian Gibbons swept the puck from an awkward angle along the ice and under Sparks.
A little over midway through the game, Rielly took the puck from the changing Tavares and walked into the Sens zone on a solo rush. From the top of the right faceoff dot, Rielly loosed a rocket of a shot that beat Anders Nilsson far side high. A perfect shot.
The moment of this goal was incredible. The instance Rielly scored, the Canadian Tire Centre popped with a roar only seen at the barn in downtown Toronto. The commentators swelled to acclaim the 20-goal scorer defenseman, who sits atop the scoring table for his category, and the belief that the Maple Leafs would turn this two-goal deficit into a blowout win turned into anticipation.
Sometimes you demand that your goalie makes a save. This was such a moment. The Leafs had all the momentum. They were buzzing. They were dangerous. Heck, even Justin Holl had a big chance for the team in the slot. But then the puck went the other way on a 3-on-2 rush (Rielly and Brown the only ones back) and Magnus Paajarvi beat Sparks short-side high from a bad angle. On one hand, I understand that it’s hard to stop an odd-man rush, but on the other, that’s the damn goalie’s job. Sparks has great mobility (sometimes too much), but he was there on this shot. He was in position. But still, he went down too easily and got beat high. He needs to be able to stop a shot like that from there.
Again, the Leafs gave up an odd-man rush. Again, it was Paajarvi with the scoring chance. And again, it was a Sparks giving up the shot high. I don’t know what to say here. Four goals on 30 shots is a .866 save percentage. The volume is bad, that’s for sure, but Sparks has been replacement level. He’s a negative in Goals Saved Above Average and a -7 in expected save difference from Evolving Hockey. Every game he gives up a bad goal or two, and in this game especially, it kills the momentum.
Am I being too harsh? Please let me know in the comments. I’m genuinely not sure what to think here.
The Leafs had a good start to the period, got a goal and were pushing the shot differential closer to zero, but that momentum died at the Senators first scoring chance. It totally disappeared after the third and fourth goals. At 5v5, the Leafs were down in shot attempts (38-44), shots (19-27), and scoring chances (17-18).
Also in the second intermission, we got an update on Jake Gardiner. It doesn’t look good. On the bright side, Calle Rosen is only a week away and will probably join the lineup immediately.
On the coaching side, Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe is poised to get an extension and the Leafs might need him since D.J. Smith has been getting lots of “chatter” to be a coach elsewhere. Smith runs the defense and, uhh, I wouldn’t mind a difference face on that side of the bench.
Three minutes into the period, the Senators took two penalties on the same shift. First was an unknown hook by Zach Smith, and the second was a Mark Borowiecki trip on Hyman and the Leafs got Matthews, Tavares, Nylander, Marner, and Rielly on the ice for a full two minutes of 5-on-3 time. Frustratingly to fans, the group took their time, set up their passes, got a few chances, but didn’t give up, and were rewarded.
With Nylander standing at the right-side half-wall, he was able to feed Matthews down low so the big centreman could throw a quick pass to the blue paint. Tavares was there, winning body position on Cody Ceci and was able to bury the pass. It was the big centres 40th goal of the season, marking his 700th career point (all with the Leafs, don’t you know), and makes him only the fourth player in the league to hit that mark. Only Alex Ovechkin, Leon Draisaitl, and Patrick Kane have more.
And like clockwork, the Sens got it back about three minutes later. Once again, it was a shot from the point that “forced” Sparks to spill out of his net and land somewhere in Ottawa proper while Anthony Duclair calmed backhanded the puck into the open cage. Umm, Matthews could’ve been sharper to the rebound there? I guess? Ugh.
If the game wasn’t done at the 5-2 goal, it was done here. Luckily it wasn’t the Lindberg the Leafs traded for Calvin Pickard. That one is Tobias Lindberg and he’s on the Chicago Wolves. It started as an unlucky play for Nylander, who had the puck roll off his stick (that seems to happen a lot, no?), and as the Sens went back the other way, they were able to get two chances at the puck before scoring.
- The only player who impressed me in terms of his work-ethic, ability to create chances on the ice, and play the proper way was William Nylander. The 22-year-old Swede was all over the ice in all three zones, especially through the neutral zone and along the boards working the cycle with his old friend Auston Matthews and countryman Andreas Johnsson. He played great. A 61% Corsi player on the night, had four scoring chances, three shots, and added a power play assist near the end of the game for his efforts. Nylander (and Matthews) led the Leafs forwards in 5v5 time on ice with 15:55, Nylander was given 19:25 for the whole night. I think Babcock trusts him now.
- Connor Brown shouldn’t be in this lineup every night. I don’t know what he does for this team anymore. His possession in this game was team-worst with 35%. He’s been surpassed by Marner on the penalty kill in time on ice, and in shot suppression. He was on the ice for 4:12, gave up five shots and seven shot attempts, the most on the team in this game. I don’t know how Nic Petan doesn’t look better on that third line with Marleau and Kadri.
- Scoreboard watching, it was about as bad of a night as you could get. Not only did the Leafs lose, but the Bruins and Lightning won. The Leafs are now four points back, with no games in hand, and only 11 games left to play.
- Next game is Tuesday night against the Nashville Predators. The Team gets two full days off before facing a Cup contender. If they can’t get up for that game, idk, I’ll probably still be around.