The Toronto Maple Leafs once again let their mistakes get the better of them, turning a good night from a lot of players into a 3-2 loss at the hands of the Vegas Golden Knights. The penalty kill went donut on two attempts, while Zach Hyman scored on one of the two power play opportunities at the other end.
In the second period, the bottom-six of the lineup got murdered up and down the ice, and it seemed to kill all the momentum gained from a good start. The third line redeemed themselves with a good third period, including a goal from Jason Spezza and a great chance from Nic Petan, but the fourth line was irredeemable.
There clearly needs to be a deployment change because giving a bad trio of skaters all defensive zone starts hurts a lot more due to the quality of chances against than the positives gained from more offensive zone starts for the top lines.
John Tavares took a penalty leading to the game-winning goal at an awful time, and looked like the third-best player on his line way too often — Hyman was second to William Nylander in shot attempts, first in expected goals, and scored his first goal of the season in this game.
Speaking of Nylander, he had a great night, buzzing all around the offensive zone and led the Leafs in shot attempts, shots, scoring chances, and was second only to Hyman in expected goals. He had a few great chances, but was utterly robbed by netminder Marc-Andre Fleury twice.
As for the defense, every single skater save for Morgan Rielly had a game with massive blemishes. Tyson Barrie couldn’t stop making poor choices. As did Travis Dermott. Cody Ceci tried to be aggressive, but just ended up hanging Rielly out to dry. Jake Muzzin looked slow. And Justin Holl clearly couldn’t handle anything more than sheltered usage.
You knew I was going to start here. Pierre Engvall. He started his NHL career decently well, getting on the forecheck and recovering a puck battle with a nice back-check. On his second shift, he nearly got his stick on a Justin Holl shot from the corner but got his stick checked just in time. I noticed on his fourth shift that he was moving much faster and was more aggressive on the forecheck. In the defensive zone, he was active at the point with his stick. Not a bad start for him personally.
Sticking to the left side, Zach Hyman was electric in the first period. He was pushing hard for the front of the net and was rewarded with three shots on goal, with two from in tight. His first chance was a wrap-a-round that squirted the puck loose into the slot with the Golden Knights defense scrambling. His second was much better, this tip from a Morgan Rielly shot that was going wide. It nearly squeaked through the five-hole, but Marc-Andre Fleury closed his legs just in time.
What a save by #VegasBorn Fleury on this play #Leafs x #LeafsForever pic.twitter.com/kmYuV9oSub— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) November 20, 2019
The third left winger that impressed me was Ilya Mikheyev. He was hunting for the puck everywhere and worked his ass off for a breakaway that nearly resulted in a goal. He also nearly worked his ass off literally by shoving Ryan Reaves on his way to the bench. I think he could take ‘em. Soupy had three shots in the first period and they were all dangerous.
Closer look at the chance from Souperman#Leafs x #LeafsForever pic.twitter.com/h17ZFb1jJ8— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) November 20, 2019
The Matthews line was strong again, owning the puck in the offensive zone and getting plenty of chances. Johnsson is a good trigger man and did his job quite well. Nylander had one turnover (he was poke checked) that the media jumped all over, despite him getting back defensively to turn a 2-on-1 to an even rush.
Cody Ceci was really aggressive in the first period. He jumped down to the offensive goal line three times and *looked* good, but never really accomplished anything. In fact, he got caught and gave up a 2-on-1 the other way that nearly resulted in a goal against. Rielly was strong defending the odd-man rush. No one talked about that in the intermission. I appreciate the effort, but please stop. If anything, let Rielly do that stuff and be the safe guy at the other end.
Statistically, that was a good period for the Leafs. They were close in shot attempts (15-18), and shots (9-10), though scoring chances were pretty bad (6-10). This was also borne out in expected goals. The first three quarters of the first period the Leafs were even or ahead in shot share, but they tailed off by the end and let a few big mistakes turn into cumulative badness.
Yeah, Engvall’s second shift in the second was not very good. He failed to clear the puck twice; the first chance was a miscommunication on the breakout, the second was him not being able to clear the puck before getting checked. It led to a long and terrifying shift in the defensive zone, including a post. On the shift, Holl took a slightly reckless penalty, cross-checking Reaves away from the puck in front of the net.
On the kill, both Gauthier and Muzzin failed to clear the puck and get off the ice, the Golden Knights took advantage of a rest disadvantage and overwhelmed the slot for the first goal of the game. I know he was tired and probably hurting from blocking a shot, but I did not like Muzzin in the second period. He gets beat way too easily almost once a shift. This one was especially bad, on Shea Theodore of all players.
The Matthews line responded with a couple great shifts in a row, including strong chances for Johnsson and Auston Matthews each in front of the net, and William Nylander on the backhand after a great individual effort. They single handedly brought the Leafs back to a “respectable” number in the shot share. What I’ve learned from this game is the fourth line deployment of only defensive zone starts is trash. Throw it out. They get destroyed every night and this second period was a prime example of how they can ruin the Leafs momentum and progress.
The Matthews and Tavares lines were all above 50% in shots after the second period, while the bottom six were all 33% or below. As a team, the Leafs had 40% of the shot share in the second. We’re the Oilers. The following image was the one-ice shot share for the Leafs sorted worst to best. I’m giving Engvall a mulligan for his first game, but I have noted some failed plays by him. Everyone else, save for Muzzin who makes money, should be replaced.
Travis Dermott had a bad start to the third period. He gave the puck away twice on consecutive shifts; the first time he bobbled the puck trying to be fancy with it while facing his own goal line, the second time he made a half-hearted pass to his defense partner (Holl) that turned into a cycle and pair of shots on Andersen.
Five minutes in, the Leafs got a strong chance with their first line. Johnsson created a turnover at the defensive blueline and was able to chase the puck down and feed it to Matthews in front. He nearly got his pass to Nylander in front of the net, but the pass was deflected and Nylander struggled to get it up and over Fleury.
Forget everything I said about Jason Spezza earlier in this game. That shot was great! Big thanks to Theodore and Nic Hague for backing off and giving the old man a clean shot on net. Mikheyev with the zone entry and lone assist on the goal. Fully deserved.
Barrie gets stripped, Dermott isn’t able to back him up, Tomas Nosek dekes out Andersen and scores. It was as simple as that and it happened 30 seconds after the Leafs tied the game.
Nylander came back with another grade-A chance on Fleury, but the old plant robbed him again. Stop it, Flower. I don’t like this. The next shift, Tavares got a tip on a Holl shot that nearly went in, Hyman followed it up with a wrap-a-round, but Fleury once again got his pad across and stopped it. Tavares tried to take the puck back as the play went the other way, but he took a hooking penalty.
And the Golden Knights promptly scored again. Mark Stone with a snipe from the bottom of the faceoff circle.
Pierre Engvall drew a hooking penalty by driving up the middle of the ice and forcing Reaves to slash him. The Leafs got on the power play and the first unit got some good chances, but it was ultimately the second unit that converted. Spezza put the puck on from the right wing and Hyman tipped it home for his first goal of the season. Another fully deserved goal!
Children close your eyes. FUCKING HELL FLEURY!!!!
Marc-Andre Fleury with a disgusting stop on Petan. Had the entire net open #Leafs x #LeafsForever pic.twitter.com/3Hv5Wmngxi— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) November 20, 2019
FUCK YOU FLEURY YOU FUCKING SHORTSTOP FUCK— Hardev Lad (@HardevLad) November 20, 2019
Johnsson drew a penalty on his own wrap-a-round chance, sending the Leafs to their second power play of the game. They tried to tie the game, the coaching staff gave them two shifts to get it done, but they couldn’t. When the penalty was killed, the hottest line of the period (the third line) got on the ice for half a shift before the top unit came back.
I was really disappointed in the big boys in their puck management in the final seconds of the game. Barrie threw the puck away, Tavares didn’t cover his guy, Matthews stopped skating on a 2-on-1 without Freddy in net. Those are unacceptable plays. If they were going to be like that, might as well leave Spezza, Mikheyev, and Petan on the ice.