Hand up: who settled in on a warm Monday night to watch the Leafs take on divisional and league leaders Tampa Bay in what could be a measuring stick game? Okay, hand up: who watched the full 60 minutes?
An utterly sad effort from the Blue and White saw Tampa Bay assert their dominance over the Leafs last night. Toronto, a team poised and playing for the ever-important right to home ice in the playoffs couldn’t rock the boat against a well-oiled, albeit unmotivated Tampa team.
With the abysmal scoreline ending up 6-2, can we hang the goals on anyone? My answer? No not goals but a specific goal, yes. That goal was the shorthanded and fifth goal of the game. All but puck-chaser Morgan Rielly took the clearance as a chance to change, and with no one in support Tampa forced a turnover and scored on a SHORTHANDED 3 ON 1.
Every other goal against was a flukey bounce that Toronto never seems to get going their way. Cross-crease toe deflection and in, screened slot deflection and in, mask-popping rebound centered to man alone in front, off the draw deflection off Matthews and in on a well wide shot, *omit 3 on 1 shorthanded goal*, and deflection in front that found a way in.
That fifth goal against, that was the true mark of a team who gave up. Toronto had a powerplay and an opportunity to get back in the game. Instead of buckling down and looking to claw their way back into the game, the first unit sewered Rielly by taking a line change.
Somehow, a Few Players Impressed
First and foremost, Auston Matthews looked like he wanted to win this game. He was firing on all cylinders throughout the night but his linemates couldn’t keep up with him or the Tampa defense. Yes, Matthews also had the giveaway that led to the first goal, but I’m willing to look past that if you are.
The first goal of the game was another clip to his highlight reel, too, to balance things out:
Imagine having cemented linemates for your generational, franchise center? Seems crazy, doesn’t it? Well, until Babcock and Dubas want to commit to finding him a leftwinger I fear we’ll never see the sustained success of this superstar.
On defense, I thought two players actually played well. Jake Muzzin took a bonehead penalty in the first, but after Tampa failed to score on it he battened down the hatches and started firing his shot from the point with regularity.
He finished a -2 but I’m hard pressed to find him at fault for either goal against. Likewise, Rielly did well tonight for Hainsey who made a bit of a mess on the ice. Usually the pair is responsible and can shut down the elite attacking of the opposition, but only half pulled their weight tonight.
Lastly, Garret Sparks came off the bench and looked good for Toronto. The game was seemingly in hand for Tampa at the time, especially after dismissing Andersen, but Sparks stood tall in net.
Both goals allowed are hard to fault him on. On the shorthanded 3 on 1 he could have came out to play the puck and help out Rielly, but to his defense I’m sure he didn’t think his entire time would take a lazy line change, and the puck was curling away from him positioning in the crease. The second was a tip in front that found it’s way in.
Sparks made 21 saves in his half-game and showed that with the pressure off, he can perform.
The Ugly, Lazy Truth
Nazem Kadri is certainly not in game shape after his 8-game concussion layoff. As much as I would like to trust the well decorated Mike Babcock, Kadri looked bad against Edmonton and predictably followed that up with another bad performance again against Tampa. So, why force him back onto a struggling powerplay unit in both games then? It doesn’t make sense to me.
In both games he collected an assist, which Kadri apologists will hide behind as justification for “good games,” but he brings zero intensity, is a pushover on draws, and cannot hold onto possession for the life of him.
Along with Kadri, Connor Brown has been a shell of what we all thought he would be this season and utterly stunk last night. I suppose effort and grinding to win a roster spot and contract is what the goal is, but the other end of the deal is that you, ya know, take the next step and continue to grow. Brown has failed to do that and doesn’t make my September training camp roster next season. His garbage time goal doesn’t change my opinion.
Tavares – Marner – Hyman, where did you go? The Leafs defacto top line in Matthews’ injury-ridden season yet again went MIA in a crucial game? Marner danced along the ice as he usually does, but I cannot recall hearing Tavares’ name mentioned once in the broadcast. Toronto needs better from this (currently) underperforming line.
Upon Further Review…
Toronto was missing two of their top four defensemen, and Kasperi Kapanen was a late-game scratch hurting the top-9 forward group. The excuses are there, but I’m not convinced the team would have fared much differently had these players been in the lineup.
The game was won on lucky bounces that found the back of the Leafs’ net and not the Lightning’s. Toronto didn’t press enough offensively and lacked the edge to force turnovers when Tampa held possession, and it showed in the final scoreline.
That being said, this game is a hell of a lot more respectable if the team didn’t quit on the fifth goal against just because things weren’t bouncing their way in this one. That is the unacceptable part. If this can be a learning experience, so be it, but it cannot happen again.