There isn’t shame in losing in Philadelphia these days, but the outlook isn’t so swell for the Toronto Maple Leafs following their 6-1 loss the Flyers on Tuesday night. Because in addition to dropping two points for the first time under Sheldon Keefe with No. 1 netminder Frederik Andersen between the posts, the Colorado Avalanche are holed up and resting in their hotels in Toronto awaiting the return of the Maple Leafs to take part in the second leg of yet another back-to-back.
Every expectation is that Michael Hutchinson will receive the start, so unless the embattled backup bucks the trend and finally leads the Maple Leafs to two points, the start under Keefe could appear far different heading into the weekend — and a matchup with the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues, no less.
Until Wednesday, five points:
Regarding the Leafs allowing three garbage-time goals after Travis Konecny salted the game away late, Frederik Andersen said all that needed to be said:
Frederik Andersen on teammates being apologetic about lacklustre finish:— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) December 4, 2019
"I don't really worry about me. I worry more about the way we play for the logo on the jersey. Got to be more pride than that. Hopefully we can respond & show what kind of character we have"
While it wasn’t necessarily a common tactic under the previous regime, most coaches will choose to stack their scoring units when there’s a need, or when stagnancy creeps into the operation. Trailing for much of the game and lacking punch throughout, these reasons alone could have been the simple impetus for Keefe, but there’s reason to believe we’ll see the Leafs roll their high-priced talent over the boards together in situations beyond strictly times of need.
John Tavares received a handful of shifts with Auston Matthews and William Nylander throughout the loss to Philly, including two consecutive opportunities together to close the second period. At first, Tavares was merely filling in for Andreas Johnsson when the normal top-line left winger had just carried out responsibility in the final seconds of a Philadelphia power play. But after the Leafs’ top trio generated three quality chances in the offensive zone after being banded together, Keefe sent Tavares back out with Matthews and Nylander the very next shift.
All told, the three logged three minutes and 39 seconds in the contest, registering three shots on two scoring chances and not conceding a single shot attempt.
With Mitch Marner soon returning to the fold, Toronto’s “nuclear option” could be configured differently, but regardless it seems the Leafs will be far more inclined to load up on the opposition — with the end of penalties being the likely launch point.
Positioned to succeed
What’s also abundantly clear under the new regime is that Jason Spezza will be kept in a favourable spot. After resting on the second half of the back-to-back last week (which is also consistent with the veteran’s best interests), Spezza climbed as high as he has in the lineup, essentially filling Marner’s role with a promotion to right wing on the second line with Tavares and Ilya Mikheyev, in addition to first-unit duties on the power play.
Toronto was limited to just a single attempt with the man advantage, but Spezza was no deterrent in the bumper role and in the faceoff circle. Toronto’s Spezza-included top unit generated six shots across the space of 55 seconds, but couldn’t beat Carter Hart.
However, Spezza’s value with offensive zone faceoffs was demonstrated later on, as he was credited with an assist after a successful draw led to Travis Dermott’s game-tying goal. That made it seven points over the last seven games for the vet, who doesn’t seem at all vulnerable anymore with cuts looming for the Leafs.
We all saw it. Zach Hyman confirmed it.
After the Maple Leafs killed their 11th of 12 power plays conceded since Keefe took the reins, Hyman told TSN’s Mark Masters in the intermission interview that the mandate for those working on the defensive side of the special teams equation is to up the aggression.
Toronto’s waves of penalty killers were dogged, and never really let Philadelphia’s power-play personnel settle into their structure. All told, the Leafs have now thwarted the last 10 power play tries over a five-game run.
Admittedly, three largely positive points might be three too many after what was, in the end, an unquestionably ugly loss for the Maple Leafs. So let’s underscore a bit of the bad.
It was an unsuccessful debut for the Maple Leafs’ new-look third line, as Hyman, Alexander Kerfoot and Kasperi Kapanen put together a 31 percent possession night and were complete non-factors from an offensive standpoint.
Taking the cake, though, was Cody Ceci.
If the miscast top-pair defender submitted his worst grade in terms of the eye test, the numbers behind Tuesday’s performance were absolutely odious. He was absolutely caved in defensively, stumbling to an 11 percent possession mark and registering a remarkable one percent for on-ice expected goals.
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