It was a meeting of two teams who were playing short-handed. Both the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Tampa Bay Lightning were down players with injuries; however, on the night, the Lightning played a cleaner game than the Maple Leafs and came away with a 5-3 victory.
It wasn’t that the Maple Leafs didn’t play well; they did – in spurts. However, they also played poorly. The Lightning also played well – in spurts. However, the difference was that, while the Maple Leafs played poorly, the Lightning did not. In the end, that was the difference.
In this edition of Maple Leafs’ takeaways, I’ll share my three takeaways from the game. It’s not as if an 18-8-2 season’s record is poor; however, it is concerning that the team has lost three of its last four games.
Takeaway One: Mistakes, Mistakes, Mistakes
In some ways, last night’s game was shades of the Winnipeg Jets’ game. During the game with the Jets on the road a few days ago, the Maple Leafs gave up way too many odd-man rushes – really, any odd-man rush is too many. Against the Lightning, it was a mistake-filled game; but it was the Maple Leafs who seemed to make all of them. The Lightning made very few; and, when Toronto made them, they took advantage.
Against the Jets, it was odd-man rushed; against the Lightning, it was defensive giveaways. Both will kill a team; and, in the case of the Maple Leafs, within the space of a week, both did.
After the game, Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe talked with the media about his team’s loss. Keefe was clear, “You can’t make those kinds of plays and spot them three goals at five on five. Give them the power-play goal, but the five-on-five goals are inexcusable. Those are gifts against a team like that.”
Keefe added that he “didn’t think we played a terrible game by any means. I thought we worked hard and had our chances. You just can’t give that kind of stuff up. Our decision-making and execution with the puck were very poor. It cost us.”
From my perspective, he was right.
Takeaway Two: What’s the Story with Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl?
What’s the story with last-season’s shutdown defensive pairing of Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl? Last season they were gold. This season, not.
Specifically, they had a really difficult October. And, in one post, I even speculated that Muzzin was still injured from last season’s playoffs. Both Holl and Muzzin had a much better Novembers; although the rest of the team did as well. But in December, it was back to the old error-prone ways.
Last night, both were on the ice for the Lightning’s first three goals, then the Maple Leafs’ coaching staff split them up for the rest of the game. For his time, Muzzin’s new partner was Timothy Liljegren. Holl’s new partner was rookie Kristians Rubins. As Sportsnet’s Luke Fox reported after the game, it was a night where the rookies were charged with carrying the veterans.
After the game, Holl echoed my note about the last night mirroring the Jets’ game when he noted, “We gave them too many rushes for free. It’s something that’s been creeping into our game a little bit the last couple of games.”
Right now, the Maple Leafs’ defense is simply holding on because both Rasmus Sandin and Travis Dermott are injured. However, when these two young defensemen come back, it’ll be interesting to see what the coaches do with Muzzin and Holl. They just don’t seem to be themselves.
Holl was a healthy scratch for five games during early November, and there were even trade rumors about him. Muzzin’s plus/minus is minus-2 this season when it was plus-21 last season. And, he’s having bad games on a regular basis. As Fox noted in his post, if this doesn’t change over the rest of the regular season, some personnel “adjustment” might be in order.
Takeaway Three: Ondrej Kase Is Showing His Offensive Power
When Ondrej Kase was signed during this past offseason, no one knew if he’d even be able to play. His history with debilitating concussions had made him a shell of his former potential for two difficult seasons. But, Kase seems to be back. He has not only come in and played well as a shutdown third-line partner with his childhood best friend from the Czech Republic David Kampf, but he’s also starting to score more regularly.
Last night he scored two goals, which moved his number on the season to eight. He’s also playing well on the power play in Mitch Marner’s place. After the game, Kase noted what several others noted as well. He said, “Tough game for us. We made so many turnovers, so that’s where I feel we lost the game.”
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