If you wait long enough for something bad to happen, it will.
One night after the Toronto Maple Leafs’ third-period performance left their head coach flummoxed (or at least far from encouraged), Sheldon Keefe’s squad upped their confounding ways when playing with a late lead, and were this time aptly punished for it.
After breaking a lengthy deadlock early in the third period on John Tavares’ sweet transition snipe, the Leafs failed to register a single shot in the next 18 minutes of regulation before eventually losing 2-1 on Ilya Kovalchuk’s overtime winner.
Jack Campbell was outstanding in his second start in as many nights for the Leafs, closing the door entirely until the waning moments of the game when Marco Scandella’s seeing-eye shot forced overtime. Toronto’s new backup actually made a great play in the game-winning sequence for Montreal, too, but his poke check on Nick Suzuki wound up landing right onto the stick of Kovalchuk, who was able to shovel the puck into the goal.
A rare two-day stretch between games this month awaits the Leafs, who will hope to have some bodies back in the lineup before hosting the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday night.
Until then, four points:
There are certain in-game tendencies. And playing on the second night of a travelling back-to-back was maybe a factor, sure, but there is really no explanation for how the Maple Leafs performed with a lead at the Bell Centre on Saturday night. And based on Keefe’s comments after the Leafs coughed up their second third-period lead this week, he has to be just as confused as anyone else.
But even so, you can make the argument that this blown lead in Montreal was worse than the ones they squandered earlier this week versus the Florida Panthers and Anaheim Ducks. It was as though the Leafs made the determination after Tavares scored with the team’s first and only shot on target in the final period that it was going to be enough.
Of course, it’s supposed to be the exact opposite. Looking beyond the roster composition and the large segments of the salary cap designated to their pure attacking talents, the Leafs, when right, aim to take a proactive approach to team defence. They are taught and encouraged to keep the puck out of their net by owning it in the offensive zone.
Why they are reverting to a passive approach to defending leads is a puzzle Keefe must soon solve. The Leafs cannot afford to continue letting points slip through their fingers.
Taking ill-advised shots has been a problem that’s plagued the Leafs on multiple levels of their total team attack, with the power play being the first area that comes to mind.
On Saturday night, it cost them multiple power-play possessions, and then the game itself.
Tyson Barrie has been the primary culprit in this regard, certainly since Morgan Rielly exited the lineup. And after stifling the Leafs power play with harmless attempts, it was his decision to take a low-percentage shot late in an overtime shift with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner that ultimately led to the Leafs losing the game.
Barrie took ownership of the moment after the game, admitting that the shot Canadiens goaltender Carey Price was able to kick out to start the transition counter was his error. But until he stops taking weak shots from the top of the umbrella on the power play, what are we even doing here?
In that same vein, what are we even doing not allowing Kyle Clifford to go sans bucket in warmups? Whether he caved to the institutional pressure or just made the decision to assimilate himself, he let us all (me) down.
And you know what, he didn’t have the same jam tonight. Makes you think.
While the ‘Trade Nylander’ crowd certainly has piped down, remember this game and this lineup when considering using him in your next mock trade. Nylander’s absence has certainly taken the sting out of the Leafs’ forward groupings.
We can debate whether or not Keefe has optimized the lineup in the Swede’s absence, but in many ways, his loss has reduced the Leafs to a two-line team — and pedestrian in terms of their attack.
Yes, Jason Spezza has shown some flashes in an elevated third-line role, but his partnership with Clifford is properly earmarked for fourth-line usage, and Kasperi Kapanen just doesn’t seem to be a fit with them.
In addition to that, Pierre Engvall is just not having the same positive contributions with Frederik Gauthier and Dmytro Timashov — two players that likely won’t be included in the Leafs’ preferred lineup.
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