There are only so many answers.
While the Toronto Maple Leafs have mostly been front runners since Sheldon Keefe replaced Mike Babcock last month, they found themselves in the unfamiliar chase position for a third consecutive game with the New York Rangers in town on Saturday night. And while they stormed back to force a bonus period with another successful comeback bid, the Leafs weren’t able to convert that late surge into their seventh win in a row, losing 5-4 on Tony DeAngelo’s overtime winner.
Toronto has now scored 10 goals on Alexandar Georgiev in two meetings this season — and collected three of a possible four points in the process — but the Rangers netminder still returned to his stymying ways against the Maple Leafs, stopping 44 pucks for the win. Meanwhile Frederik Andersen continues to labour a bit in the Toronto goal, having allowed 17 goals in his last four games.
A New Year’s Eve showdown with the Minnesota Wild is all that separates the Maple Leafs from turning the page on 2019.
Until then, two points:
All things considered
For my money, the best hockey tweet ever assembled in 280 characters or less (save for this one, of course) compared blocking shots to killing rats. “Doing it is preferable to not,” Kent Wilson wrote in 2015, “but if you’re doing it all the time it suggests you have bigger problems.”
When Sheldon Keefe was asked at his postgame press conference to comment on the team’s resiliency after fighting back to earn a point, this Wilson tweet immediately popped into my head. Paraphrasing, the coach said that you only talk about resiliency when it’s needed, and more often than not resiliency is only needed when you have put yourself in a bad position.
Killing rats for the last three games, the Leafs have been leaning far too heavily on their comeback ability.
There was that five-goal outburst from the Carolina Hurricanes that the Maple Leafs wound up countering right before the holiday break, as well as multiple deficits they were able to overcome Friday versus the New Jersey Devils. And while leaning on that late-game offence was enough to earn a point against the Rangers, it’s clear there are bigger problems at play as Wilson brilliantly and simplistically pointed out in his comparison between shot-blocking and rat-killing.
Still, the importance of eking out a point wasn’t lost on Keefe, who mentioned on multiple occasions that it was a decent result with all things considered. Playing on a back-to-back after a stretch away from the rink, and on the heels of losing Jake Muzzin and Ilya Mikheyev to injury, the Maple Leafs can work to iron out a few of those details at their first full practice in some time without too sour of a taste in their mouths.
Another deadly duo?
While Keefe won’t spin his wheels with any line or pairing, we’ve seen Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner semi-permanently installed as the No. 1 attacking duo for Toronto. And the byproduct of that combination might be another dangerous pair.
John Tavares and William Nylander worked out of the same unit for the second game in a row Saturday versus the Rangers, and might have been the most threatening tandem throughout the loss to New York.
On the ice together for over 20 total minutes, they racked up a 63 percent even-strength shot-attempt share and had 11 scoring chances compared to the opposition’s five. This is after a 75 percent possession and 72 percent shot-share outing versus the Devils one night before.
While they threatened all night at even strength, the lone strike from the two came on the power play, with Tavares feeding Nylander in front of the net after a clever bit of deception from below the goal line.
Largely sharing the ice together over the past two nights, Tavares and Nylander have combined for 20 individual scoring chances. There’s something there.
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