We’ll share points after every game throughout the Toronto Maple Leafs season.
After a strong start, it came crashing down quick for Michael Hutchinson and the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday night in Washington. Four goals allowed across a handful of shifts late in the first period and early into the second would prove enough for the Capitals to secure the home-ice win.
Toronto has two days off to prepare for the Boston Bruins on Saturday night, which is truly the first game worth circling on the calendar to date.
Until then, a single point from the loss:
First Point: Who’s helping Hutch?
So who’s to blame after another implosion in the second half of a back-to-back for the Maple Leafs?
Are the skaters mostly responsible for the loss, having been the ones to miss the defensive assignments, suffer the lapses in coverage, commit the costly mental mistakes, and fail to effectively deal with the fatigue carrying over from the previous night? Has the franchise just received precisely what it paid for with Hutchinson — a netminder just not talented enough to efficiently spell starter Frederik Andersen? Or with his inflexible approach to consecutive-night sets, is Mike Babcock simply not putting his team in the best possible position to rack up the most possible points in the standings?
In an ideal world we could answer these questions to some degree of accuracy and, after assigning the appropriate amount of blame to those involved in another second-night meltdown, point to potential solutions or optimizations.
The problem is there are no easy answers — just questions. Chief among them, are the Leafs headed down the same road with another backup netminder?
With the loss Wednesday in Washington, Hutchinson has started the season with consecutive defeats, and coughed up multi-goal leads in each. He’s been mostly solid for large portions of both appearances, but in each game failed to answer the challenge when the walls began to cave in around him. With four goals allowed in a 10-minute stretch in the third period versus the Montreal Canadiens in his first start, and now hit with another four-spot in seven-and-a-half minutes of game clock versus the Capitals, all but one goal Hutchinson has allowed to this point has existed outside two complete, team-wide, and game-changing defensive meltdowns played across multiple shifts.
Twice though, the opportunity was there for Hutchinson to stop the bleeding, and he failed.
It’s hard to envision this not being a problem with the coach.
Breaking down Washington’s goals though, it’s hard to fault Hutchinson with any, as blatant mistakes were made in the lead-up to each.
On the first Washington goal, Justin Holl made the wrong decision to pinch, leaving the Maple Leafs scrambling to retreat as the Capitals steamed away in transition. Martin Marincin did the right thing by sliding to the right side to cover for Holl, but as the passing lanes opened up for John Carlson, both Holl and John Tavares overcommitted toward Marincin and the puck, leaving Jakub Vrana wide open for the one-time blast.
Jakub Vrana scores after a perfect pass by John Carlson. 2-1 Leafs. pic.twitter.com/w4stnFqicj— Ian Oland (@ianoland) October 16, 2019
Five minutes into the second, the Maple Leafs just failed spectacularly when handling Evgeny Kuznetsov’s speed through neutral ice, simply leaving Hutchinson out to dry.
Eleven seconds after allowing the equalizer, Morgan Rielly lost a foot race and then body position to T.J. Oshie, who had a passing lane to a wide-open Nicklas Backstrom present itself when both Cody Ceci and Alexander Kerfoot committed to the second man in.
Finally, two minor penalties taken nine seconds apart just over a minute later set the Capitals up on a prolonged two-man advantage, and from inside the circle Carlson was able to lean into a one-time shot that Hutchinson really had to hope would just hit him.
John Carlson gives the Caps a 4-2 lead after this beautiful setup by Alex Ovechkin pic.twitter.com/gqhpZGOPMn— Ian Oland (@ianoland) October 17, 2019
Though he had more success early, winning three of his first four starts played on the second half of back-to-backs last season, Garret Sparks ultimately struggled with the primary assignment for backup netminders who play for Babcock — which is offering reliable performances for a fatigued group that played for its No. 1 starter the previous night.
It ultimately unravelled for Sparks for reasons that may not apply to Hutchinson, who is far more experienced in a support function and won’t soon call out his teammates for not meeting his expectations when it comes to effort and intensity.
But at some point the Leafs’ coaching staff might need to consider that what’s best for the backup might be best for the team overall.
Would the Leafs have collected more points with Hutchinson starting Tuesday versus the Minnesota Wild, and Andersen getting the assignment in Washington? Obviously we’ll never know.
In these back-to-back scenarios, though, it seems like the points are too important to not at least try something new. Because too many have been left on the table.
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