Fans were filing out of Scotiabank Arena early on Thursday night as the Tampa Bay Lightning downright embarrassed the Toronto Maple Leafs by a final score of 7-3. The game marked the return of Lightning centre Brayden Point, who together with the top line of Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov amassed 11 points in the win.
The Maple Leafs will try to snap a three-game losing skid on Saturday versus the Detroit Red Wings.
First though, four points:
First Point: Leafs need to play their game, not the opposition’s
Two lessons this week for the Toronto Maple Leafs, with one being far easier to stomach than the other.
If it was a shot in the arm to recognize that their best performance isn’t necessarily enough in a loss to the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues on Monday, then tonight’s reminder to never willingly enter a fire fight with the Tampa Bay Lightning was a punch to the gut.
As the teams traded red lights in a feverish seven-goal first period, it seemed the Leafs were caught up in the excitement, failing to recognize that the Lightning were actually getting two and three quality chances for every one taken by Toronto.
The 4-3 scoreline after one period was friendly to the Maple Leafs, but still obviously favoured Tampa Bay, and when both teams came back for the second with renewed focus on the details, the Lightning absorbed the press from the Leafs, hit them back beautifully with counters, and eventually sucked the life out of the game by putting it out of reach.
John Tavares said it’s not the effort that will win many hockey games.
Auston Matthews said it started fine, but fell apart on them.
Morgan Rielly said it was a game they were going to have to learn from.
While the iPads now resting in each of the stalls in the Maple Leafs dressing room might be loaded up and now warning the user about storage being compromised, a longer view of this week might do the Maple Leafs far better.
Instead of trying to beat St. Louis at St. Louis’s game and Tampa Bay at Tampa Bay’s game, the Maple Leafs need to establish their repeatable effort, and start winning with it.
Until then, the losses may soon mount. And they’re already at three straight.
Second Point: A better plan needs to be in place
Second one is on coach.
It was made quite apparent that the Maple Leafs don’t have much of a contingency plan in place when the first — and really only — option for draws on the penalty kill is the one actually serving the infraction. Because when Jason Spezza went to the box for slashing in the first, and the coach had already burned through the back-up, the Leafs were exposed when just trying to make do with what they had.
That’s simply not good enough.
Entering Thursday night’s game, Spezza and the other fourth-line centre he’s split time with to this point, Nick Shore, had taken 68 percent of the faceoffs in penalty killing situations. Frederik Gauthier is was the only other forward to take more than one, so it was no surprise to see him over the boards and into the dot first to start the Spezza kill.
But after he took — and lost — both of his draws, and just 20 seconds remained in the minor, it was as though head coach Mike Babcock merely shrugged and just had whoever could interpret the instructions take the draw.
That meant it was Mitch Marner who entered the circle instead of Ilya Mikheyev, and the former was beaten as clean as one can be beaten at the circle by Anthony Cirelli. In literally two seconds from the time the puck hit the ice, it was placed on a tee and hammered through Frederik Andersen off the stick of Nikita Kucherov.
Toronto’s top three centres — Auston Matthews, John Tavares and Alexander Kerfoot — each at least earned a split in the faceoff dot through the first four games this season. There was really no excuse for not having one of them out there — even if killing penalties isn’t one of their normal functions.
Babcock offered this confusing answer when probed over Marner taking the draw:
“It was a problem for me, just with the fact that we had Mitch take it, and we didn’t do what we were supposed to do. We’ve seen it before. We didn’t do what we were supposed to do. Any way you look at it, when you get it organized that’s on you as a coach. We talked about it but we didn’t do it, so that’s on us.”
Third Point: Really, $6.75 million?
I really, really didn’t want to do this, but I’m sure I wasn’t alone when reminded tonight that Mitch Marner makes a whole $4 million more than Brayden Point per year.
The Lightning centre, playing in his first game after zooming through the rehabilitation process following offseason hip surgery, was the best player on the ice Thursday night, and might just be the best player on the Lightning all together.
Point had a goal, an assist and five scoring chances by himself alone in eight minutes of ice time in the wide-open opening frame, and tacked on another goal on three additional chances before the night was through.
His linemates Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov each had four points apiece after being limited to four total through the three previous games combined.
It’s a good thing that Point’s absence wasn’t prolonged through either his rehabilitation process or what had the potential to be a lengthy contract stalemate.
Who am I kidding though? He probably would have hit the ground running, anyway.
Fourth Point: Vintage Gitch
Pat Maroon is a throwback. From his physical brand, down to what he wears underneath his equipment.
Before there was temperature-regulating, moisture-wicking, breathable tech dry-fit clothing aerodynamically designed to hug the contours of the human body and maybe or maybe not enhance athletic performance, there was one staple item in every minor hockey player’s equipment bag.
At least there was where I come from.
Heavy, pajama-style cotton coloured baby blue with long sleeves and navy accentuating at the collar and cuffs, and absorbent enough to either double or triple in weight based on how hard one sweats, everyone of a certain vintage remembers this hockey relic and fashion abomination.
Though nearly extinct now, you might be lucky enough to dig one of these beauties out of the bags of sports equipment stashed under moving boxes and useless supplies in your basement.
Aside from that, the only other place you’ll find one is hanging at Maroon’s stall.
Based on all the post-game interviews that Maroon has done over the last few seasons, and there have been memorable ones, this equipment wonder has remained the preferred choice of “gitch” for the Stanley Cup champion.
So it was surprising (and to the hockey nerd in me, disappointing) to see Maroon sitting in the Tampa Bay Lightning dressing room Thursday morning after lightly soaking a team shade of blue at the morning skate.
Well it turns out, it’s not easy for him to find that heavy-cotton underwear, either. The decision to wear a Lightning-branded shirt underneath his shoulder and elbow pads Thursday morning was only to preserve the last remaining throwback undershirt in his bag.
“I only have one right now! They have to order more.”
Then I asked a less invasive but profoundly dumber question, wondering why he prefers the old stuff over the new technology — to which Maroon just sorta stated the obvious.
"I'm an old-school kinda guy."
As far as he knows, he’s the last of the remaining NHL players to resist the use of technologically-advanced gear in favour of “Stanfield’s.”
But if he ever needed some fresh gitch in a pinch, he knows a guy.
"I know our coach wears them, too," Maroon said with a smile.
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