Suddenly, it all seems a bit dire.
Without their No. 1 netminder and desperate for a win after their crushing divisional loss to the Florida Panthers two nights ago, the Toronto Maple Leafs came up empty for a second consecutive outing on Wednesday night, losing 5-3 to the New York Rangers.
Michael Hutchinson — the team’s only NHL option (SPOILER: at the time) — suffered his first loss in his last five starts, allowing four goals on 34 shots in the defeat. Auston Matthews, meanwhile, scored twice for the Leafs to pull within one goal of Alexander Ovechkin’s league lead, while John Tavares banked his 20th of the season.
Toronto will look to avoid its first three-game regulation losing skid under Sheldon Keefe on Friday night with the Anaheim Ducks in town.
Until then, three points:
Grin and bear it
You can trace the Leafs’ backup goaltending issues back to the decision to keep Garret Sparks over Curtis McElhinney 16 months. But we’ve reached the point now where Leafs GM Kyle Dubas has to cut his mounting losses and make the move to finally solidify the position.
While they might have a better understanding internally, the prospects of Frederik Andersen having to miss one more potential start should be enough motivation to stomach the increased cost it might take to secure an upgrade.
While yes, like many of his previous appearances, there were a few goals where blame wasn’t solely on Michael Hutchinson’s shoulders, but this season is too important to waste by continuing to run out a goalie that cannot meet a replacement level standard.
It’s time to move.
Update: he did.
The @MapleLeafs have acquired goaltender Jack Campbell and forward Kyle Clifford from the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for forward Trevor Moore, Columbus’ third round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft and a conditional third round pick in 2021. #LeafsForever— Leafs PR (@LeafsPR) February 6, 2020
It unravels again
The Leafs have proved in recent games that they can near-completely disarm opponents for shifts, long stretches, and even entire periods. They’ve also proved that they can throw away any progress made shift-over-shift in short order.
But when a six-second stretch on the game clock was all the Rangers needed to change the complexion of the game entirely, it certainly unravelled at an accelerated rate compared to the three-goal letdown suffered in just under eight minutes earlier in the week versus Florida.
Scoring the fastest two goals all season for the club, Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider combined to build a two-goal advantage for the Rangers to take into the intermission when the teams were deadlocked with under three minutes to go.
Michael Hutchinson certainly has to wear the fact that pucks went in behind him late in the frame, but the Ranger goals in those six seconds were ultimately the product of a collective lapse from the skaters in front of him. Or more specifically, failed assignments on lost draws happening simultaneously.
It was not a good look for Matthews, who took and lost both the faceoffs. But lost draws will happen. What can’t happen is not a single Leaf offering even the slightest bit of resistance after the 50-50 propositions each went the Rangers’ way.
Chris Kreider scores right after. 1-3 pic.twitter.com/ij7WBKOVsM— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) February 6, 2020
Wild swings are hard to overcome in a hockey game, and that two-goal outburst certainly classified as one.
While the Leafs aren’t at their best when chasing games, they did successfully cut into the Rangers’ lead in the second period on Matthews’ 38th of the season. And yet just 34 seconds after No. 34 brought them to within one, the Leafs gave it right back in an inexcusable sequence.
Again the problems began with a Matthews lost draw, but it wasn’t until the puck was carried out and dumped into the Leafs zone to be collected by the Rangers did things truly fall apart. With speed and the simple and predictable decision to carry the puck around the net, Kreider completely flummoxed and immobilized Hutchinson, who lost his stick while desperately trying to recover after stumbling to the ice. Fortunately for the Leafs, Kreider took his turn too wide, and the backchecking Matthews was able to apply weak side pressure to initially snuff the chance out.
But as the play continued, and as Matthews and Kreider battled for the puck on the boards, the Leafs’ leading goal scorer tried some outrageously audacious, and in the end incredibly foolish.
Identifying support in the middle of the ice, Matthews stepped on the puck and tried to back-heal it some 40 feet through the high slot to initiate the breakout. The actual manoeuvre is something the Leafs have worked on in practice, but only with short outlets in attacking situations. So in this case naturally, the puck was intercepted and immediately fed into a scoring area for Pavel Buchnevich.
While not ideal to have Buchnevich winding up, it was a chance the Leafs may have survived had Hutchinson and Travis Dermott not been at work attempting and ultimately failing to efficiently retrieve the stick the netminder had lost earlier in the sequence.
Here’s the goal, which you must watch twice to truly witness the ridiculousness of it all:
Matthews scored again late in the third, but the Rangers’ fourth goal, of course, proved to be the high bar the Leafs could not match.
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