Not one you want to waste.
The Toronto Maple Leafs coughed up a third-period lead and lost a key divisional clash 5-3 on home ice versus the Florida Panthers on Monday night, falling back outside the postseason picture and ending their impressive run out of the bye week.
Frederik Andersen exited with an upper-body injury during the first intermission, and Michael Hutchinson once again failed to deliver an adequate performance in relief. Hutchinson allowed three goals on 13 shots and found himself saddled with a loss for the third time this season when entering out of the bullpen.
The usual suspects scored for the Toronto, with Auston Matthews netting his 37th goal of the season, William Nylander bagging his 25th, and John Tavares pulling to within one of the 20-goal mark in the loss.
As for Andersen, there were positive reports from Keefe following the game on his health, but his status will be updated at practice Tuesday before the Leafs travel to New York to battle the Rangers on Wednesday night.
Until then, three points.
99 out of 100
Sheldon Keefe may have dabbled into some hyperbole in the postgame when he suggested that if the Maple Leafs played the exact same game 100 times over that they would win in 99 of those simulations — or at least in the neighbourhood of it. But he was not exaggerating when he suggested that despite allowing five goals in a loss, it was the best defensive game they had played all season.
Executing his two-stage approach to shutting down the opposition — which is, a) own the puck and b) get the puck back — the Leafs put on a clinic for long stretches. It was most evident in the first 10 minutes of the game, as well as the entire second period.
In those 30 minutes, the Leafs didn’t have to think about defending for most of it, controlling the run of play with meaningful offensive-minded possession. And in the rare instances in which Florida was able to mount something that resembled a counterattack, the Leafs snuffed it out quickly, diligently maintaining gaps and earning interceptions and retrievals through brilliant positioning and team structure.
It was really, truly impressive.
It took the Panthers over 11 minutes to record their first shot on goal (though they needed just 10 seconds to register another, which would find its way through Andersen) and failed to record a single shot from inside the Leafs’ attacking zone throughout the entire second period. It was the perfect response to Andersen’s exit, as anyone that has ever owned goalie pads could have kept the Panthers off the board in the middle frame.
Hutchinson said it was a lot of fun to watch.
It was a different story in the third period, of course, as the Panthers answered Matthews’ brilliant goal to begin the frame with four of their own. It wasn’t a complete meltdown by any stretch of the imagination, though. Instead, it was the repeated malfunctioning of one defenseman, and Hutchinson’s inability to bail him out.
You can lay blame at the feet of Cody Ceci for all three goals the Panthers scored with Hutchinson in net. Twice he just simply lost one-on-one positional battles in the scoring area. On the other, Ceci vacated the front of the net, allowing two Panthers to crash the crease behind him, and Jonathan Huberdeau found the tip in front.
It was made quite apparent long before the loss to Florida that Ceci’s acquisition was a mistake. You do wonder, though, if his failures in such a crucial game for the franchise will motivate the powers that be in any way to make a change, and that if Ceci will descend from a top-pairing defender on opening night all the way down to a passenger for the postseason push.
Or a player not with the organization altogether.
Trouble out of the pen
It’s safe to say Michael Hutchinson has turned his season around when judging him solely on his starts. But when called upon to spell Andersen, he’s reverted back to his early-season issues.
All told, Hutchinson has allowed 10 goals on 51 shots in four occasions coming on cold. That’s a .804 save percentage, which is not going to cut it.
Not to alarm
It was a mostly quiet return to the lineup for Kasperi Kapanen. Considering the hoopla around his absence over the weekend and the mild media frenzy it caused on Monday morning, that can’t really be a bad thing.
Kapanen did have a positive influence on the game late in the second period. He supplied the power for Nylander, who continued his torrid pace with a tip-in goal that would give the Leafs their first lead of the game.
Kapanen landed another fantastic feed onto the stick of Pierre Engvall later on, but he was denied on a fantastic post-to-post stop from Sergei Bobrovsky.
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