The Toronto Maple Leafs game against the Tampa Bay Lightning last Thursday night was billed as a measuring stick. For both teams really, but more so for the Maple Leafs. Toronto lost the game 4-1, and while there were a couple of key defensive miscues that lead to goals for Tampa Bay, Toronto clobbered the Lightning everywhere but the scoresheet. The scoresheet may be the most important thing to win at the end of the day, but to infer it’s the only thing that matters is ridiculous. Yet that was the immediate reaction from some.
Toronto Maple Leafs Game Reaction Was Unnecessary Panic
They were the top two teams in the league heading into games on Thursday night. Although the Winnipeg Jets have since passed Toronto in the standings. And a Toronto/Tampa Bay Eastern Conference Semi-Final in the Stanley Cup Playoffs this year may turn out to be the best series of the year.
They’re also in the same division. And Tampa Bay had a six-point lead on Toronto. This game meant the world to the Maple Leafs. Lose it, you fall eight points back of the Lightning. A mountain to climb with today’s generous NHL point system. Win it, and there’s only a four-point gap. If the Maple Leafs want to win the Atlantic Division, this was a must-win game. And they played like it. Disappointment in losing, for fans, is understandable, but the positive takeaways in this game can’t be ignored.
The Maple Leafs outshot the Lightning 49-21. They had 28 more shots than the Lighting. That is incredible. That’s not just score-effects either. The Lightning scored two quick ones late in the second and the Maple Leafs already had 34 shots by then. Toronto is not known as a team that outshoots their opponents often. They are certainly not a team know to hold an opposing team to 21 shots against. Seeing the other team with 40 shots is much more common. The Maple Leafs came to play on Thursday night. They came to prove they are a team to reckon with come spring. They were for the most part just unlucky against the Lighting.
The Maple Leafs had 49 shots on goal and 81 shot attempts. Tampa Bay had 48 shot attempts. The Maple Leafs had a Corsi For of 62.8 percent. There is no way around it: the Maple Leafs dominated the Lightning.
Andrei Vasilevskiy Returns
The goals against Frederik Andersen were not terribly unlucky, although the game-winner was in his glove and had the leather covered the puck up a bit more, the overhead cam wouldn’t have been able to conclude the puck crossed the line. But there was a lot of luck on the other side of the rink.
Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s play was brilliant, there was nothing lucky about that. But three goal posts in the first two periods was lucky. A couple of inches on those shots and an inch returned on the reviewed goal against the Maple Leafs and Toronto could have easily been going into the third period up by a couple goals instead of down by three.
The Appropriate Reaction
“I think you come in here and you never know if you’re in a spot to play with the good teams until you play them. I thought we had a good account of ourselves. Obviously, the score is disappointing, but the way we played is not one bit disappointing.” said Leafs coach Mike Babcock after the game.
“We put a lot of pucks on net, we drew a lot of penalties. I thought we were really good on our forecheck and pressuring their D and causing turnovers and not giving them a whole lot.” stated John Tavares.
They played great, but you can’t win them all, even when you play great. And a playoff series between the Maple Leafs and Lightning is going to be a fun one to watch.
Another Way To Go
One game but Tampa flexed. Better team. Tampa’s goalie was unreal.
Kypreos: “Leafs showing they just aren’t quite deep enough to roll with the titans”
— Juno (@junotheleafs) December 14, 2018
The Maple Leafs are a very good team. They have enough depth to be considered one of the leagues ‘Titans’. And they’re still on their way up. Assuming Kyle Dubas can get his contracts sorted out, they’re going to be a top team in the NHL for years to come. The fear-mongering in Toronto isn’t new, but once in a while its’ a good idea to step back and realize that the pressure the media puts on this team is ridiculous. And the reaction of some to one of the best games this team has played this season against the top team in the league is laughable.
The Maple Leafs have areas they need to improve, it’s true. They’re young, they don’t have that coveted playoff experience yet. They need some help on the back end and the forwards have to learn they can’t cheat on the defensive side of the game. The Leafs may even lose in the first round again this year considering the current NHL playoff format might have them playing the fifth or sixth best team in the league in the first round. But they’re doing it all the right way. Give credit where credit is due.
Alex Pietrangelo Rumours
Rumour has it the St. Louis Blues are heading into a firesale. Nick Kyperos commented the Maple Leafs might be sending Nikita Zaitsev to the Blues as part of a package for Alex Pietrangelo. If that’s true, Leafs fans everywhere can rejoice. But more likely the Maple Leafs would need to send a package of youth to the Blues for Pietrangelo. Although for the team to afford Pietrangelo’s $6.5 million yearly cap hit next year, they would need to send Zaitsev somewhere. Maybe that’s the Blues, although it might raise the price of Pietrangelo. A more likely scenario is the Maple Leafs send someone like Kasperi Kapanen to the Blues while his stock his high and then try to peddle Zaitsev in the off-season to make room under next year’s cap. However, it shakes out, a move that puts Pietrangelo or Colton Parayko into a Toronto uniform will be welcome.
Main Photo: BUFFALO, NY – MARCH 5: William Nylander #29 of the Toronto Maple Leafs during the game against the Buffalo Sabres at KeyBank Center on March 5, 2018 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Kevin Hoffman/Getty Images)