The Toronto Maple Leafs went into Tampa Bay on Tuesday looking for a clean sweep in the Sunshine State after scoring a 3-0 victory over the Florida Panthers on Monday. But like most teams making the Florida road trip, the Leafs only came away with one win. Although they played a strong road game, they came up short in a 4-2 loss. Here are a few things that caught my eye:
The Maple Leafs have had very good goaltending for the most part this season between James Reimer and Ben Scrivens. With Reimer injured, Scrivens has been excellent posting back-to-back shutouts coming into Tuesday’s game. However, against Tampa Bay Scrivens gave up a backbreaking goal early in the third period to make the score 3-1. It was the type of goal Maple Leaf fans have been used to seeing the last couple of seasons, but had become a distant memory this year. He then let up another weak one on a Tampa power play to make it 4-1, which was the last shot he would see for the night as he was pulled in favor of Jussi Rynnas.
Given how well Scrivens has played it’s hard to place any blame on him for this loss, but the team actually did a much better job defensively giving up only 18 shots and limiting Tampa Bay’s scoring chances. This really shows that on a night-to-night basis how a few bounces either way can turn the tide of a game. These things tend to even out over the course of a year and the best teams usually rise to the top, but in this shortened season that might not necessarily be the case.
The Defense Corps
Carl Gunnarsson returned from injury on Monday night after missing eight games. Gunnarsson’s placement in the lineup sent veteran John-Michael Liles to the press box alongside fellow healthy scratch Mike Komisarek. Randy Carlyle went with the same grouping against Tampa, which is missing three of the team’s top six defensemen from last season (including Jake Gardiner with the Marlies).
The defense group appears to be performing well with the likes of Mark Fraser sporting a plus-13 rating, but how much of that is good play from the backend versus very good goaltending. The Leafs as a team have a shot differential per 60 minutes of -5.4 on the season. This is one of the worst rates in the league, although their scoring chance differential is actually much better.
Returning home off of a loss it will be interesting to see what Carlyle does with this group; whether Liles or Komisarek check back in or it would not surprise me if Gardiner gets the call up. But who will be the odd man out?
Heading into Tuesday night’s game the Maple Leafs had killed off 19 of their last 20 penalties, improving their percentage on the season to 81.1%, good enough for 17th in the NHL. This is a huge improvement over the past few seasons as the Leafs had one of the worst penalty kills in the league.
The Leafs allowed one goal on six shorthanded situations against the league’s third best power play unit on Tuesday. Even with the goal against the Leafs continued their good play on the penalty kill. Much of the credit has to go to the goaltending, but two of the new additions up front have made a huge impact. Jay McClement and Leo Komarov do a lot of the heavy lifting on the penalty kill and they have both been instrumental in the good results the Maple Leafs are starting to see. McClement leads the team in shorthanded time on ice per game and is third in the entire league for forwards.
Grabovski Finally Scores
If there is one positive to take from the game it is the fact that Mikhail Grabovski broke his 11 game scoreless drought with a first period goal. Grabovski is a very important part of this team and he is relied upon to do much more than score. He goes head-to-head with the other team’s best line every night and his offensive zone start percentage is among the lowest in the league for forwards. Yet if the Maple Leafs are going to be successful they need to get production from him and his line mates. Hopefully that goal will get them going a bit.
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