The Toronto Maple Leafs versus the Columbus Blue Jackets Thursday night made one think of Clint Eastwood in one of his greatest western films. First the Leafs were really bad, then they were really good, but in the end they were unforgiven.
Through the first two periods, the Leafs spotted Columbus a 5-0 lead. The Toronto Maple Leafs gave so many pucks away to the Blue Jackets it seemed the game was being sponsored by Santa. With their fathers no longer in attendance, the Leafs had no spark, no energy, no interest. The fans booed them off the ice after the 2nd period.
But like cowboys intent on redemption, the Leafs roared into the third frame with their guns a-shootin’. The villagers went wild as first William Nylander, then Mitch Marner, Jake McCabe, Auston Matthews and Matthews again (with the net empty for a 6th attacker) found pay dirt and sent the game into overtime.
A good western story usually features a shootout, but that ending was not to be. After an end-to-end, highly entertaining few minutes of 3-on-3, Blue Jacket Kent Johnson scored his second goal of the night to give Columbus a 6-5 victory.
Toronto Maple Leafs Were Due for a Poor Game
Perhaps the Leafs were due for a dud of a game, but the fact that it came at home versus one of the worst teams in the league has to be worrying for coach Sheldon Keefe and GM Brad Treliving. Goaltender Ilya Samsonov simply looked bewildered all night (but to be fair, he got little support from his teammates in the first 40 minutes). Samsonov gave up 6 goals on 35 shots for an ugly .829 SV% (dropping his average for the year to .878).
Yes, the players deserve a lot of credit for not giving up, and for finding a way to claw their way back into the contest. Looking at the total game stats, the Leafs actually outshot Columbus 48-35, with an xGF% of 60%, versus 40% for the Blue Jackets (stats per NaturalStatTrick). In other words, statistically, the Leafs should have won this game fairly easily.
However, keep in mind that in the NHL “score effects” are a thing because teams so rarely lose after getting a big lead that they stop playing. The losing team always posts amazing stats once they go down, but they almost never come back from 5 goals down.
Many times this season, the Toronto Maple Leafs have come away victorious when the underlying numbers were not in their favour. In the long run, luck has a way of evening itself out.
It’s been obvious to even a casual observer that this roster needs change before the team can be considered a serious challenger for the Stanley Cup. Duct tape can only hold the defense together for so long, and as good as Joseph Woll has played, he can’t help if he’s not playing. The star power up front is putting up great numbers, but as a group seems to be less than the sum of its parts.
A lot of Toronto Maple Leafs fans would be happy to find Brad Treliving delivering a new first pairing defenseman, some additional goalie depth and perhaps of sense of urgency, just in time for the holiday season. It’s time for management to “cowboy up”.