The Toronto Maple Leafs kicked off the second half of their season Monday night with the same inconsistency we saw in the first half, ultimately falling 3-2 to the visiting New York Islanders.
Despite outshooting their opponents 37-29 and doing a lot of things right, including being by far the better 5v5 team, the Toronto Maple Leafs got enough of the details wrong to drop their season record to 25-15-8 (stats from NHL.com).
Let’s talk about some of the positives first. The stars produced, as they have for most of the year, with each of the Big Five picking up at least a point. John Tavares scored a powerplay goal for the second straight game, and Mitch Marner picked up his 21st goal of the season.
Nick Robertson, despite only 8:28 of ice-time, continued to show flashes of offensive ability, getting in position for a couple of quality shots on goal and making several good passes around the net. With 4 goals in his last 9 games, and the Toronto Maple Leafs struggling to find secondary scoring, it’s only a matter of time before Robertson is moved up into the top-6.
Simon Benoit had another solid game. He’ll never be a star, but Benoit provides the kind of gritty, hardworking, “keep-it-simple” type of defense that every team needs. Very little was said when he was signed in the offseason, but he may end up being one of GM Brad Treliving’s best moves of the year.
Toronto Maple Leafs Can't Overcome the Negatives
Switching into the negatives, injuries forced Sheldon Keefe to dress Ryan Reaves. Although Reaves has lately been better than unplayable (I guess that’s a positive), against the Islanders he carried his energy too far and took a dumb penalty in the offensive zone, knocking down ex-Leaf Matt Martin after the puck was long gone.
Tyler Bertuzzi also took a needless penalty near the end of the first period, taking out Matt Barzal when the puck was nowhere in sight. Although the Toronto Maple Leafs killed off both of these penalties, needless mistakes like these will eventually cost a team points.
Matthew Knies does a lot of things right for a rookie, but anecdotally, he seems to have a lot of bad luck around the net. He set up Auston Matthews for a primo scoring chance, and AM34 fired the puck left post-crossbar-right post and out. No apple for Knies. It may be time to let Knies catch his breath on the third line, and give Nick Robertson some run on the top line.
William Nylander played surreal hockey before signing his big $92M contract extension ten games ago. He could do no wrong on the ice. Since then, Nylander has gone pointless in 7 of those 10 games. I wouldn’t say his effort has fallen off, but the results certainly have. Something to watch in the coming weeks, though.
Ilya Samsonov, although vastly better than he was prior to being demoted, is still not where the team needs him to be. He seems confident, and is making plenty of athletic saves, but his rebound control is suspect. Even more worrisome is the fact that he sometimes continues to over-extend himself when sliding across the crease. This happened on New York’s first goal, as Samsonov slid way too far to his left on a shot that hit the post and rebounded into the slot, leaving a wide-open cage for Matthew Barzal to score the game’s first goal.
Finally, after the Toronto Maple Leafs tied the game late in the third period on Tavares’ goal, the Islanders scored the winner with just over two minutes left to play. The goal scorer was, of course, low-scoring ex-Leaf Pierre Engvall, playing in his first game back in Toronto after the Leafs dealt him to New York last season.
The Leafs next game is Wednesday, against the visiting Dallas Stars.