Photo Credit: Eric Bolte/USA TODAY Sports
The Toronto Maple Leafs served as the latest foil to the unbeatable Montreal Canadiens, who set an NHL record on Saturday night by defeating a harder working Toronto side 5-3. The Canadiens have won nine consecutive contests in regulation to start the season, which is completely insane.
Montreal didn’t play well on Saturday, but still came away with two points. In addition to denting a tonne of iron, Saturday’s contest was like special teams Chernobyl for the Maple Leafs, as they surrendered two power-play goals against and allowed a short-handed tally in a game in which they otherwise carried play soundly at 5-on-5. Of Montreal’s two even-strength goals, one was the result of Michael Grabner’s momentary brain fart.
Toronto’s 5-on-5 play continues to be enormously improved in the early going. There’s no doubt that this team is giving the sort of consistent honest effort that often alluded the club under Randy Carlyle (and especially under Peter Horachek), but it’s all being sabotaged by misfiring special teams and – though you need your head checked if your blaming Jonathan Bernier for the Leafs loss on Saturday – by iffy goaltending.
Here’s a graphical representation of the extent to which the Maple Leafs had Montreal’s number at even-strength on Saturday:
Generally speaking when you control play the way the Maple Leafs did on Saturday, you’ll win more often than you lose. When the team you’re outshooting employs Carey Price though, well that becomes a different matter entirely.
Against Price you need to play a polished game, and permitting three goals against in special teams situations, taking a dumb retaliatory against Dale Weise of all people, and clumsily kicking goals into your own net isn’t what polished looks like…
While the net result was ugly, the Maple Leafs did a lot of things well on Saturday. Morgan Rielly was all over the place, and would’ve had two goals were it not for a pesky goal post in the first period. Toronto’s top-line of Nazem Kadri, James van Riemsdyk and Leo Komarov was dominant, truly, for extended stretches and manufactured two goals. The first was the result of some nice work off of an offensive zone faceoff win by Nazem Kadri, while the second was gorgeous (though not for Habs fans):
Scott Harrington also had his best NHL game so far, and picked up his first NHL point on Leo Komarov’s fourth goal of the season.
And Byron Froese – despite being on the ice for too many goals against – was something of a force in his NHL debut, manufacturing multiple scoring chances, generating two shots on goal, taking the body constantly and drawing two penalties one of which probably should’ve been a penalty shot.
The Maple Leafs’ solid effort on Saturday night aside, they can’t be satisfied losing a steady stream of games like they have this month. At the very least the Maple Leafs are entertaining, even if they can’t convincingly measure up against ‘les imbattable’ at the moment.