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Photo Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Leafs’ defensive woes end, but still lose against the Predators

Not the most exciting game from either team’s point of view, Tuesday night’s matchup against the Nashville Predators was one to forget, but not entirely.

Two goals from the Predators (and an empty-netter) and all of the Leafs’ shots not going into the net, led to a low-event game but still a 3-0 loss to the team that loves to throw dead catfish on the ice.

The Leafs were able to restrict the Predators to only 20 shots on goal, certainly killing the mention of how leaky their defence has been the past couple of weeks. It was honestly impressive how well they were able to keep the stars of this Nashville team off the scoresheet. High-powered on both ends, a team like this should usually be winning the shot battle every game.

Not spreading their focus to both ends of the ice, the Leafs were still offensive enough to get some key chances, but were unable to get anything past Pekke Rinne and were shutout for the first time since the Feb. 16th game against the Arizona Coyotes.

Mitch Marner led the Leafs with six shots on goal, an unlikely total for the pass-first winger, and was able to get more than a quarter of the whole team’s shots. Auston Matthews and Kasperi Kapanen were next in line with three shots on goal each. The team finished with just 22.

Less than five minutes into the first period, former Leafs forward Brian Boyle was able to open the scoring with a goal from Ryan Johansen and Craig Smith. That marked the fifth game in-a-row that the Leafs have allowed the opening goal to the game.

The goal came shortly after the Leafs killed a Preds powerplay, but was caused by a brutal giveaway from the bottom-left corner by Jake Muzzin. His second giveaway of the period from the very same spot behind the goal line, he did not have the best opening 20 minutes in a Leafs uniform.

According to MoneyPuck, the Leafs created just 0.12 expected goals that period at 5-on-5 play and 0.24 in all situations – not the best from what a high-powered offence is supposed to create.

Although, at least there were some positives from the first period. It appears Matthews and Nylander were back on their bullshit early and creating some scoring possibilities, just unable to get a lucky break.

Matthews specifically made some incredible moves to enter the zone and go through some of the Predator’s defencemen, able to get a small scoring chance. Looking at the positives of what happened during that first period.

Stretching into the second period, the game has been extremely defensive. Both teams not really allowing a ton of attempts, but the Leafs were held for just over 10 whole minutes without a shot on goal in the second period, it wasn’t even a pretty shot either.

Even while the Leafs are being awarded the powerplay opportunities they deserve (finally), they are not doing anything with them. The Preds were able to get a better scoring chance on a mid-second period man advantage for the Leafs. Viktor Arvidsson and Ryan Johansen are able to rush the defensive zone and get a sneaky backhand off, but end up hitting the post.

Matthews seemed to be all over the nice no matter what this whole entire game. From zone rushes to absolutely dangling Wayne Simmonds into early free agency, he was really the Leafs best player tonight.

While the Leafs have visually looked boring as hell, they did actually pull past the Preds in expected goals, according to MoneyPuck. At the end of the second period, the Leafs had a +0.11 xGoals advantage.

The most impressive part of that second period is that the Leafs were able to hold the Predators to only two total shots on goal. One of the best defensive periods of the season, they were just unable to get the right puck to go into the right net in the middle period.

For the entire second period, the Leafs pulled the metaphorical steering wheel away from the hands of the Predators and were able to bend it back where they wanted. Letting the Preds have over 60% of the shot attempts in the first, the visiting team had exactly 75% of the attempts in the second, pulling ahead in the overall game at that point.

The defensive tactics certainly did not stop when it came to the third period either. The Leafs were excellent, allowing only one shot on goal in the first eight minutes of the last period of play.

For their offence, it was generating but not at enough of a rate to really get something past the former Vezina-winning goaltender Pekka Rinne.

Like, look at this.

How can any team get a puck past someone that makes saves like this? The Leafs certainly ran into just a really solid goaltending night from the Finnish netminder.

It certainly doesn’t help when the other team scores a goal late in the third period to make the hill even higher to climb. As Wayne Simmonds gets his first in a Preds uniform against the Leafs. In all alone planted right in front of the net, Simmonds is able to capitalize and double the lead for his team.

Filip Forsberg gets the empty net and kills all hope the Leafs would somehow score two unlikely goals against this team.

Who wore the Crown?

After every Leaf game, we’re recognizing one Leaf player who best exemplified what it means to play hockey the “Toronto Way”: with heart and soul, above all else. Who wore the Crown is brought to you by Crown Royal, passionate fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs. 

Even though Marner surprised everyone with six shots on goal, Matthews seemed to be the player that truly made the difference and some prettier plays. I’m sorry Mitch, but that between-the-legs deke was too beautiful to pass up in this loss.

The Leafs are in Buffalo Wednesday night and if they lose, I’m sure Toronto will burn to the ground.