A breakdown of the worst Maple Leafs goal conceded of the Auston Matthews era

Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski / USA TODAY Sports
Michael Mazzei
1 month ago
The Leafs and defensive breakdowns are as attached at the hip as the Leafs and playoff shortcomings.
Not a season goes by where the Leafs are not on the receiving end of a goal entirely of their own volition. It is the type of goal that leaves you wondering if they are playing a different sport than the rest of their competition, and what feeds into many fans’ desires for the team to fix the backend.
Some years have more than others, but generally speaking, the Leafs can always be relied on for allowing a horrific goal against that will live on in infamy. That is especially the case in the playoffs where there always seems to be that one moment where the team breaks down and allows a backbreaking goal at an inopportune moment that will continue to be talked about for years to come.
There was Game 7 in 2018 when Jake Gardiner got outworked by Jake DeBrusk for positioning on the series winner, Game 7 in 2019 where Gardiner made a bad pass that resulted in a Marcus Johansson goal, and Frederik Andersen in 2020 surrending two backbreakers in Game 5 against the Blue Jackets. Their 2021 series against the Canadiens had two of them on consecutive nights with Alex Galchenyuk in Game 5 and Travis Dermott in Game 6. Even the last two playoff births had such lowlights, notably Brayden Point’s OT winner in Game 6 from 2022 and Sam Reinhart’s Game 3 tally from 2023.
One thing all of those plays have in common is the play comes as a result of one or two players messing up and it comes at a pivotal moment in the series. They are plays where you direct your anger more on a select few players for their failings than the team as a whole.
While these are all tough clips to watch back, there is a defensive breakdown from the Leafs during this era which I feel tops them all. Not just because it happened at a crucial moment in the series, but because it is one where everyone on the ice failed spectacularly.
I am referring to this goal from T.J. Oshie in Game 4 from 2017:
To say that this goal against was a brutal one to concede would be an understatement. Every Leaf on the ice makes a mistake that snowballs into the next and the sequence looks worse the more times you watch it.
So let’s break down why exactly this goal is the worst goal that the Leafs have allowed in the Matthews era so far.
It starts innocently enough as Matthews covers for Connor Carrick and forces Andre Burakovsky to move to the outside. This gives Carrick a chance to swipe the puck to an open area so the Leafs can regain possession and eliminate a potential scoring opportunity. Matthews gets just enough of the puck to get it to Connor Brown and the threat appears to be neutralized.
However, this is the moment that things take a turn for the worse. I understand that Brown is looking to get the puck to a springing Carrick as he is making his move but there is a ton of risk since Burakovsky is in the vicinity and can easily disrupt the pass despite being down on the ice.
The smarter play for Brown to make here is to either hang onto the puck to assess the situation or pass it back to Morgan Rielly who is right in the vicinity despite being on his offside.
Instead, Brown goes for the risky plays and it backfires as he misfires the pass and it goes off the back of the blade. It results in the puck moving too slowly and deflects off Burakovsky’s skate which gives possession back to the Capitals.
The Leafs do catch a break a second later as Burakovsky does not get much mustard on the puck either and it gives Carrick a chance to recover the puck and redeem Brown for his mistake.
But like Brown, Carrick opts to go for the risky play at a dangerous moment because Oshie is right in his vicinity and can easily swipe the puck away. Should Oshie gain possession, he has wide open space on the right side of the ice since Matthews and Brown are cramped together near the blue line while Rielly has remained stationary on the opposite side near the boards.
Carrick is somehow able to knock the puck off his left skate but then completely loses track of where it went. The screenshot above shows it is right below him and it takes nearly two seconds for him to locate it again. But while that is happening, the Leafs are out of sorts defensively and are now vulnerable to giving up a prime scoring chance.
It all leads to the most egregious moment of the entire sequence:
What a disaster this entire setup is. Rielly has barely moved from his position along the boards the entire time and is not doing anything of value to help minimize the damage. Matthews and Brown are hanging around the blueline doing god knows what while Carrick is still trying to find the puck.
Zach Hyman, by the way, has not contributed anything to this play and has sat up high the entire time looking to go on a breakaway. Because Hyman is too far away from the puck, he could have alerted Rielly that Oshie was wide open in the slot so that any potential scoring chance does not become as dangerous.
By the time Carrick finally sees where the puck is, he is too late to react as Nicklas Backstrom recognizes all the chaos in front of him and knows there is a prime opportunity to take advantage. I still don’t understand why Matthews and Brown are this high up in the zone, but even still they are not doing anything to disrupt the pass attempt.
By this point here, the damage has been done and Washington now has a glorious chance to score as Oshie (offscreen) is about to receive the puck. Rielly realizes far too late just how badly he read the play and can only helplessly race back to try and get to Oshie. Meaning it is now up to Andersen to prevent this comedy of errors from ending in disaster.
It seems like Andersen is in a good position to make the save, but he has left the five-hole completely exposed for Oshie to exploit. That is exactly what he does and makes no mistake, which is easier to see when looking at this other angle shown below:
This misread from Andersen is the cherry on top of this horrific display of defensive ineptitude from every Leaf on the ice. And while it is a bad goal to give up, it gets even worse once you understand the context of what took place before this sequence occurred.
Toronto was entering this game with a ton of momentum on their side after two overtime wins put them ahead in the series 2-1 and had a prime opportunity to put the Presidents’ Trophy winners’ backs against the wall. However, they had a rough start to Game 4 by going down 2-0 within the first five minutes and were trailing 4-1 going into the first intermission.
It seemed that they were coming back down to Earth and the projected outcome of the series would soon be realized since there was a 23-point gap between the teams in the regular season. But with how much offensive firepower the Leafs had at their disposal, they were never truly out of it.
James van Riemsdyk got a power play goal early in the second period that closed the gap while the two teams traded chances. The Leafs got momentum in the third when they had a two-man advantage and threw so many shots that tested Braden Holtby. Then with about eight minutes remaining in the third, Matthews was alone in front of the net to tap it home and make it a one-goal game.
The sequence I just did a deep dive on happened two shifts after the Leafs were within a tally of tying. Not only did it occur less than a minute following the Matthews goal, it zapped all of the momentum away from Toronto which they were never able to recover. Tyler Bozak did score a last-minute tally to make it a one-score game, but the night ended with a final score of 5-4 which means this Oshie goal was also the game-winner.
Washington never looked back after this game as they got two more overtime wins to close out the series in six games. But it is fair to wonder how much differently this series would play out had the Leafs been able to properly get the puck out of their end. By no means am I suggesting Toronto wins, but the Capitals had yet to overcome their playoff demons at that time so the chance to pull off the upset was there for the taking.
Just imagine how much differently Game 5 goes when the series went back to Washington with the Leafs up 3-1 instead of 2-2. I know it is easy to think they would have blown it given what has transpired for the franchise since, but this was right at the start of their window and it is not a stretch to say they could have pulled it off.
Leafs fans often look back on this series with rose-coloured glasses given there were no expectations placed on the team going into the season and were riding the wave of a fun campaign with a bunch of rookies bringing new life to the fanbase. It is easy to do that given all of the more aggravating losses that have occurred in the years following this series, and I felt the same way for a while.
But make no mistake, this series was also a missed opportunity because the Leafs had a genuine chance to shock the hockey world by upsetting the Capitals as they went toe-to-toe with the NHL’s best regular season team. Knowing that they had the momentum to put a stranglehold on the series only to let it slip away via the most egregious defensive breakdown of this era of Leafs hockey is devastating.
Because even though there were still two more games to have been played in that series, it’s fair to say now that this sequence was the moment the Leafs lost the series. It’s hard to recover from a sequence where every player on the ice messed up in some way that snowballed into a soft goal surrendered by their goalie when they badly needed a save to help stem the tide.
There is still loads of time for a future Leaf team in the Matthews era to have a bad defensive breakdown, but it will be hard to top this one cause the odour left from it still lingers seven years later.

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