Knee Jerk Reaction: Leafs haunted by the same, old mistakes

Photo credit:Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Arun Srinivasan
14 days ago
There’s just a week until the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs get underway but the Toronto Maple Leafs often appear doomed to repeat their same, old mistakes. During a contest where they dominated possession, shot attempts and the run of play, the Maple Leafs ultimately fell short 6-5 against a New Jersey Devils team with nothing to play for.
Here you have all the elements of your prototypical Maple Leafs loss: John Tavares set the rink ablaze 18 seconds into the game, opening the scoring with his first of two goals on the contest. Some of the Bay Street denizens hadn’t arrived at their seats. It could’ve been a party! Before you could even write ‘Tavares!’ in your game notes, Erik Haula scored 21 seconds later, tying the game when TJ Brodie got lost in space and essentially froze in his own end.
We, the undersigned at The Leafs Nation are cognizant of becoming The Auston Matthews Network but it’s impossible to discuss the nightly ebbs and flow without centring No. 34, who also notched a brace, scoring his 67th and 68th goals of the season. Max Domi has been arguably the NHL’s premier playmaker since being placed on the top line and he was cooking from the wings, finding No. 34 with pinpoint passes throughout the night. We’ve contemplated many combinations but Bertuzzi-Matthews-Domi appears here to stay through Game 1 of the playoffs, even with Mitch Marner back in top form.
Ilya Samsonov was named the Maple Leafs’ nominee for the Bill Masterton Trophy and when it was revealed to the public, Marner came to Samsonov’s defense, stating that the media often say and write unkind things about players. This is the least comfortable part of the job. Samsonov’s second-half revival has been a major focal point of the season. He should be the Game 1 starter. Against New Jersey, Samsonov reverted back to the same, old mistakes, allowing goals from terrible angles, including the game-winner from Jesper Bratt which floated into the top corner with 74 seconds left. We aren’t worried about Samsonov in a larger sense but this start conjured up some awful memories from the end of the 2023 calendar year.
It wasn’t all on Samsonov. Brodie’s struggles have been noted, Mark Giordano put the puck right on Nolan Foote’s tape for New Jersey’s second goal and an uncharacteristically awful penalty from Matthews led to Timo Meier’s goal, which equalized the game at 4-4.
Toronto finished with a 65 percent share of the expected goals at 5-on-5 via Natural Stat Trick, Matthews and Tavares scored twice, Marner and Nylander generated tons of chances, but ultimately, the Maple Leafs lost due to poor goaltending and a lack of discipline. There’s still plenty of work to do before the playoffs begin on April 20.

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