Knee Jerk Reaction: Leafs stumble into 2024 after third straight loss

Photo credit:Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Alex Hobson
1 month ago
You couldn’t blame goaltending for tonight. 
The Leafs fell 3-2 to the Carolina Hurricanes at home, marking their third straight loss and slipping to 1-4-1 in their past six games. While much of Friday night’s loss to Columbus can be pinned on goaltending, they didn’t make anything out of Martin Jones’ .926 save percentage tonight. You can make the argument that Toronto didn’t play the worst game, but costly mistakes and sloppy play with the puck can be attributed to the L on their side of the game sheet. 
Benching David Kampf didn’t really send a message if it was supposed to. Head coach Sheldon Keefe sat the centre as a notice that poor defensive play and costly mistakes would not be tolerated going forward after he gave the puck away on the game-tying goal against Columbus. While Kampf hasn’t been as strong defensively in 2023-24 compared to his first two years in Toronto, he’s still their best penalty killer, and it showed tonight. Both Hurricanes goals that went past a goaltender came on the power play. 
And to make matters that much more perfect for the occasion, Michael Bunting scored in his return to Toronto. Because of course he did.
Jones did his job today. Stopping 25 of 27 shots is something that you can work with when your team is as star-studded offensively as the Maple Leafs. But, they never posed a threat on the power play, with the Hurricanes effectively shutting down any passing lanes the Leafs may have been able to work with. They were never really able to set up on the power play during the game and allowed some quality shorthanded chances as well.
Going into 2024, the Leafs need to put a serious emphasis on team defence, because as it stands right now, their goaltending isn’t good enough to create much of a margin for error. That’s not a slight on Jones, but Joseph Woll is still on the IR for the foreseeable future, and relying on the former to put the team on his back is a great strategy if you want to miss the playoffs.
Two final thoughts, and they involve a pair of former London Knights. Max Domi made an impact all over the ice tonight, setting up Timothy Liljegren with a sweet dish for the first Leafs goal of the game and laying out Martin Necas with a solid, clean hit in the offensive zone. Simultaneously, from an eye-test perspective, tonight was one of Mitch Marner’s worst games of the season. His lazy pass to William Nylander to send the Hurricanes back the other way toward the empty net largely summed up the Leafs’ issues getting set up on the power play and in the offensive zone in general. 
The Leafs need a little more from everybody in 2024.
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