Knee Jerk Reaction: The game was forty minutes too long for the Maple Leafs

Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
6 months ago
Nothing would have made me happier than writing about the Maple Leafs blueline producing offence early and often. I would have settled for diving into what was at one point a +3 night for Pontus Holmberg who was bringing a ton of energy and opportunities to the Leafs third line. The first period also made it seem like Martin Jones could be making his case for both games of a back-to-back. Alas, the game was forty minutes too long and the second and third periods brought heavy doses of reality for the Maple Leafs as they fell 5-3 to the Colorado Avalanche.
The cold dose of reality for the Leafs is that they can’t step back and enjoy their lead. They had the benefit of a fortunate bounce for Max Domi early in the first and that seemed to deflate Georgiev and the Avalanche for the first. The Leafs seemed to expect the same deflated Avs to show up in the second and third and that was certainly not the case. Colorado is just as capable of being an offensive juggernaut as the Leafs are and they pushed the Leafs.
Still, 5-3 aside, I do want to focus on what went right for the Leafs third line. As someone who has been banging the drum to get Nick Robertson back into the lineup (that’s still something that needs to happen) Pontus Holmberg needs to be considered a Leaf at this point. When he is on, like he was tonight he is absolutely that player with hidden abilities that Auston Matthews was talking about. And even when he’s having an off night he brings that defensive awareness the Leafs forwards have been lacking this year. He’s a good fit for Domi and with Jarnkrok the third line seems to be more of a traditional bottom six unit, but with some upside.
Domi seemed re-energized with his new linemate and it is possible we start seeing his icetime creep back up if he can get it done in a greater variety of 5v5 situations.
When you look at the icetime overall for the game tells the story of a coach who isn’t happy with his bottom six even though they seemed to have a better night than the top six. Of the bottom six forwards only Jarnkrok and Kampf exceeded 13 minutes of icetime, and in a bizarre night even John Tavares barely exceeded 15 minutes as Sheldon Keefe was almost entirely reliant on Matthews, Marner, and Nylander as they all played over 21 minutes. With the Leafs playing again tomorrow that seems like a decision that could come back to bite the Leafs.
The California Dream is over and Toronto is inching back in the direction of the team that was struggling in late 2023. With fewer than 8 weeks until the trade deadline the Leafs need to step up their performance to show they are a team that should be buyers, otherwise I’m not sure how you can justify giving up futures to support this group any further. That needs to come from the players but also the coach.

Stray thoughts:

  • Things definitely could have gone better for things when it came to officiating in the third. The McCabe penalty didn’t need to be called and the non-calls when Matthews was cross-checked and Liljegren was slashed could have influenced things in Toronto’s favour. That being said, the Leafs aren’t the first team or the last to be a victim of bad reffing and they need to find ways to win in spite of it.
  • Martin Jones is human and the Leafs need to plan the next few months accordingly. Jones is getting a well deserved night off tomorrow and hopefully that helps but a true goaltender upgrade still needs some consideration.
  • Mark Giordano deserves a night off after his poor decision to blast a shot on a shorthanded rush that immediately sent play in the other direction. Simon Benoit bailed him out in a big way and my appreciation for Benoit continues to grow. I’ll have to go back and delete all my “Why?” takes when the Leafs signed him.

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