Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Maple Leafs blow 3-0 lead and lose 5-3 to the Avalanche
By Joseph Zita1 month ago
After stringing together four consecutive wins, the Toronto Maple Leafs entered UBS Arena on Thursday night looking to extend it to five games. Unfortunately, costly mistakes ended their winning streak against the New York Islanders, and the Maple Leafs quickly turned their focus to the Colorado Avalanche, who they played last night.
After Mitch Marner, William Nylander and Morgan Rielly were announced as three of the 12 players to be voted in for the 2024 All-Star Game, there was a lot of energy in the building early on, giving the Maple Leafs a boost. The new-look third line with Pontus Holmberg got things started on the scoreboard as Max Domi quickly fired a shot from distance, and it took a bounce off Josh Manson and got past Alex Georgiev for the early lead.
With the first goal out of the way for Toronto, the pace of play was in the Maple Leafs’ favour, and it was evident. Toronto put together a couple of solid shifts after the opening goal, including a high-danger shot from Matthews in the slot, which was stopped.
However, with the Avalanche on a line change, first-time all-star Morgan Rielly took it upon himself to go coast-to-coast with the puck, and he roofed his sixth of the season over the goalie’s shoulder for the quick 2-0 lead.
I think the Avalanche realized there was a game after Toronto made it 2-0 because once Rielly scored, Colorado made their little push during the following shifts. They hemmed Toronto in their zone for a bit, but they weathered the storm, and Martin Jones was solid, keeping everything out.
But once the third line hopped over the boards for another shift, they went to work and delivered another goal. This trio of Holmberg, Domi and Jarnkrok had a fantastic first period, and their aggressiveness on the puck rewarded them again. Holmberg crashed the net, looking to bang home his second of the season, and after the puck spat out, Timothy Liljegren jumped on the loose puck for his second of the season to give his team the 3-0 lead.
Toronto continued to pour on the chances as they looked to extend their lead even more, but they entered the first intermission up 3-0 and outshooting Colorado 15-7.
After a brilliant first period from the home team, which saw three pucks cross the goal line for them, a push from the road team was expected, especially at the calibre of the Colorado Avalanche. Both teams traded early chances to begin the middle frame, but a hooking penalty from Mark Giordano put one of the most lethal power plays to work 5:17 into the period.
Unfortunately, as soon as the puck dropped to begin Toronto’s penalty kill, David Kampf was whistled for high sticking, but not before Jonathan Drouin sniped home his 10th of the season, cutting their deficit to two goals. The Kampf penalty was killed off, and luckily for Toronto, Logan O’Connor took his team’s first penalty, putting the home team on the power play for the first time in the game at the midway point of the second period, but they did nothing with the opportunity.
With the middle period underway and the Avalanche finally on the board, they started to look dangerous as they generated plenty of scoring chances on Martin Jones, trying to slowly chip away at that once three-goal lead for the Maple Leafs. As they began to string more and more shifts in Toronto’s zone, you felt like a goal was most likely coming for them, and it did. Mikko Rantanen fell over in the offensive zone, taking Matthew Knies’ stick to the ice. As Knies was looking for his stick, Rantanen got up and banged home the loose puck in front of the net for his 22nd of the season.
Now, you could feel the energy inside Scotiabank Arena start shifting with two consecutive goals for Colorado after Toronto scored three of their own in eight minutes in the opening period. Toronto entered the second intermission up 3-2 and narrowly outshooting Colorado 23-20 (13-8 shot advantage for Colorado in the second period).
With the game close again due to the Avalanche’s massive push after falling behind three goals in the first period, Toronto started to play on their heels and didn’t have an answer for Colorado’s pace of play. They weathered the storm, and Martin Jones made some key stops when called upon, but after scoring three goals in eight minutes, Toronto struggled to find the back of the net again, and it was an entirely different story for the road team.
With two goals to get within one in the second period, Colorado replicated their second period and got to work quickly in the third. As the team nursing a one-goal lead, Toronto’s game plan for the final 20 minutes should’ve been to play smart hockey. Don’t cheat for offence, break out of your zone cleanly and don’t get into any penalty trouble. Well, you can scratch all of that off for things they didn’t do.
Seven minutes into the third period, the puck took a funny bounce in the slot, Martin Jones was slightly out of position, and Andrew Cogliano whacked a bobbling puck toward the net, and it found its way past Jones, evening up the game at three. After blowing a 3-1 lead to the Islanders a couple of days prior, the Maple Leafs had now blown a 3-0 lead to the Avalanche on home ice. Not exactly a recipe for success.
Now that the Avalanche had tied the game, Scotiabank Arena wasn’t having the same amount of fun they were in the first period, and it was a nervous atmosphere as they patiently waited for their team to grab the lead. However, it felt impossible for Toronto to grab the go-ahead tally due to the job the officials did in last night’s game. Whether it was the soft calls going Colorado’s way or the referees not blowing their whistle for any infraction Colorado did, Toronto had one power play opportunity, and it came at the midway point of the second period.
There was a missed cross-checking penalty that Josh Manson delivered on Auston Matthews that stopped play, a slash to Timothy Liljegren’s hands while trying to exit his zone, and many others that went unnoticed.
Between the inconsistent calls and the Maple Leafs not having the greatest 40 minutes, it was hard to imagine a win for the team wearing blue, especially when Nathan MacKinnon was dancing all night. Speaking of him, he scored the go-ahead goal with four minutes remaining after a turnover in the offensive zone from the loaded-up first line (Nylander, Matthews, Marner) that sprung MacKinnon and company with speed in transition.
Ross Colton buried the empty netter with seconds remaining, and the Toronto Maple Leafs dropped their second straight game, this one 5-3, to the Colorado Avalanche.
Who stood out:
The third line. From puck drop to final horn, the third line of Pontus Holmberg, Max Domi and Calle Jarnkrok was Toronto’s best line last night, and it wasn’t close. Not only did a member of that line open the scoring (Domi), but they helped score the third goal for Toronto and had many other chances throughout the game that didn’t result in anything. According to Naturalstattrick.com, that line generated an xGF of 0.69 at five-on-five, outshot the opposition 10-2 when on the ice and had an xGA of just 0.03. Why they only played 7:19 together at five-on-five is beyond me, especially when Keefe was overplaying Matthews, Marner and Nylander in the third period. Individually, each of their ice times was: Jarnkrok (14:17), Domi (11:53) and Holmberg (9:59). It doesn’t make sense to me when they were your best line and Keefe decided to staple Tavares, Bertuzzi and Knies to the bench in the third period, overworking the big three guys, who didn’t contribute anything to the scoresheet either.
Everyone else on the team last night didnt look all that impressive to me. Given Toronto is on a back-to-back, and they play Detroit tonight, I wouldn’t be shocked if there were multiple lineup changes.
You can catch the Toronto Maple Leafs’ next game tonight when they close out their back-to-back at home against the Detroit Red Wings. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 pm ET/4:00 pm PT.
(Stats from Hockey-Reference.com)
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