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Disorganized Leafs get desperate for offense in 5-3 loss to Sharks

07
San Jose Sharks v Toronto Maple Leafs
TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 22: Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs deflects a shot past Erik Karlsson #65 of the San Jose Sharks during an NHL game at Scotiabank Arena on October 22, 2021 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. | Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images

Nylander was very good, but much couldn’t be said for the rest of the team.

The Toronto Maple Leafs lost 5-3 to the San Jose Sharks, who were on the second game of a back-to-back after playing in Montreal. John Tavares, Jason Spezza, and Ondřej Kaše all scored for the Leafs, but Michael Hutchinson gave up four goals to the Sharks in the loss. The Leafs looked strong in the first period, but they devolved into chaotic hockey in the second and third, where they played from behind the whole way through.

Michael Hutchinson (the Leafs third goalie) made some great saves in the game, but he also gave up four goals. San Jose knows really well from last season that if your goalie gives up four goals, you’re not winning many games.

This game also was a showcase in what the Leafs can be when they knowingly maximize their offense. The Matthews line was terrible for the Leafs in the first half of the game, including making turnovers on two Sharks goals. After the second goal, Ritchie was pulled from the first line basically it was the Matthews and Nylander show for the second half of the game.

In the third period, Nylander was stapled to Matthews with a rotating cast of linemates as Sheldon Keefe maximized playing the stars while trailing. You have to wonder if this is a serious indictment on Nick Ritchie, which I think it is. They might play him on the first line next game, but he might get stuck on the fourth line until he can figure himself out.

I also wonder if this is the beginning of Keefe convincing himself to play Matthews and Nylander together. It gets offense, and clearly after this game Nylander can be a huge positive defensively. Matthews and Marner is clearly out of sync while Matthews with Nylander clearly is. The argument to swap the top-four is strong, it just comes down to whether Keefe can convince himself (and maybe his stars?) that it’s the right way to go.

First Period

The first half of the period saw the Leafs inching themselves farther and farther into the offensive zone with every shift. They were the better team, but a few 1-on-1 battles lost led to a couple temporary chances on Hutchinson. Nylander and Matthews were looking really good early, but they weren’t getting much help from their linemates. Tavares was looking okay, especially once he got down low, but things just weren’t quite clicking in open ice.

Logan “got punched in Toronto” Couture got penalized for tripping up Rielly on a rush, sending the Leafs to the power play. The first unit didn’t get any meaningful time in the zone, though Rielly made a good defensive play on a 2-on-1. Nylander and Tavares tried to make a quick play happen at the end of their shift but it didn’t come together. The second unit was a barrel of chaos, with Bunting and Engvall swooping around the middle of the zone trying to connect something, anything together before Spezza changed for the second defenseman.

Then Ritchie took a penalty in the corner of the offensive zone when he bowled over a Sharks defenseman. It could’ve been considered a soft penalty (definitely if it was the third period), but it was certainly a flashpoint for bringing up how utterly useless he’s been on the first line next to both Tavares and Matthews. He is probably useful on a slower team like Vegas or his old team Boston, but on the Leafs he looks like a fish out of water.

The Leafs killed the penalty without much fuss, and beyond a few plays from Nylander and a sprawling save from Hutchinson, there wasn’t much to report in the first period.

After One

Shot Attempts: 23-14 (62%)
Scoring Chances: 10-7 (59%)
Expected Goals: 0.59-0.59 (50%)

The Leafs had the puck more, but they didn’t get it to the net as well as the Sharks, who pretty much went all-in on their first chance on a shift and had to bail out after.

Second Period

Ritchie then took down Rielly to start the second period.

0-1

Brodie iced the puck with the fourth line ahead of him and the Sharks first line took advantage and scored. Spezza and Brodie were both in front of the net on either side of Couture when he got the puck in front of the net and scored.

1-1

Spezza made right up for it with this goal I couldn’t see because my TSN stream went to the landfill. Good plays from Simmonds and Spezza there on the GIF from Omar.

1-2

And then this goal from Timo Meier happened while my stream was getting sorted through recycling. A shot from the wing got through a couple bodies, including Hutchinson.

Good news: Hutchinson then started to make some good saves. Bad news: Hutchinson had to make some good saves because the Leafs turned into pumpkins in the defensive zone. Really disorganized, throwing pucks away in the neutral zone, notably the forwards who were lagging behind and splitting up the five-man unit.

2-2

Ondřej Kaše got himself a breakaway after a long offensive shift from the Sharks. He deked past Hill before scoring and falling on referee Wes McCauley. Kaše was in discomfort (so “on brand”) but was able to get up and celebrate with the bench.

2-3

And then Erik Karlsson scored with a point shot, the Sharks’ third goal on Hutchinson. Dash two for the first line, too.

And then Sheldon Keefe did this. The first line was just getting nothing done offensively and couldn’t do anything in transition. Nylander immediately helped with that. And despite losing Nylander, the Tavares line with Bunting and Spezza immediately had a great couple chances in front of the net. This immediately gave the team a flowing offensive line and a direct scoring line. The consequence of this was Ritchie essentially got benched.

Nylander then spent shifts with all three of Matthews, Tavares, and Engvall almost in a row. Sheldon Keefe really started to lean on him in the latter part of the period. Here he is with the fourth line:

After Two

Shot Attempts: 22-19 (54%)
Scoring Chances: 15-12 (56%)
Expected Goals: 1.73-1.14-0.59 (60%)

So Ritchie didn’t get a shift in the second period after the Karlsson goal while Nylander got five shifts in about eight minutes, one more than Matthews/Marner/Rielly who had four.

Jason Spezza described the Leafs in the second period as scrambling, which is very true. Not only did the scoring chances for go up, but the chances against for the Sharks went up by a lot compared to the first period. The Sharks were getting legitimate zone time and the Leafs didn’t know how to handle it. Add on top of that turnovers from Matthews and Marner leading to goals and this is the result.

Third Period

2-4

Jonathan Dahlén scored within the first minute of the game through the five-hole of Hutchinson. Tavares, Bunting, and Rielly all missed the passing play.

Nylander created a turnover, which led to Tavares having another chance on that line’s next shift. The second line stayed intact with what started the game, but the Matthews line now had Pierre Engvall (!). He actually had a good chance from the wing, and he and Matthews paired up well together for that one shift. I genuinely didn’t think anyone would be stupid enough to argue for Engvall on the first line — so much so even I didn’t think it would be worth tweeting — but that madman Keefe did it! The result of these line changes meant Ritchie was booted to the fourth line.

3-4

Tavares got the team back within one after a monster shift from Nylander with Matthews. Nylander was moving around the offensive zone a lot until finally a Muzzin pass found its way to Nylander for the one-timer. Watching it live, I think the goal is Nylander’s after the puck bounced in off a Sharks foot, but for now they gave it to Nylander.

Nylander and Matthews connected again after a penalty to Spezza with three minutes left in the game. This time they were with Marner and the trio was all over the blue paint. With Hutchinson to the bench, Nylander made a huge defensive play on Timo Meier in front of the empty net. The Sharks were calling for a hooking call, but different to the Tavares penalty from a few games ago, the refs decided “nah.”

3-5

The Sharks eventually scored the empty-netter.

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