The Toronto Maple Leafs have gone up against teams that play a similar style to the Ottawa Senators many times before. The end result is usually the same and it gets the blood boiling watching it almost every time.
It’s no secret that the Leafs are a very talented team with superstar players and the Senators are starting to see the foundation of their core. However, in this one, it was Ottawa’s ability to capitalize on Toronto’s sloppy play at crucial times that led to a 5-3 win.
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You could easily say the Leafs’ effort was lacklustre especially in the defensive zone as turnovers and lack of physicality played right into their opponent’s hand. What was also clear was that the players who have the reputation as hard workers were the ones who thrived in this game.
Zach Hyman played with a purpose to his game and part of that probably had something to do with the birth of his first child. He got things going on the power play and was relentless on the forecheck as well.
Considering how much the first powerplay-unit has struggled, it wouldn’t be the worst idea to switch Hyman and Wayne Simmonds as that could provide a spark? One thing that doesn’t need to be changed is John Tavares setting the example with his play on the ice considering he isn’t the most vocal and emotional leader at times, he lets his effort do the talking.
Now on to the glaring problems in this game starting with the defence. The Leafs didn’t show any urgency in front of Frederik Andersen. Many will blame this loss on the Leafs goaltender who certainly struggled and needed to be better but the players in front of him did him no favours.
Defensively, the Leafs lost battles for the puck in front of the net, couldn’t get out of the zone and let Ottawa get too many second and third chances. Morgan Rielly and T.J. Brodie were exposed in this one which is not encouraging when you consider that they are expected to carry this team as the top pair.
Don’t expect Sheldon Keefe to make any changes to the team’s defensive pairings on the second half of a back-to-back unless someone else draws into the lineup. You have to wonder how long Keefe continues to roll out a lineup he was proud to announce.
Does he move Hyman back with Matthews and Marner? What would that mean for Joe Thornton? Seeing players like Alexander Barabanov and Jason Spezza look lost and listless on the ice makes you wonder if it’s worth putting in one of the younger players to provide a spark.
Then there’s Andersen who admitted that he needed to play with a better effort and the Leafs coach wasn’t sparing him from criticism either.
"“Obviously, too many pucks have gone in the net, but as we’ve talked about a number of times, that’s not all on him. We’ve got to do a better job in front of him,” Keefe said after the game. “We need to improve in a lot of areas. I think Fred would probably agree that goaltending is one of them. But there’s a lot of other things happening out there that we’ve got to get better at.”"
It’s easy to forget that for the first half of this game, the Leafs looked pretty good. Then they seemed to be comfortable playing to the outside as Ottawa established their positioning and used their size advantage to keep the Leafs out of high-danger scoring chances.
Going up against a team that many predicted would finish last in the division, the Leafs can’t be caught playing with anything but a more spirited effort. If they don’t show a willingness to fight for better scoring chances they should expect a similar result each and every night.
What were your thoughts on this game? Should there be any concern this early into the season? Let us know in the comments below.