The Toronto Maple Leafs lost 6-3 in Winnipeg, a rare poor performance from the Leafs, but the story of the game from Toronto’s perspective was how they might have lost defenceman Rasmus Sandin to a knee-on-knee hit that was not penalized.
“It looks to me like a 5-minute major,” said Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe. “It’s knee-on-knee and a guy gets carried off. I didn’t get much from the officials in terms of how they saw it. They obviously didn’t see it. If they had seen it, I think they call it differently. I’m sure the league will have a look.”
“It wasn’t really hockey in that third period,” said Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews. “It was a bit of a gong show.”
“I’m proud of the way we stuck up for each other tonight, despite the way we played,” Matthews continued.
“It’s important to balance it. You want to try to win the game, but you want to stick up for your teammates,” said Maple Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly.
“They weren’t happy, but I wasn’t happy either,” said Keefe. “That’s the way it goes when there is stuff going on and it’s not being called. Emotions get really high, so I don’t think it’s out of the ordinary for how the game played out.”
“I certainly liked the emotional response of our team under the circumstances,” Keefe concluded.
To the takeaways…
1. Rasmus Sandin injury could be a problem
While the Maple Leafs did not have an update on Sandin’s status after the game, it would seem fair to expect him to miss some time after he was helped off the ice.
It would be unreasonable to make too much of an issue of a team losing a third-pair defenceman, but Rasmus Sandin has excelled in that role. The 21-year-old has eight assists in 25 games. His real value can be seen in his possession numbers, with the Maple Leafs controlling 55.9% of shot attempts and 62.4% of expected goals during 5-on-5 play with Sandin on the ice. That expected goal rate is second best among defencemen (behind only Timothy Liljegren) to play at least 200 minutes.
If Rasmus Sandin is out, that could leave Travis Dermott to play with Justin Holl on the third pair. Liljegren was paired with Jake Muzzin at Winnipeg and the duo controlled play (63.6 CF%) in more than 11 minutes of 5-on-5 action.
2. Jason Spezza, of all people, was out for vengeance
Although the veteran centre is not known as a particularly vicious player, he was clearly unhappy about Pionk’s knee-on-knee hit against Sandin and wasted no time taking a nasty shot at a falling Pionk. Sometimes even gentlemanly players will resort to the nastiness of the NHL’s eye-for-an-eye code.
Jason Spezza is an avenger
Goes right for Pionk pic.twitter.com/95v2TID9UE
— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) December 6, 2021
3. This is where refereeing matters
Not in terms of the result. The Jets buried the Maple Leafs early and that had nothing to do with the hit on Sandin. But the Maple Leafs’ bench was incensed when that hit happened. Those are precisely the kinds of plays that the referees need to get right because when the bench rises up like that, if the play is not addressed by the officials, it is surely going to be addressed by the players.
The Maple Leafs sent Kyle Clifford and Wayne Simmonds out for the very next faceoff. That would not have been necessary if the Maple Leafs were going on the power play. On top of that, it’s not like knee-on-knee hits are the kind of thing that the league might want to keep as part of the game. That just has to be called.
In any case, that’s not why the Maple Leafs lost the game. It is why the game devolved in the third period, though.
4. Woll comes back to earth
After riding a wave of good fortune in his first three NHL starts, Joseph Woll took some lumps in this game. Not only did he allow six goals, a few of which he might like to have back, Woll also took a knee in the head from Jets centre Pierre-Luc Dubois. Woll’s save percentage is .911 through four starts.
“I thought he was really good,” said Keefe, sticking up for his goaltender. “Those are elite players getting clean looks at the net.”
Getting work in the second half of back-to-backs is the life of a backup goaltender so some of those situations are going to be less than ideal and that would accurately describe Sunday’s start. With Petr Mrazek nearing a return, Woll is probably due for some reps in the American Hockey League soon.
5. It was supposed to be a schedule loss, and it was
There are times throughout an NHL season in which a team is set up for a “schedule loss”. A scenario in which a team played the night before and then have to play a rested opponent the next night. If it’s on the road, that makes the odds even worse. Usually the backup goaltender is getting the start and in Sunday’s case with the Maple Leafs, they were fighting uphill a bit. That does not mean that schedule losses are automatic, but it does add some context and maybe it is not the end of the world.
TOR 3.88 WPG 3.12
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