The Toronto Maple Leafs dropped a 5-3 decision at home against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Leafs controlled play and might have deserved better but made critical errors that even a short-handed Lighting squad could use to their advantage.
“You can’t make those kind of plays and spot them three goals at 5-on-5,” said head coach Sheldon Keefe. “The 5-on-5 goals are inexcusable. Those are gifts against a team like that.”
“I didn’t think we played a terrible game, by any means,” Keefe continued. “Our guys worked hard, we had our chances, you just can’t give that kind of stuff up. The decision-making, the execution with the puck was very poor. It cost us.”
“Their team doesn’t make those kind of mistakes,” said Keefe of the back-to-back Stanley Cup champs. “They got those mistakes out of their game a few years ago.”
“We weren’t getting to the front of their net,” said William Nylander. “(Vasilevskiy) was making some pretty easy saves from time to time. I think that was probably the difference. We had some neutral zone turnovers which obviously bit us.”
It was not a terrible game for the Maple Leafs but the result is not great. Tampa Bay had more key players out of the lineup than Toronto and if the Maple Leafs are legitimate contenders, they should be able to take advantage of the situation that was presented to them.
1. Timothy Liljegren had a monster night
It could get lost on a night when the Maple Leafs lost but the rookie defenceman was outstanding against the Lightning. He controlled play (81.3 CF%, 88.2 xGF%) and was moved to the second pairing to shake up the Jake Muzzin-Justin Holl tandem. Muzzin and Liljegren combined for 83.3 CF% and 86.3 xGF% in more than 11 minutes of 5-on-5 play. Might be worth giving Liljegren a longer look in a top four role.
2. Tough night at the office for Jake Muzzin
Before Muzzin was paired with Liljegren, he had been having a tough night alongside Justin Holl. That duo had a 22.2 CF%, and 4.8 xGF%, on the ice for two goals against during 5-on-5 play plus a power play goal against. Muzzin and Holl have really struggled this season so it’s probably time to start looking at a new order of operations on the Toronto blueline.
3. Ondrej Kase paying dividends
When the Maple Leafs went bargain hunting in the offseason, Kase was one of the players about which I was cautiously optimistic. His career has been marked by injuries and a great ability to generate shots on goal. He ranks second on the Maple Leafs in shot attempts per 60 minutes during 5-on-5 play (19.7) and first in shots per 60 (12.6). Only Auston Matthews has scored more 5-on-5 goals for the Maple Leafs than Kase’s seven, plus he added his first power play goal of the season against Tampa Bay.
4. Statistical regression is coming for Jack Campbell
When Campbell was named second star for the month of November after posting a .959 save percentage in the month it was obvious that he would not be able to perform at that outrageous level for the long haul. In his past four games, Campbell’s save percentage is .891 and when the goaltender isn’t stopping 96% of the shots he is no longer covering for team mistakes in the same way and the results might not be too pretty.
5. Missed opportunity
Considering that the Lightning were without Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Anthony Cirelli, and Erik Cernak – all key members of the team when healthy – that added some sting to this loss. Toronto had ideal circumstances to take advantage of a depleted Lightning team but made too many critical errors and it ended up as a loss when, really, the Leafs should have expected better.
TOR 4.01 TB 3.39
Advanced stats via Natural Stat Trick