Maple Leafs vs. Golden Knights observations: Defensive errors prove costly in loss


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Whether you believe this was a scheduled loss or not, it doesn’t change the smell. That was a stinker.

The Vegas Golden Knights walked into Scotiabank Arena with revenge in their hearts and got it, winning the game 6-2 and capping the Toronto Maple Leafs’ win streak at seven games. Ilya Samsonov and Adin Hill were evenly matched and the Leafs didn’t look as if they had any of that rust you might expect after a long road trip and were the team in charge for a number of shifts in the first. The goal-scoring began in the middle frame, with Ivan Barbashev and Mason Morelli making it 2-0. Tyler Bertuzzi continued his goal-scoring rush to put the Leafs on the board, but William Karlsson responded with his 20th to restore Vegas’ two-goal lead.

The third period began and the Leafs continued to dig pucks out of their net. Jonathan Marchessault buried his 31st along with Alex Pietrangelo and Nicolas Roy. Ryan Reaves and Pontus Holmberg combined on a goal to make it 4-2 earlier in the period, but there wasn’t enough time to mount a comeback from it.

Three Stars

1. Tyler Bertuzzi 

Good luck continues to come Bertuzzi’s way as he capitalized off a clean offensive zone faceoff win. The goal was his 11th of the season and his fifth goal in six games.

2. Ryan Reaves 

It’s multi-faceted why this version of the Leafs’ fourth line has been more effective and Reaves’ speed boost has been a big part of it. He’s winning races to loose pucks and shooting positions and it’s catching the opposition off guard. Reaves isn’t on the ice for goals and instead, he’s scoring them.

3. Simon Benoit 

He led the team with eight hits and had some jump offensively. The fake pass from William Nylander and the jump up from the blue line in the second could’ve been a good way to double up on his season total.

To the left, to the left

With Timothy Liljegren out, the Leafs had to run with an all-left shooting defence corps. This isn’t the first time they’ve had to do this. Back in November, the Leafs played and won the three games that way.

One thing to come out of Morgan Rielly’s suspension is that TJ Brodie is a lot better playing his strong side, even though he’s played both over his career. Rielly hasn’t played on the right as much, and the results didn’t pay out in either’s favour. The pair was on the ice for all three goals in the second and didn’t survive after the second period after coach Sheldon Keefe changed things, playing Brodie with Jake McCabe and Rielly with Simon Benoit.

It’s difficult to play with this handedness, but it’s not impossible.

Unforced errors

It’s always easier to focus on what your team did wrong on a goal against. Sometimes, it’s alright to praise the skill of the opposition in the play. This, however, is not one of those times.

Each of Vegas’ three goals was self-inflicted. Ivan Barbashev and Mason Morelli had an invisibility cloak on ahead of their goals. Rielly and Brodie are both caught focusing on the puck after Max Domi’s shot, but it’s Rielly’s side of the ice to pay attention to. Morelli was left all alone in front of Samsonov after skating behind the net and Domi was late getting to him while Rielly was entertaining a Golden Knight higher in the zone.

John Tavares’ mistake is a stinger, considering it happened almost a minute and a half after Bertuzzi put the Leafs on the board. Tavares has two Golden Knights on him, with Marner higher by the boards. He also had Rielly lower on the left, who was in position to receive the puck, but he tried to send a no-look backhand pass to Marner instead. Marchessault pinched the boards and blocked the pass, and he found Karlsson for the goal.

A save from Samsonov would’ve done wonders there, but it’s impossible to ignore the decisions before the eventual shot.

The simple plays and the simple checks weren’t in the cards for the Leafs in the second period.

When the calls don’t go your way

What do you do when the calls don’t go your way? Deal with it.

No one likes that answer, but that is the reality. The Golden Knights got four power-play opportunities to the Leafs’ one (and that one was iffy, to say the least). The Leafs were perfect on the penalty kill, didn’t get Vegas much to work with, and got a few chances themselves. Marner was fantastic, and the Golden Knights had to clamp down on him quickly.

To be honest, I expected the Leafs to at least take a crack at challenging Marchessault’s goal for a potential missed high-stick, but it was too close to call back.

As for Keefe, it’s been a while since we’ve seen a coach ejection in Toronto. It was a weak call on Marner and to Keefe’s point, he fell on his own.

Game Score

Final Grade: B-

The Leafs didn’t get all the things that made them a threat last week. They had a good start but were nowhere as strong defensively. Additionally, their overall scoring took a hit. The second line had the most going for them offensively, as Domi and Bertuzzi led the team with five shots on goal each, while Nylander had three. Matthews, Marner and Tavares didn’t have much and stood out on the dash front. Nylander’s minus-4 was the worst amongst forwards, but it matched Rielly and Brodie’s night. Some teams may appreciate losses like this as it gives them an opportunity to revisit and study what worked. Tonight’s game was too many examples of how the team used to play. Time to clean things up.

What’s next for the Leafs?

The Arizona Coyotes look to get some revenge of their own on Thursday (7:00 PM EST) as the homestand continues.

(Photo: Dan Hamilton / USA Today)

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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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