Maple Leafs vs. Hurricanes observations: Blown lead results in shootout loss

Considering the injuries the Toronto Maple Leafs have throughout their lineup, it’s difficult to consider this a true measuring-stick game. However, it was still an interesting draw nonetheless. The usually secure and well-structured Carolina Hurricanes didn’t look too secure and structured throughout the game and wound up securing both points in a 5-4 shootout victory.

The Leafs and Hurricanes were even in shots despite both teams having two power-play opportunities each. Toronto’s offense came from John Tavares, William Nylander and Nick Robertson, who scored in the opening half of the middle frame. Carolina answered back via Jordan Martinook and Seth Jarvis, who scored his 22nd of the season with three seconds left in the period. It looked like the two points were in the bag for the Leafs after David Kämpf scored on another breakaway to make it 4-2.

The luck of the Irish unfortunately went Carolina’s way after Kämpf was called for hooking with 2:54 left in regulation. The Hurricanes took advantage of it as Sebastian Aho converted on the man advantage to make it 4-3. Carolina continued to push with their net empty and tied it late in the third, thanks to another goal from Aho.

Toronto outshot Carolina in overtime 6-2, but some of its best chances didn’t make it on net. Despite a dangerous-looking four-on-three power play, the game remained scoreless and went to the shootout. Pyotr Kochetkov stopped Nylander and Matthews and went for an old-school lunge at Max Domi to keep the Leafs off the shootout scoreboard. Samsonov made saves on Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andrei Svechnikov but Jake Guentzel beat him five-hole to win the game.

Three Stars

Ilya Samsonov 

The Leafs did not dominate the Hurricanes by any means and Samsonov had to make a lot of well-timed saves when their mistakes started to pile up.

His best play came at the start of the second when the Leafs’ turnover numbers skyrocketed as well as that stick save in overtime.

John Tavares 

The captain’s 21st of the season was the first of the game and he later went on to assist on Robertson’s goal.

Nick Robertson 

Robertson is starting to make a pattern for himself as he now has three goals in returning games. He’s making a case to at least be an option in the playoffs and this game could keep him in the lineup for the rest of the regular season.

Quick Shoutouts

Joel Edmundson–Timothy Liljegren 

They saved a goal in the third period, talk about clutch.

Max Domi 

He finished the game with seven shots. One of his best chances came off a strong behind-the-net play from William Nylander.

Neutral hunting zone

All four of the Leafs’ goals had a common theme. They all started with a turnover in or by the neutral zone followed by a quick pass to head to the opposition’s end. TJ Brodie disrupted the zone entry ahead of the first goal and sent a quick pass down the ice to Tavares. Morgan Rielly had similar neutral zone plays off the Hurricanes’ turnovers in the neutral zone finding Nylander and Kämpf with bank passes off the boards.

Robertson’s goal was more active on the Leafs’ end and will likely be another reason he stays in the lineup. He starts by initiating contact on the puck carrier heading to Toronto’s end. Liljegren quickly gets the loose puck and sails it up for Tavares. Jaccob Slavin is on Tavares, so he turns to protect the puck and finds Robertson breaking in with speed.

Ideally, you’d like more of the team’s goals to be these hardworking masterpieces, but simply having the skill to make a team pay for a mistake sprung the Leafs to that lead in the second.

The powerless play continues

The Leafs walked into this game with a single power-play goal in eight games and 20 total opportunities. Something has to give with the units and Sheldon Keefe tried something new playing both Liljegren and Rielly with the top guys. Liljegren, as the right-shot at the top, could be a good way to fill in the missing Mitch Marner void while Rielly was along the left wall but was pretty fluid in the offensive zone.

Despite the changes, there still weren’t too many high-grade scoring chances, and the Hurricanes had little to do with it. The Leafs turned the puck over too often upon the zone entry and passed up on key chances when Carolina left a lane for them to take advantage of. Auston Matthews had a lot of room on the left at one point and no one got the puck to him.

It was much better in the third period as they sorted their timing out, but they still didn’t have anything to show for it.

Live penalties

It was such a bittersweet night to be a fan of the penalty kill because it had a lot of good momentum-changing moments. The kill via Matthew Knies’ tripping penalty was particularly strong and gave the Leafs the momentum to run away with the period. Connor Dewar, Bobby McMann and Nylander created a lot of scoring chances because of their speed and timing. But you can only move the goalposts so far without addressing the issue at hand.

Similar to the power play, the Leafs’ short-handed squad hasn’t been up to par lately, either. They’ve given up at least one power-play goal in the last three games and added two more to their tally tonight with the opposition free by the side of the net.

McMann ascension

Keefe is starting to lean on McMann more. He not only saw a lot of penalty-killing time but also replaced Pontus Holmberg on the top line with Matthews in the third. His speed is still catching the opposition off guard, and he doesn’t hesitate to take those hard paths down the wall and cut to the front of the net. Don’t be surprised to see a McMann-Matthews-Marner line in the future.

Game Score

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Final Grade: B

The Hurricanes really don’t like giving up more than three goals. They’ve held their opponent to two or fewer goals 21 times in 2024, so the Leafs putting four past them is noteworthy. It could’ve been more, and the Leafs had opportunities to get that fifth, sixth and, no hyperbole, seventh goal of the game. Losing a game like this and in this matter further reinforces the priorities the Leafs have to figure out in the next month. Both ends of their special teams need to improve, and returning Mitch Marner will help. You’re still getting scoring from up and down the lineup though all four lines were out-chanced and outshot at five-on-five. The Bertuzzi-Matthews-Holmberg line got the brunt of that lopsided stat.

At the end of the day, these are two playoff-bound teams. An iffy penalty call and a deflection extended the game.

What’s next for the Leafs?

The Flyers will have a shot at revenge as the Leafs are back in Philadelphia at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.

(Photo: John E. Sokolowski / USA Today)

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