The Leafs are coming off of three hard played decisive victories over the second place team in the division, so it seemed somewhat inevitable that some level of fatigue might catch up with them, and the banged up Leafs fell flat against the Canucks, in what was a bit of a freebie scenario for Vancouver.
Now, that’s a lot of excuse making for the Leafs, but in a game where the potential netminder could have been any one of Andersen, Campbell, or Hutchinson, only to have it end up being Plan C, Hutchinson getting the nod at the 11th hour points to game that wasn’t one the Leafs seemed likely to win. Of course, the Canucks are also a very bad team, and for a team that was so dominant against Edmonton, expecting a win was a fair way to go into the game as well. Should we takeaway much in that it ended in a loss to the Canucks, no, probably not. Saturday’s game will be much more important in evaluating how these two teams line up against each other.
The game didn’t get off to the strong start, and with Holl coming down to earth, after defending against McDavid, he went the opposite direction early and decided to help Jake Virtanen pad his goal stats leading up to the trade deadline. The fact that Pierre Engvall was able to answer that mishap before the end of the first gave some hope heading into the second, but a flat first line, and some confusing line decisions left few bright spots offensively, although Thatcher Demko posting a .970 save percentage needs to be factored into that flatlessness.
Defensively, the Leafs are still a bit of a bright spot, although Holl definitely looked like he could have used the night off. The second goal especially doesn’t belong on the defense, and rests more on Michael Hutchinson as Virtanen beat him from an angle that he needs to stop that shot, no matter how well placed it was.
When it comes to the Leafs that stood out as having positive performances, credit goes to the Swedes, as Engvall was the one Leaf who beat Demko, and he continues to do a solid job as the third line center, and additionally, William Nylander staying off the scoresheet wasn’t for a lack of effort, and he too has continued his strong play of late. We’ll give the slight edge to Engvall as I’m a sucker for results.
If we’re playing the blame game, well, this is one of the few nights this year when we’re debating whether it was Holl or Matthews that put up the stinker of a performance. I’d make the argument that the Leafs probably could be taking their time with Matthews right now and may have possibly rushed him back into the lineup, and by giving him that benefit of the doubt he’s excused somewhat. As for Holl, I hate to say it’s him after the past three games against the Oilers, but he looked slow and tired, like he had burned himself out playing against the best player in the world this week. The fact that he couldn’t keep up with the Canucks tonight doesn’t create any concerns about him, but it wasn’t Holl at his best.
Rather than picking a tweet of the night, I’d like to call out every reporter that put the juggernaut jinx on Toronto after the sweep of the Oilers. Tonight is on you.
As for what’s next, well, the Leafs will have the ability to go back to Freddie Andersen on Saturday night, and that’s a good start. Campbell might be an option as well by then, but no matter what Michael Hutchinson will be out of the equation again, and even though he’s done well overall this season, tonight was a reminder why he’s clearly the 3rd string guy, and initially was the fourth string option.
The Leafs will get a proper rest day tomorrow, and hopefully we don’t see them on the ice, or at least not too many of them. They were a team that looked tired and disorganized, and regrouping and playing rested will make much more of a difference than trying to reinvent the wheel on a team that is playing the best hockey I remember seeing a Leafs team play. Other than the potential for a new look fourth line to bring Boyd back in, and possibly Barabanov too, I wouldn’t expect much of an overhaul for Saturday.