The score may state otherwise but the Toronto Maple Leafs didn’t play a bad game despite losing 4-0 to the Nashville Predators. It was one of the more entertaining games at the Scotiabank Arena this season.
Pekka Rinne was the difference maker and even though the Preds out shot the Leafs 32-18, he stopped the tougher of the chances between the two teams.
This is one of those instances when the numbers do lie.
Michael Hutchinson had a steady game and kept the Leafs alive until two goals in the final two minutes put the game out of reach.
The controversial seldom called, off-side challenge negated an Auston Matthews goal that had tied the game moments after Mattias Ekholm gave Nashville the lead on the power play at 4:08 of the middle frame.
The challenge came after an extended period of time in the Preds zone and had absolutely no impact on the play. The reversed call was the turning point in the game.
The Preds checked the Leafs relentlessly giving Marner, Matthews and company very little room. When the Leafs forwards did manage to slip free (they can’t cover them forever) their outlet man was usually double covered. While they did manage to create a number of scoring opportunities, Rinne was there to close the door.
Kasperi Kapanen missed a tap-in gimme at the goal line in the first period that will have him tossing and turning in his sleep tonight.
The Toronto power play was shutout and looked confused at times. Teams are starting to adjust to the puck movement (they’re not chasing) and crowding the net to block the chips to Tavares or the lane for the cross-ice dish to Matthews. They are also forcing the play to the perimeter that ends up on Marner’s stick but with his two main outlets covered, he’s shooting more; the Preds took their chances with Rinne against the shooter. They prevailed this time.
Toronto played a game that could have swung either way but will have to find a way to neutralize teams that have adapted to their offensive pressure and why secondary scoring has to start coming from the bottom six. They have too much depth to be shutout; Kadri and Kapanen have to start finding the back of the net.
The positives from tonight are it clearly is a game of inches; the reliable Kapanen finishes along with Matthews disputed goal and the outcome is different. The Leafs were moving their feet most of the evening but at times did get pushed off the puck; they did however keep coming at the Preds. Learn from this loss and move the intensity needle up a notch for upcoming matches in New Jersey then home to Boston and Colorado.