The throng of Maple Leafs followers that made the trek to the magnificent Little Caesars Arena Friday night left disheartened with an uninspired 3-2 OT loss to the Detroit Red Wings. The anticipation to ‘right the ship’ after a short break in the schedule with the talented club fell far short of expectations as they were out worked, out hustled and out played, by the far less talented team from motor city.
Toronto must be dozing off during their lessons because they can’t seem to get it into their heads that talent alone does not win in the NHL today.
Playing like a team that hasn’t played for 8 days they looked tired, passes were in skates, no jump, no drive and just a lethargic effort all around. The scary part is they extended the game into overtime after the team snapped out of a funk halfway through the third almost stealing the win in regulation. It was a little too late however as Danny DeKeyser secured the extra point for the home side at the 2:40 mark into extra time.
Saturday the Leafs responded on home ice at the Scotiabank Arena with a spirited effort holding off the hot Pittsburgh Penguins 3-2. The Leafs came out with a much better effort but still found themselves down two before the 13-minute mark of the opening frame. Auston Matthews cut the lead to one with his second in back to back games before the period ended.
Newly acquired defenseman Jake Muzzin, with a thunderous body check, woke up his teammates that turned the momentum in favour of the blue and white. Garret Sparks subbing for Frederik Andersen looked a little better but should’ve stopped at least one of the two that got behind him. The crowd collectively holds its breath on every shot directed at the Leafs net when 40 plays and combined with 28-blocked shots the frustrated Pens didn’t muster much of a threat, although they did hit the post in the last minute.
The Leafs scoring woes continue and one need only look at two attempts at the empty net for further evidence how snake bitten they are. A Hainsey bouncing clear headed for the empty cage broke like a putt a few feet from the hole and seconds later Mitch Marner’s slow glider not only hit the post but slide across the goal line.
The much-heralded Toronto power play is 0-7 after getting blanked again and even Babcock moving different players with the unit still continues to struggle.
While there is still too much individual play that is the norm when a team cant find the back of the net, the positive for the Maple Leafs is when they work hard, they make it very difficult for teams to match their tempo.
Kasperi Kapanen was the best player on the ice and even though he didn’t register a point, his blazing speed and puck control caused fits for the Pens D all evening long. If pal William Nylander can muster up the same threat it will be a lethal combo along with the expected out put from the “big” guys that the team will need, especially heading out on the road after a couple home dates this week for a 13-day 6-game road trip. Those 6-games will be a very telling sign if they expect to play beyond the first week of April.