Leafs stand with a 2–1–0 record at the end of the first week of the 2021 NHL season despite taking too many penalties, no consistency and shaky goaltending.
The Toronto Maple Leafs opened their season last Wednesday night, the first of 10 games against the Montreal Canadiens, and came away with a 5–4 win.
One thing to note about this game is what happened with Auston Matthews on the penalty kill. Matthews was on the ice for the first penalty kill of the game and blocked a Shea Weber slap shot. After that, Toronto Head Coach Sheldon Keefe only had him out for the face-offs before waving him back to the bench.
The Leafs took too many penalties, a common theme through this week, and the penalty kill was just not good. They consistently gave Montreal too much space in the neutral zone, which allowed them to create too many chances off the rush and eventually, goal.
The Leafs, on a two-man advantage, tied the game and took it to overtime, where Morgan Rielly got the game winner.
Senators, part one
On Friday, the Leafs got to face the Ottawa Senators. The Leafs dominated for the majority of the first period, picking up an early lead. However, with minutes left in the period, they took two consecutive penalties. The Sens scored, tying up the game. In the second period (after regaining the lead), the Leafs collapsed, giving up four straight. New year, same issues with this team.
Despite a late goal, the Senators took the game 5–3.
Frederik Andersen had an off night in net for Toronto. He was not necessarily terrible, but he was not good either. Andersen is known for being slow to start the season. Still, with only 56 games this year, hopefully that improves fast. Another player not having a good time was TJ Brodie (too many turnovers), yet that was not the most concerning part of this game. Joe Thornton played 18 minutes in this game. John Tavares? Only 15. William Nylander was not too far behind that, only playing 16. This was just bizarre, especially following their performance on Wednesday.
Senators, part two
Saturday was the second half of the back-to-back against the Sens. There were some lineup changes going into the Hockey Night in Canada game. Keefe went with a tandem of Jack Campbell and Aaron Dell, giving Andersen a full day of rest. Nicholas Robertson subbed in for Aleksander Barabanov. Robertson joined the Leafs in the playoff bubble this August after scoring 55 goals in 46 games in the OHL. He played four games and scored his first NHL goal.
Early in the first period, the Leafs took yet another offensive zone penalty. They also gave up another 5-on-3 in the second period. Somehow, they managed to make it to the third period with the lead.
Robertson left the game early, only on the ice for two minutes before sustaining a knee injury. All that is known right now is that he will be having an MRI to assess what happened.
Tim Stützle scored his first NHL goal late to bring the Sens within one, but the Leafs held on for the 3–2 win.
Over the course of the three games played this week, the Leafs took 39 penalty minutes, many of them in the offensive or neutral zone. This may be attributed to no preseason and being rusty after months with no hockey, but this cannot continue. Toronto managed to get off fairly easy, especially against the Senators, but will soon be facing better teams with better power play units. Considering the shortened season, giving up these opportunities is going to become a big issue.
As for other news, on Sunday morning, Dell and Jason Spezza were put on waivers in order to be assigned to the taxi squad. With many teams in the league desperate for goaltending, it is plausible that Dell will be claimed. On the other hand, Spezza—through his agent—has made it clear that he will not be playing for any other NHL team.
The Leafs start their second week on Monday, squaring off against the Winnipeg Jets at home.