Leafs Game 3 Recap: No Excuses

I am not even going to analyze the game at large. Instead, I’ll probably just ramble for a bit and throw in a few clips here and there. The team’s three best players tonight were William Nylander (shocker), David Kampf (what…) and Sam Lafferty (WHAT?). If that isn’t an indicator of how big of a disaster game three was, I don’t know what to tell yah.

This team has played some really pathetic playoff games since Auston Matthews was drafted. Like they have shit the bed so many times in the biggest moments that, at this point, it is hard for them to reach levels of utter embarrassment we haven’t seen before. However, tonight they broke into a new stratosphere of complete humiliation. Quite simply a disgusting hockey game to watch from start to finish, and the fact that we were forced to watch more than the usual three periods is a cruel and unusual form of torture.

The loss to Montreal in 2021 was probably the worst one of them all for obvious reasons. But it was also particularly heartbreaking because a significant reason why the Leafs lost was that their two best players, Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews, were essentially non-existent when the team needed them most. They had been so great during the regular season, dominating everyone and anyone, but they seemed to lack any pushback when they faced adversity. Game three against the Panthers was the redux of the Montreal series for 34 and 16. They were the Leafs’ two worst players tonight and did not seem engaged.

This play was illustrative of Marner’s performance tonight and how he’s played for most of the playoffs. Everything was casual tonight for Mitch. Zero urgency. It was a hit-and-giggle with his buddies.

To demonstrate how bad 34 and 16 were, let’s look at a few stats: Matthews and Marner played over 15 minutes of ice time together at 5 on 5. The scoring chances when they were out there were 16-3 in favour of the Panthers. 16-3!!!! Marner was the Leafs’ worst player when looking at expected goals. The Panthers had 75.2% of the xG when he was out there. Matthews did not register his first shot on goal until halfway through the third period. These two guys make $11.6 and $10.9 million a year, respectively, and they are getting dominated in a must-win game by Carter Verhaeghe. I got the sense from both players that they were terrified to make a mistake. There was a sequence late in the game where Matthews had the puck in the neutral zone with his linemates supporting and, despite not being contested, decided just to dump the puck in the corner.

It was lifeless and uncharacteristic, but it spoke volumes about where he and this team are. They were ready to accept whatever was coming to them and didn’t have much interest in impacting the game’s result.

Going back to the Montreal series, I think that may have been a pretty good indicator that this team isn’t going to work out with those two guys making that much money and being the best players on your team. I hate saying this because it goes against everything I have believed since they were drafted, but we’re at a point where the lack of accountability is infuriating. Nothing was done after blowing a 3-1 lead to the team’s biggest rival despite finishing almost 40 points ahead of them in the regular season. It was just business as usual the very next season, and nothing has changed since then. At the first sign of adversity, they crumble. It is hard not to look across the country at what the Edmonton Oilers’ two best players are doing and wonder why Matthews and Marner cannot even come close to that level in the playoffs.

The blame for tonight’s game starts with Matthews and Marner, but it doesn’t end there. I’m not sure if Sheldon Keefe was even on the bench tonight. I think they had a few of the players’ parents open the doors and just rolled the lines shift after shift. Keefe’s trump card tonight was putting together Tavares, Matthews and Marner when he got the chance. That line was on for 2:16. They allowed five high-danger chances and created zero. 5-0 IN TWO MINUTES AND 16 SECONDS. THE LINE HAS A COMBINED CAP HIT OF $33 MILLION. By the way, the Nylander-Kampf-Lafferty line played 3:13 together and out-chanced the opponent four to zero during that time. Would’ve liked to see Nylander and Matthews get a few shifts together. Keefe had other ideas.

The Leafs also completely abandoned everything that made them a successful team during the regular season, especially by the end of the game. The defensemen rarely even looked to make a breakout pass, often just floating it down the ice for icing instead. And the forwards continuously dumped the puck in the Panthers’ end instead of gaining entry to the zone. The Florida Panthers employ Marc Staal. He literally cannot skate backwards. Why are you dumping the puck in?

The fact that Mark Giordano is still being thrown out on the ice is a crime against the elderly. I love and respect what Gio has done for this team, but he is clearly too old or playing injured. T.J. Brodie and Jake McCabe had their worst game of the season tonight. Timely. Lastly, the overtime goal by Reinhart is enough reason on its own to blow this team up.

Reinhart is by himself, surrounded by Leafs. Everyone skates by him, giving him time and space. He then walks through two stick checks, and Brodie allows him to receive the puck without pressure and come right in front of the net.

If there is anyone you think I’m missing that also deserves criticism, just let me know. I’ll be sure to add it in when the Leafs lose game four.

This was an astute point made on Twitter as I was thinking about the lack of energy the Leafs had tonight. Matthew Knies wasn’t perfect, but he wasn’t scared. He held himself accountable and didn’t take a single shift off. He missed an assignment in game one, and a puck went in the Leafs’ net because of it. However, the next shift, Knies drove the net, stayed hard on the puck, and got rewarded with a goal. It is pathetic that Toronto needs a rookie who has played ten NHL games to give them a spark, but it speaks volumes about how this team operates.

I find it hilarious that the Leafs didn’t manage to draw a penalty tonight. I wonder why that was. *Checks who was reffing tonight* Oh, I get it now. Toronto had drawn a penalty in every single game this season, including playoffs, until tonight. To be honest, I am not even mad because the Leafs didn’t deserve any help tonight, and they 100% would have given up a shorthanded goal if they even got a power play.

There were a few positives tonight, which I can talk about if I must. Joseph Woll was phenomenal when he came into the game after Ilya Samsonov got hurt. Oh ya also, Ilya Samsonov got hurt because Luke Schenn thought he was Chris Krieder for a second and did a torpedo dive into Samsonov’s shoulder. But anyway, Woll was put in a difficult spot and handled it well. The Florida goals were a breakaway, a deflection off someone’s ass, and then the OT goal, which was a great play by Reinhart. Woll made some enormous saves to keep the game tied. Here is a compilation of some of them.

Also, again, William Nylander was the Leafs’ best player tonight. The team had 76% xGF when he was out there, and Nylander was on the ice for twelve Leafs shots, the most of any player. Lastly, Erik Gustafson played well and should play in game four. He should have also played games one and two, but I digress.

Kind of getting to the point where this feels like the natural conclusion of this era of the Leafs. Which sucks, especially after everything I said post-series win against Tampa. They definitely got some luck in that series, but overall the series was pretty even (xG was 51%-49% Tampa over 6 games). In this series, Toronto didn’t get any luck in the first two games and then decided that it just wasn’t meant to be, so what’s the point of even showing up for the rest of the series. The biggest shame is that everything lined up for them to actually do the thing this year. They were the betting favourites to win the Stanley Cup heading into round 2, and they avoided having to play Boston. It’s all good, though. Winning the cup doesn’t even seem that fun anyway.

Exerting any more energy on this team just feels like a waste. They could come back, of course. The series is not over. They are a talented enough team to do so. I am not ruling it out entirely because I need to have something to fall back on. But the more likely outcome is that they win three straight and lose in game seven at home.

This recap was a certified mess, and I apologize for that. I’m in mourning. See you Wednesday. Go, Leafs Go, I guess.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s