Breaking News

Power-play disaster undoes Maple Leafs while O’Reilly concern looms

VANCOUVER — For all the hype and hysteria surrounding the Toronto Maple Leafs over a fortnight of trade-related reasons to believe, Saturday was a cold reminder of who will truly allow this team to sink or soar.

The Core Five.

Facing a dialled-in Thatcher Demko and an inspired and physical Vancouver Canucks squad, the Maple Leafs had tied an intense matinee contest 1-1 on the strength of a pretty third-period power-play strike.

So, when Phillip Di Giuseppe high-sticked Morgan Rielly and handed the visitors another man-advantage shortly thereafter, it was time for Toronto’s $48-million power-play to earn its dough and put away its lottery-bound opponent.

Well, in a single 5-on-4 shift, against the league’s worst penalty kill, the Maple Leafs’ stars gave up two shorthanded goals and two points to Vancouver.

Credit the Canucks’ killers — Elias Pettersson, J.T. Miller, Quinn Hughes, and Tyler Myers.

And blame the Maple Leafs’ offence creators for failing to execute in a turning-point sequence that led to a 4-1 loss.

John Tavares: “That’s on us.”

Morgan Rielly: “At that point in the game, getting a power play, can’t let that happen…. That’s on the individuals that are out there, myself, and our unit.”

Auston Matthews: “We weren’t on the same page. Couple bad decisions…. That one power-play that they scored two goals, we dug ourselves in a hole, and it was tough to climb out of it.”

Coach Sheldon Keefe: “We had a chance to really take over the game, and we failed on that. In that case, their best players were better than ours.”

On a day in which Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper benched superstars Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point due to poor performance, Keefe was asked if he considered tapping his second power-play unit after the big boys had surrendered what would stand as the game-winning shorty.

He bristled at the idea.

“We’re (18) seconds into a power-play in a one-goal hockey game, and we had a power-play that just tied the game for us,” Keefe replied. “So, I wasn’t tempted at all.”

Makes sense.

But it also is a reminder that, when verdict on the 2022-23 Leafs comes in, their fate rests in the hands of the five untouchables who carry the most weight and cash the largest cheques.

Adding to the insult of losing their sixth consecutive game at Rogers Arena while starting six different goalies, the Maple Leafs got struck by injury.

Matthews missed shifts mid-game when he blocked a slapshot that caught him in a “weird spot” on his left leg. He did return to the game, but his skating stride was hampered.

“Just trying to grind my way through it. Didn’t feel too great, but felt fine to play,” Matthews said, following his post-game treatment. “Still stings, but I was able to get it to calm down.”

Ryan O’Reilly, too, blocked a painful puck with his left hand toward the end of the second period. His injury was serious enough that he did not return:

An update on the centre’s timeline for return is expected Monday in Newark, where the Leafs practice next.

With injuries mounting up front and Toronto deploying an 11/7 lineup, Keefe said he was considering using one of the extra defencemen as a forward at one point.

Yes, this is a team still trying to locate its rhythm after some significant roster turnover.

To get outscored 10-4 by Western Canada — and 6-2 in special teams — shows there is another level of synchronicity that must be reached.

“Just still trying to find our way. Sometimes that takes time, especially when you have so many new guys,” Matthews said. “We have to dial it in a bit here, get our game back, and find that consistency.”

Added Rielly: “We can’t be a team that’s great one night and then not good the next.”

Fox’s Fast 5

• Making his first start in 46 days, Matt Murray made a few 10-bell stops, stoning Phillip Di Giuseppe on a breakaway and Christian Wolanin playing tic-tac-toe with Conor Garland on a 2-on-0.

“Just trying to get a read. He put a pretty hard shot-fake. Kinda froze me a bit, so I wasn’t able to get anything more over than my toe,” Murray said of his highlight. “So, kinda fortunate.”

“Matt’s numbers aren’t going to look good coming out of this one,” Keefe said. “But I thought he was excellent.”

• Luke Schenn saluted a decidedly pro-Schenn crowd while receiving a standing ovation and a warm thank-you tribute during the first TV break.

“He has a presence on the ice, but he has a presence off the ice,” Alexander Kerfoot says of his new teammate. “When he steps in the room, you know he’s there.”

• John Tavares got trucked clean and hard by Tyler Myers early in the contest, and new Leaf Jake McCabe immediately dropped the gloves.

That Tavares’s head hit the back of Andrei Kuzmenko’s leg following the check may have saved it from slamming into the ice.

“I’m good,” Tavares said. “I went and thanked (McCabe) after. Anytime someone comes in and steps up for you, obviously means a lot — especially a new guy that’s just getting acclimated. Not an easy thing to do. So, much appreciated.”

• At Friday’s practice in Vancouver, Kyle Dubas presented Mark Giordano not with a golden shin pad but with a silver shield the size of his chest to honour his setting of the NHL shot block record:

• Ex-Leaf Rasmus Sandin posted three assists and skated 21:40 in his Washington Capitals debut, an 8-3 rout of the San Jose Sharks. First Capitals defenceman in history to have a three-point debut.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *