Maple Leafs vs. Bruins observations: A battle back to lose in the shootout

At least they got a point, right?

The Maple Leafs were down 2-0 to the Boston Bruins and managed to tie the game in a span of 65 seconds thanks to Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews. Although it went the distance, there were several moments where the game could’ve ended in either team’s favour. David Pastrnak was way overdue for a goal after all the chances and posts he hit. William Nylander and Matthews tried to end it themselves, too, finishing the night with a combined 12 shots. And then there was the Bruins power play in overtime that the Leafs managed to kill off. Unfortunately, the Bruins scored on their first two shootout attempts while the Leafs, well, didn’t, losing 3-2.

On to the observations.

Three Stars

1. Ilya Samsonov

Ignoring the way the game ended, Samsonov will have a lot to like about his performance as it was his best of the season by far. He finished with a save percentage greater than .900 for the second time, stopping 38 of 40 shots. Some of his better shots were off the Bruins’ top players, and he finally gave the Leafs the goaltending they needed to stay in a game.

2. Auston Matthews 

Game-tying goal and an assist with five shots on goal and four blocks, two of which were goalie-worthy.

3. William Nylander

History continues as his breakout pass to Matthews on Marner’s goal extended his season-opening point streak to 10 games. He also led the team with seven shots on goal and 11 overall attempts.

Down a defenceman one again

For the second time this season, Timothy Liljegren was forced to leave a game early. A 50-50 battle with Brad Marchand had a painful-looking result as Liljegren went left skate first into the boards. Liljegren does initiate contact with Marchand in the corner, as many defencemen would to get body positioning, and the Boston captain’s stick between his skates didn’t help the situation. 

That said, no call. 

Quick Shoutouts

  • Morgan Rielly stepped with another defender out, playing 29:57.
  • I thought this was a good building game for William Lagesson.
  • Calle Järnkrok is getting more looks on the top line. His quick squeeze through two Bruins defenders would’ve been something else.

It’s all about timing

Samsonov entered today’s game with a .841 save percentage. He wasn’t giving the Leafs enough saves at all, but his Achilles’ heel this season has been the timely saves. Samsonov’s stop on Pavel Zacha in the second period was a timely save. His glove save on Pastrnak in the final minutes of the third and Marchand in overtime were also timely saves.

Again, it’s unfortunate that couldn’t continue to the shootout, but this was the performance Samsonov needed to boost the confidence that he himself has described as not being the best at the moment. 

Black hole in the faceoff dot

John Tavares was the only Leafs centre to have success at faceoffs winning 12 of 21. David Kämpf was bad at 37.5 percent (4 of 11) while Matthews and Pontus Holmberg were even worse, not winning a single draw (0-for-10 and 0-for-4, respectively).

Knies and Gregor get a raise

It was only a matter of time before Matthew Knies found himself in the top six (hopefully it sticks this time). He’s too good to play in the bottom six and he also doesn’t have the supporting cast there to complement his skill set. 

He connected with Max Domi in that one game, but there’s been nothing since then. It’s also frustrating to see Knies win a lot of these battles and move the puck to his linemates for nothing to be done with it. He needs to play with players like Nylander and Tavares who have a better chance at converting on scoring chances. 

Noah Gregor’s promotion to the third line is likely temporary. Either that or the Leafs will have to accept having a $5 million winger on the fourth line. That said, Gregor deserved it. He had at least three scoring chances all created with his speed. 


The five-on-five play can’t get much praise when there are also costly outright defensive breakdowns. John Klingberg had two big ones, the first of which led to a goal against. He’s in the right spot but isn’t doing much to deny or discourage a pass to Zacha. In fact, Zacha scores around Klingberg and beats Samsonov. 

Something similar happened to start the second. Klingberg heads toward Jan van Riemsdyk and it looks as if he is expecting a pass to come out and tries to block it with his skates and briefly has his stick in the lane. He then moves his stick to the other side of his body opening the lane for Morgan Geekie to receive the pass and get the shot. 

Klingberg isn’t the only one making these errors, the power play gave up one too many short-handed chances and Marner could’ve done a lot more to catch up with Jake DeBrusk ahead of Boston’s second goal, but his have stood out a lot more and have been happening way too often. 

On a positive note, Klingberg was the only one who tried to make Marchand’s night uncomfortable. 

Game Score

Final Grade: B-

Regardless of their offseason losses, the Bruins are still a top team in this league. The Leafs were also going against a goaltender in Jeremy Swayman who hasn’t given up more than two goals in every single one of his appearances. This was going to be a difficult game regardless of who they had on their blue line.

Boston was doing a much better job controlling the house and preventing the Leafs from getting any high-danger chances in front of Swayman in the opening half of the game. After Marner and Matthews tied it up, the switch to throwing anything and everything at Swayman didn’t work much, but they were at least able to get more offensive zone time. We still haven’t seen the team go line for line in the offensive zone. In fact, they had to go full survival mode in those dying minutes of the third, and it winds up being the same cast of players who are in this situation.

I do hope some of the line blending Sheldon Keefe did sticks.

What’s next for the Leafs?

The Leafs are staying in blue for the next five games and they welcome the Buffalo Sabres at home on Saturday night. 

(Photo of Charlie Coyle, Auston Matthews and Ilya Samsonov: Steve Babineau / NHLI via Getty Images)

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