This spell of losing has been annoying in a lot of ways, but I don’t think there have been too many games more frustrating than this one. Between misplays, lacks of effort, and a questionable decision from the bench in the third period, Saturday night’s 6-4 defeat to the St. Louis Blues is one of those that you never want to speak of again, until someone gives you the opportunity to vent about it.

Highlights

Spreads

5v5 Possession: % of shots taken towards the net (Corsi, CF%) taken while the player is on the ice.

Game Score: A single-game performance metric created by Dom Luszczyszyn. Read about the methodology behind it here.

Mitts Martin

Firstly, credit where credit is due: Matt Martin had an excellent game. He finished with a career-high three assists, two of which were really solid, long range, east-west passes to Andreas Borgman and Tyler Bozak. He also added three hits and a blocked shot as to not stray away from his game, didn’t give up any penalties, and did this all in fewer than nine minutes of ice time.

This is the frustrating thing about the “should he play every night?” debate. It often gets boiled down to “heart and soul” vs “complete trash”, when it should be whether he’s the eighth or ninth best winger on a good hockey team. He’s an NHL talent who can have legitimately good NHL games, especially when you upgrade his linemates from Ben Smith and Nikita Soshnikov to Tyler Bozak and Mitch Marner.

I still don’t think he’s a night by night lock, but if the team is going to make him a part of a legitimate line, that’s better than creating the ten-minute black hole situation they had last year.

Depth Perception

Perhaps the most frustrating goal of the night was Alex Pietrangelo’s first, which brought the score to 3-1 midway through the second period. After all, it’s pretty embarrassing to watch a team’s defenceman streak through open space and dangle out your goaltender, which is exactly what happened here.

The easy thing to do is to blame the defensive pairing, and many will point out that both Nikita Zaitsev and Jake Gardiner were on the right side of the ice, giving Pietrangelo all the room in the world. But is that a fair assessment?

The first time Pietrangelo gets the puck, Gardiner tracks Brayden Schenn across the ice to ensure that he can’t get fed a high-danger pass. Once he’s on that opposite side, though, he really has no opportunity to get back. Joel Edmundson and Jaden Schwartz are bouncing the puck between each other in the corner, and when Pietrangelo gets it again to rush up, Gardiner is the only one covering Schwartz, while Zaitsev tries to block off a passing lane for Edmundson. Patrick Marleau has Vladimir Tarasenko, and Mitch Marner is erratically skating around until the approach, at which point he glides in a way that should cover up Brayden Schenn.

This leaves Pietrangelo and James van Riemsdyk. JVR spends most of the time in between the hashmarks, often also on the right side, and when Marner is unable to catch the point pass to Schenn, that leaves St. Louis with two wide open skaters with all sorts of room. Van Riemsdyk is completely out of position by the time Pietrangelo starts to get close, doesn’t really do much more to get out of that spot afterward, and once Andersen bites, all hope is lost.

No Challenge Pt. I

St. Louis’ sixth goal was a controversial one, to say the least. Well, depending on who you talk to, because apparently, the coaching staff didn’t feel quite the same way. Brayden Schenn finds a few ways to physically rattle Frederik Andersen here, including a shot to the face with his stick, all before the St. Louis shot is taken. Were they intentional? I doubt it; all efforts seemed to be follow-throughs of shots. But intent doesn’t matter.

The Leafs chose not to challenge the play, and the goal was given without a hitch. Some suggested that maybe it was an issue involving a used timeout, but there was no visible stoppage for one at any point prior.

Thankfully, we had post-game scrums for the reporters to get the answers everyone was seeking, right?

No Challenge Pt. II

If you go by the video that the Leafs posted, not a single reporter asked the question. It cuts off before the group breaks up, but none of the articles from last night or this morning have quotes from the Head Coach that reference the decision.

It’s one of those absurd, surreal moments that make you wonder what the point is of having reporters that travel with the team, if they aren’t going to ask questions that actually challenge the subjects when they need to be challenged, rather than straight up word-count filler.

So now left with an unconfirmed assumption that the Leafs had the capability to challenge but didn’t. If that were the case, the coaching staff deserves at on of heat for that. That’s a challenge that you have to make every single time it happens, whether you’re unsure if it’s legit, whether or not you’ve given up on the game, and whether or not you care about goal differential at the 82 game mark. Even if absolutely none of that matters, you still want to show respect to your goaltender by looking out for him.

The Rally

The coaches also got very, very lucky that this game didn’t get much closer. Toronto scored a pair of goals in the six minutes that followed, which brought the game within two and would’ve brought it within one if the goal had been overruled.

One can argue that they in no way deserved to win this game, and you’d be absolutely correct, but it would’ve been something else if the Leafs dropped a chance at points because of a moment of apathy along the way.

Coming Up Next

The silver lining, if you can find one, is that this long, winding road trip is finally over, and the Leafs can reset themselves on home ice. They’ll play their next game tomorrow night at the Air Canada Centre when they host the Vegas Golden Knights for the first time in their history.

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