Leafs vs. Senators: Toronto can't weather the storm in blowout loss

The Toronto Maple Leafs fell to the Ottawa Senators on the day Auston Matthews was ruled out for three weeks.

TORONTO — Empathy is in short supply for a Toronto Maple Leafs team that has crashed out of the first round six consecutive times, but in truth, this year’s team has been the picture of resiliency. Toronto has weathered injury after injury, leading the NHL in man-games lost prior to Friday’s contest against the Ottawa Senators, but this game was slightly different than the 49 prior to the latest Battle of Ontario.

Auston Matthews didn’t take the morning skate and reporters quickly learned why, as the Hart Trophy winner was ruled out for three weeks with a knee sprain. And with Matt Murray widely presumed to be the starter, Ilya Samsonov unexpectedly was back between the pipes. William Nylander appeared to tag Murray during the warmups with a shot to the shoulder, but Nylander told reporters post-game Murray said he was alright. Sheldon Keefe confirmed that Murray was dealing with an ailment that flared up, but didn’t get into specifics, only informing reporters that it wasn’t the adductor injury that previously bothered him this season.

Toronto couldn’t weather the storm again. After largely controlling the first period, the Maple Leafs failed to show the resolve that has perhaps defined this year’s group, and the Senators chipped, tumbled and rolled away to a 6-2 victory.

Here’s what you need to know from Maple Leafs-Senators:

Senators captain Brady Tkachuk (7) was too much for the Maple Leafs to handle. (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Three stars:

1. Brady Tkachuk, Senators

Tkachuk led the charge for the Senators on Friday night. He was the best player on the ice, notching two goals, four shots, three hits and completely got under the Maple Leafs’ skin. Ottawa’s captain scored his first goal 23 seconds into the second frame, then provided his team with an insurance marker just under four minutes into the final stanza — it rocketed out of the net so quickly that play had to be stopped.

For the opening half hour, this was anyone’s game — Toronto dominated the advanced stats charts in the first period — but Tkachuk went around and through the Maple Leafs. Ottawa probably didn’t deserve a four-goal win, but Tkachuk got the best of Toronto’s star-studded top-six on Friday evening.

2. Claude Giroux, Senators

Giroux led all Senators with six shots and scored a highlight-reel goal to punctuate the victory for the Senators — more on that below. He finished the game with a sparkling 83.5 percent share of the expected goals when on the ice at 5-on-5, per Natural Stat Trick, and he received the primary assist on Derick Brassard’s goal –– which is overlooked because Timothy Liljegren accidentally banked Brassard’s shot into his own net. Giroux has been exactly the player the Senators paid for this offseason and this was one of his better games of the year. He played a fantastic defensive game and the Maple Leafs couldn’t contain his relentless energy. It was a stellar performance for the 35-year-old.

3. John Tavares, Maple Leafs

This space could’ve gone to Mitch Marner or Ottawa’s Tim Stutzle, but if there was one player who constantly showed up for the Maple Leafs, it was Tavares. Tavares was constantly generating chances, made a point of throwing his body around to box out in front of the net, recorded six shots, a game-high five hits and produced just under one individual expected goal in all situations. Tavares had the primary assist on William Nylander’s goal, taking a feed from Marner and whacking away at it before the puck fell directly to his linemate for the tap-in. It’s tough to find too many positives from a rough night for the Maple Leafs, but their captain wasn’t the reason why they lost.

Off night: Pontus Holmberg and Rasmus Sandin, Maple Leafs

Holmberg was given a golden opportunity to impress in Matthews’ absence and, at least for one night, he fumbled it. The 23-year-old was meant to be a bit player for the Maple Leafs and had exceeded expectations to this point. Holmberg was placed alongside Calle Jarnkrok and Nylander initially, yet he took a careless double minor for high-sticking that was killed off, then took another penalty that led to the man advantage when the Senators scored the go-ahead goal.

He was given a chance to excel in extended minutes and uncharacteristically became a liability for the Maple Leafs. We’ll have to see if Keefe trusts him against tougher competition again.

“Six minutes of penalties is too much,” Keefe said tersely post-game.

Sandin played his worst game of the season. During the second period, he took a bad angle to the puck, then got caught puck-watching as Drake Batherson walked in unimpeded to give the Senators a 4-2 lead. He took a careless tripping penalty in the third period, then got walked by Giroux minutes later on Ottawa’s sixth goal. He uncharacteristically flailed around the ice, he was on for three goals and wasn’t effective at suppressing chances. Sandin is emerging into one of the Maple Leafs’ most solid defenders but he’ll want to burn this tape.

Play of the game:

Giroux punctuated a thorough victory with an absolutely nasty goal where he walked Sandin — does it count as a walk if Sandin was sliding to begin with? Semantics aside, Giroux scored a highlight-reel goal, making it look way too easy, ripping a picture-perfect toe drag around Sandin and past Samsonov for his 17th goal of the season to completely flush out any chance of a Maple Leafs comeback.

Misplay of the game:

It was a cruel fate for Liljegren, who was in good position, but after Holmberg took an ill-advised tripping penalty in the second period with the game tied at 2-2, Brassard tipped the puck towards the net. Liljegren’s attempt to swat it out of harm’s way backfired right into the net. Ottawa took a 3-2 lead and didn’t look back.

Stat of the night:

This isn’t necessarily a real problem, but there’s enough evidence to suggest the Maple Leafs show a tendency to play down to their opponent’s quality. Toronto controlled play during the first period then completely took its collective foot off the gas.


Quote of the day:

Keefe on Murray’s injury that thrust Samsonov into an unexpected starting gig: “He’s been dealing with something that flared up on him tonight and he wasn’t available to play.”

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