The Toronto Maple Leafs have been getting their groove back lately, and they’re desperately trying to finish as close to the top of the white-hot Atlantic standings as they can with an early spring push.
The Avalanche knew they had their work cut out for them coming into the game, hoping to crawl away with at least a single point to salvage their place in the standings and keep themselves from falling completely off the wagon.
Instead, they got curb-stomped by a team they outshot 36-28, dropping a 5-2 final decision and moving to a 1-6-3 record in their last 10 games and failing to pull out two points an eighth straight game.
The team’s penalty kill needs addressing. We knew it was bad going into the game, it was even said before the game by Editor Tom, and they played exactly as expected, going 3/6 against a squad who couldn’t buy a power play even if their life depended on it over the past three months.
The Avalanche are the most penalized team in the league and have the 5th worst PK%. If there is ever a time for the Leafs PP to break out it's tonight.— Tom Hunter (@PuckDontLie) February 12, 2019
Putting that aside, though, something clearly continued to not click in net. With four goals on 17 shots, it was a sub-.800 save percentage night for Varlamov — and although he’s put up decent statistics in his last three games (including an excellent performance before losing in OT against Boston in the team’s last game), it was a much-needed win for Colorado on Tuesday night.
With their loss and a win for Arizona, the Avalanche moved down one spot in the Western Conference standings. They’re neck-in-neck with the AHL lineup Arizona is icing and the Corey Crawford-less, Joel Quenneville-less Blackhawks, and both of those teams have been on recent tears; it’s more a concern that the Avalanche are with them than anything.
The team’s poor luck seems to be impacting the players, too, which isn’t going to help matters much. With just one goal and one assist in his last seven games, Mikko Rantanen is losing his grip on the all-star level he was playing at earlier in the year — and with zero shots on goal in what was largely a must-win game on Tuesday, that had to have turned some heads.
The entire game wasn’t bad news, though. Between the solid even-strength play and the impressive offensive contributions of Carl Soderberg (who put seven shots on goal alone), Alexander Kerfoot (who kicked in with a goal and an assist) and Samuel Girard (two assists on the only two goals the team scored), there are still some signs of life.
The Maple Leafs are playing with fire with the way they’ve been allowing shots through to their very tired and largely overworking goaltender, and their game on Tuesday night was no different. They allowed a whopping 36 shots against Frederik Andersen and let Colorado largely control play at even strength, really taking control only when they went on the man advantage to give themselves the push to win the game.
Ultimately, though, it worked. They scored four on 17 shots against the floundering Semyon Varlamov, who has five straight loss contributions under his belt dating back to January 21st against Nashville. Three of those goals all came on the power-play in a 1:49 span, and it was a two-goal night for both Kasperi Kapanen and Nazem Kadri when all was said and done.
The Leafs still have noticeable flaws, even with the addition of Jake Muzzin on defense, but they’re a good example of what the Avalanche need to strive for in terms of offensive depth. It was a three-point night for Auston Matthews and a two-pointer for John Tavares, to be sure, but they also had contributions from Mitch Marner, William Nylander, the pair of goals apiece from Kapanen and Kadri, and they even had yet another point for 24-year-old left winger Andreas Johnsson. The team has been scoring on almost every line, and it’s showing in the standings.
Next game is on the road against the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday. Start time is 6:00pm MT on the usual channels. Oh, the Jets are first in the Central now? Lovely, just lovely.