When the Maple Leafs had stretches this season where they weren’t scoring at even-strength, they could always count on their power play.
Despite a short blip in production earlier in the month after forward Wayne Simmonds broke his wrist, Toronto’s power play helped save the day. It failed them on Monday as they went 0-for-7 with the man advantage, including missing on a 5-on-3 opportunity for 1:36 in a 3-0 loss to the Calgary Flames at Scotiabank Arena.
“I think this was clear that the other team had a little more urgency, for sure, Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “I thought our team played like one that was expecting things and not go our way today instead of making it go our way.”
The Flames lost to the Edmonton Oilers 7-1 on Saturday night. Looking to rebound from that performance, David Rittich, starting in goal in place of an injured Jakob Markstrom, made 34 saves to pick up the shutout.
The Leafs had injury issues of their own.
On a night where they were without defenseman Jake Muzzin (face), forwards Zach Hyman (undisclosed) and Joe Thornton (undisclosed), and goaltender Frederik Andersen, the Leafs didn’t look anything like the team that defeated the Montreal Canadiens 5-3 by scoring three power play goals.
With a shortage of wingers, Keefe experimented with moving John Tavares from the second-line center spot and placed him on the left wing of the first line with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner.
Despite an excellent scoring opportunity for Tavares in the first period where Rittich robbed him of an open net rebound attempt, the line fell flat and Tavares found himself back in his regular spot to start the third period.
“That was on us; John played well,” Matthews said of Tavares. “We really didn’t support him in those first two periods.”
Tavares also was on the wrong end of Calgary’s first goal of the game. He got his stick on a shot from Rasmus Andersson that slightly changed the puck’s trajectory toward Leafs goaltender Michael Hutchinson. The puck squeaked through and Sam Bennett was able to pick up the loose puck on the goal line to open the scoring at 3:55.
In the second period, Matthew Tkachuk deflected a point shot from Mark Giordano past Hutchinson for a power-play goal at 9:28.
Trailing 2-0, Toronto had a 5-on-3 power play for 1:36 after minor penalties handed to Johnny Gaudreau and Elias Lindholm.
Toronto loaded up on their big four of Matthews, Tavares, Mitch Marner and William Nylander, and managed just two shots on goal with the opportunity and were forced out of Calgary’s zone on three occasions.
“What won us the game was that 5-on-3 kill,” Tkachuk said. “It was just such a huge momentum shift for us.”
The Leafs came out with more energy to start the third period. Alexander Barabanov, playing his first game in two weeks, hit the crossbar at 1:14.
The Flames put the game away with Sean Monahan scored on the power play at 16:47.
It was the first time the Leafs were shut out this season. It was also the first time they trailed by two-or-more goals in a game since Jan. 30.
“This is our 20th game in the season,” Keefe said. “I think we have shown that this is not us.”
With Muzzin out, Travis Dermott moved into the second defense pair with Holl and didn’t look out of place. Despite falling into a tie with Tavares logging a team-worst 42 percent Corsi at 5-on-5, Dermott kept things in check and Toronto’s undoing was their poor special-teams performance.
“I thought he was fine but I’ll have to watch the video back,” Keefe said of Dermott. I think (nothing) jumped out as any issues. It was fine game for him.”
Toronto’s depth has taken a hit. Andersen is day-to-day but the team is not sure how long they will be without their starter. Backup goaltender Jack Campell is practicing with the team after missing the last month with a leg injury. He may be able to return within a week, according to Keefe.
In the meantime, the Leafs have a deficit in all three positions for the first time this season.
Time will tell if the team’s roster depth can weather the storm.