Maple Leafs vs. Senators observations: An inconsistent effort ends with an ugly incident

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Maple Leafs vs. Senators observations: An inconsistent effort ends with an ugly incident

Early on Saturday night the Toronto Maple Leafs seemed to have a 2-0 lead on their hands and looked to be on the way to a comfortable win.

Their second goal was wiped off the board due to an offside call, and the team spent most of a 5-3 loss to the Ottawa Senators chasing the game against their intra-provincial rival — who locked in a season-series win with the victory.

Martin Jones played his first game in net since January 20 and William Lagesson saw the ice for the first time since December 27, but neither made a positive impact. While the Maple Leafs’ top line was sharp, and it got slump-busting goals from Matthew Knies and Max Domi, the team didn’t put too much on tape that coach Sheldon Keefe will be happy with.

The frustrating outing for Toronto ended on an ugly note when Ridly Greig blasting a slap shot into the empty net led to an uncharacteristically brutal response from Morgan Rielly.


Three stars

1. Auston Matthews

Matthews opened the scoring less than four minutes into the game, burying a nifty feed from Mitch Marner for his 42nd of the year.

He also assisted on the Maple Leafs’ second goal of the game, and his line consistently tilted the ice in Toronto’s favour. In his 17:34 at five-on-five, the Maple Leafs outshot the Senators 12-6 and earned 64.10 percent of the expected goals.

Matthews’ contributions went beyond the score sheet as he had an excellent night in the faceoff dot (63.2 percent), put six shots on net, and played nearly half of the Maple Leafs’ penalty-killing minutes. In his last nine games, he has nine goals and six assists, putting his current goal pace at 69.43.

2. Matthew Knies

Knies came into the game goal-less in his last 17, with his most recent score coming against the Senators on December 27. During that slump, the rookie managed just four assists and 14 shots on goal.

While the 21-year-old’s primary responsibility on the first line is to forecheck, retrieve pucks, and make things happen in front of the net, his lack of tangible production recently has still been a disappointment.

On Saturday he worked hard in the offensive end and was rewarded for his efforts. His labour behind the net helped put Marner in position to set up the first goal, and he scored the second himself with a tip that showcased his hand-eye coordination.

3. Mitch Marner

You could make a case for Max Domi here, but Marner gave his team 19:32 of quality ice time, managed two primary assists, and played a significant role on Toronto’s two successful penalty kills.

Toronto had 64.71  percent of the shots and 66.67 percent of the expected goals during his five-on-five minutes as the top line set up shop in the Senators’ end all night long.

He finds himself at the bottom of the podium due to his effort on Ottawa’s fourth goal as his failure to sufficiently harass Josh Norris allowed the centre to beat Martin Jones and give the Senators control of the game.


The Marner-to-Matthews is stronger than ever

If you’ve watched enough Maple Leafs hockey you aren’t going to be surprised by any goal that starts with a top-notch pass from Marner and ends with Matthews powering the puck into the net.

The former is one of the best playmakers on the planet, the latter is the NHL’s best goal scorer, and they log plenty of time together. They are expected to leverage their complementary talents to light the lamp with regularity.

Perhaps that’s why Marner’s improved success finding Matthews this season has flown under the radar, but when the crafty winger set up his centre early in the first it marked his 18th primary assist on a goal from the Rocket Richard favourite in 2023-24. To give that a little context, it’s a total that tied his first assists to Matthews in 2021-22 and 2022-23 combined — a two-season span that saw Matthews score 100 goals.

Marner didn’t play as much with Matthews on a per-game basis in the prior two seasons, but when you look at the total time on ice against and the production, the result is an impressive uptick.

SeasonTOI w/MatthewsPrimary AssistsSecondary AssistsTotal Assists

2023-24

756:37

18

5

23

2022-23

839:25

6

12

18

2021-22

1006:06

12

12

24

Max Domi has a rare goal taken away, and gets it back

Domi’s inability to find the back of the net this season has been much discussed as the 28-year-old entered Saturday’s action with with just four goals in 49 games. That’s a meagre total for an offence-first player coming off a 20-goal campaign, even one whose calling card is his playmaking.

Just under eight minutes into the game, the 28-year-old seemed to get the kind of break that has eluded him for most of 2023-24 by putting one in off his skate.

Domi’s reaction demonstrated that he was worried about the goal getting called back due to a possible kicking motion. As it turned out, Noah Gregor being slightly offside is what kept the goal off the board.

Toronto’s third-line centre got his goal early in the third period by finding a soft spot in the slot and firing a wrister past Joonas Korpisalo.

Five goals in 50 games is still not the type of stat line Domi was hoping for when he joined the Maple Leafs, but getting on the board was a significant positive for a guy who had just one point in his previous nine games.

Secondary scoring shows up

Depth scoring has been a massive concern for the Maple Leafs in recent weeks as they’ve had a difficult time getting offence from forwards outside of Marner, Matthews, William Nylander and John Tavares.

Saturday was the first time Toronto got multiple goals from forwards outside the Core Four since their 7-1 win over the San Jose Sharks on January 9. In the 11 contests between that rout and Saturday’s battle with the Senators, the Maple Leafs received 22 goals from their top four guys and just five from all their other forwards.

It remains to be seen whether this game will help get Knies and Domi on track, but Toronto desperately needs players like that pair — and Tyler Bertuzzi — to give them a little more production.


Game Score


Final grade: C-

The Maple Leafs’ effort on Saturday wasn’t inexcusable. They had the territorial edge on the Senators at five-on-five, and a red-hot power-play that had converted on 40 percent of its opportunities in its last five games never got a chance to shine. It’s the type of performance that sometimes grants you a victory — particularly against middling competition.

Even so, Toronto was unable to press an early advantage — and a regulation loss against a team that entered play with a .447 points percentage is a rough outcome for this group.

The team looked creative and dangerous at times, but another inconsistent effort led to an ugly result.


What’s next for the Leafs?

They return home to face the St. Louis Blues at 7 p.m. Tuesday on TSN.

(Photo: Chris Tanouye / Freestyle Photography / Getty Images)