Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs’ 4-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks Friday at Air Canada Centre:
James Reimer deserved better.
The Leafs goalie was making his second consecutive start and held Toronto in the game for the first period-and-a-half before Patrick Kane scored two goals in slightly more than four minutes to stake the visiting Hawks to a 2-0 lead. And neither of those goals were ones Reimer could be faulted for. Simply put, the defense corps in front of him was no match for Chicago’s stellar group of playmakers, two of the visitors’ goals came with the man advantage, and the Buds had a very difficult time penetrating the Blackhawks’ blueline to try and generate offense. Reimer stopped 25 of 28 shots on the night, and in a world that rewarded individual effort, he would’ve had a better fate.
Undisciplined play is a death wish against the powerful Hawks.
The Leafs gave their opponent a whopping six power play opportunities – including four in the second period – which is never a good idea against any NHL team. However, against the Blackhawks, that lack of discipline will severely impair your chances to win, and it did to the Buds Friday: Chicago scored two power play goals – one from Kane, and one from rookie Artemi Panarin – and those two markers wound up as the difference in the contest. Some of those Hawks power plays were a result of the intense pressure their forecheckers put on Toronto, but too many were a product of sloppy play.
Patrick Kane is an extremely skilled hockey player.
Kane added an empty-net goal with 2:12 remaining in regulation time to record his 28th marker of the season and first career NHL hat trick. The winger – a candidate for the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player this year – was Chicago’s most dangerous player and finished with four points on the night. The Hawks have a boatload of talent that can win them games, but on this night, Kane demonstrated why he’s their most potent offensive weapon.
The defensive pairing of Dion Phaneuf and Jake Gardiner didn’t have their best game.
Gardiner and Phaneuf have been Toronto’s most reliable blueline pair this season, but they had a game to forget Friday, turning over the puck numerous times and failing to help produce offense. They weren’t the reason the Leafs fell to the Hawks, but they’ll need to be far better Saturday when Toronto travels to Boston to take on the Bruins.
Morgan Rielly continues to improve.
Rielly scored Toronto’s only goal of the game – his fifth of the season – and was the Leafs’ most dynamic blueliner in 22:07 of ice time. Slowly but surely, the 21-year-old is raising the quality of his game, and his game is already pretty good.