Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs’ 2-0 loss against the Boston Bruins Saturday at TD Garden:
Slow starts to the game are noticeable.
In their past three games, the Leafs have been outshot by a combined total of 39-25 in the first period – including being outshot 14-7 by Boston after 20 minutes of play Saturday. Toronto has almost always settled down in that department in the later stages of games, but they’ve been fortunate (in part due to the play of goalie James Reimer) not to be at a disadvantage early on and need stronger possession numbers in the opening period (and on the whole). Better starts and more time in the opposition’s zone can only help them in their efforts to get in the thick of the playoff race.
Back-to-back games aren’t easy – and it showed.
All the things Toronto had been doing right of late – winning puck battles, paying attention to detail, capitalizing on the opposition’s errors – simply wasn’t there in their first regular-season meeting with the Bruins this season. The stat arguably most indicative of the Leafs’ struggles was giveaways: the Buds committed a season-high 16 – after giving the puck away just 18 times in their three previous games combined – and managed just 22 shots on Boston star netminder Tuukka Rask. Although the Leafs held the Bruins off the scoresheet until captain Zdeno Chara netted his third of the season with less than four minutes left in regulation time, they couldn’t sustain any pressure in the offensive zone. Rest assured, this will not go unnoticed by the coaching staff.
James Reimer is dialed in.
The defeat snapped Reimer’s win streak at five games – and marked his first regulation-time loss since Toronto’s 4-2 loss to Winnipeg on Nov. 4 – but once again, the 27-year-old looked confident and never quit. The goal he allowed to Chara couldn’t have been stopped by any human being, and he turned away 35 of 36 Bruins shots on the night. This is arguably the best Reimer has played since he joined the team in 2010-11, and with every passing game he puts forth the type of effort he did Saturday, the less there is to argue about.
Shawn Matthias is making his mark.
The first-year Leaf played a season-high 18:25 Saturday, and despite being unable to convert on some solid offensive opportunities, Matthias is very quietly earning more chances from head coach Mike Babcock & Co. Matthias has four points in his past seven games, but it’s his two-way play – on the penalty kill in particular – that’s earning raves. With two goals in his first 20 games this year, Matthias will be challenged to match or improve on the career-best 18 he scored for Vancouver in 2014-15. But he wasn’t brought in to lead the Leafs in goals; instead, if he can be to Toronto what Daniel Winnik was (and is again this year) for the Buds – a smart veteran who isn’t going to hurt the team when he’s on the ice – management will be pleased with its investment.
Break out the ice packs for Roman Polak.
Polak led both teams Saturday with seven blocked shots. The 29-year-old Czech blueliner is regarded as one of the NHL’s tougher customers, but the closer you are to your thirties, the more each physical sacrifice starts to add up. If you see him walking around delicately as the Leafs prepare to square off against the Bruins again Monday in Toronto, you’ll know why.