Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs’ 4-2 loss to the New York Rangers Thursday at Air Canada Centre:
An inspired start.
More than once this season, the Leafs have struggled to start games strongly, but that wasn’t the case Thursday: Toronto was all over the Rangers in the first period, out-shot the Blueshirts 13-6 in the opening frame, and P-A Parenteau scored his 15th of the year to give the home side a 1-0 lead. Despite being severely shorthanded by the injury bug – and by the first-period ejection of heart-and-soul winger Leo Komarov after his hit on Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh – the Buds had a focus and crispness to their game that hasn’t always been there in the first 20 minutes of action.
“If we play like that, we’re going to win more games than we’re going to lose,” said Parenteau. “A lot of positives there for us…everyone was going, we had our legs and we made a lot of good plays.”
“Let’s face it – we carried the play,” added head coach Mike Babcock. “I thought we played with good energy and controlled most of the play, but we made two individual mistakes that cost us. That’s just the reality of the situation. I thought we played good, but you can’t turn the puck over.”
Second period slip-ups put Leafs behind the eight-ball, but they continued to press and broke through late in regulation time.
Toronto held onto their lead after the first period, but the visitors pulled even, then ahead on second-period goals from Derrick Brassard (on the power play) and Mats Zuccarello. However, the Leafs continued to push in the third period and tied the game on Colin Greening’s goal with 2:30 left in the third period. That tenacity hasn’t paid off with wins more often than not, but on a young team that’s still learning what it’s made of, it’s not something to gloss over, either.
Late-game comeback was squandered by a miscue by Morgan Rielly.
Less than a minute after Greening’s goal, Buds blueliner Morgan Rielly turned the puck over near Toronto’s end boards and the Rangers made him pay for it via Derek Stepan’s 13th goal of the season at the 18:29 mark. To Rielly’s credit, he came out to face the media immediately after the game ended, and Babcock focused on the many positives he brings to the table.
“He didn’t mean to do it, he’s a good player for us,” Babcock said of Rielly. “I don’t know what happened. It was one of those situations that we count on him for big minutes and to make good decisions. He’s done a lot of good things, and he’d like to have that back.”
Too many missed opportunities with the extra man.
With talents such as James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak on the injured reserve, Toronto’s power play units were going to have issues, even against a Rangers penalty kill that ranked 28th overall entering the game. Unfortunately, despite receiving five opportunities with the extra man, the Leafs were unable to beat Blueshirts goalie Antti Raanta on any of them.
“I thought we had some looks there in the second,” Parenteau said, “but at the end of the day, we’ve got to score some goals on the power play. That’s what it comes down to.”
Milestone moments for Viktor Loov and Colin Greening.
In the first NHL game of his career, the 23-year-old Loov earned an assist on Parenteau’s goal and logged 8:41 of ice time. The good-natured blueliner said he didn’t have any friends and family at the ACC to see his debut, but added that his parents were watching at home in Sweden.
“I thought he was fine,” Babcock said of Loov’s night. “We were in a position where we were pushing to score a goal and probably didn’t play him as much as we could’ve, but I thought he was fine out there. He can skate, he was physical, he can shoot the puck. I thought he was fine.”
“I thought that kid played really well,” Parenteau added in reference to Loov. “He’s strong, he was assertive with the puck, too, which is pretty good for a first game like that. It was impressive. I’m happy for him.”
Meanwhile, Greening – acquired from Ottawa last week – scored his first goal as a Leaf. The 29-year-old’s goal was his first NHL marker of the season, and the 39th regular-season goal of his career in his 260th career game.