7 Maple Leafs Takeaways: Toronto should be aggravated by blown leads

William Karlsson and Alex Pietrangelo's goals tied the game in the third period, but William Nylander scored the game-sealing goal in the shootout, as the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Vegas Golden Knights 4-3.

William Nylander opening and closing the scoring by beating Robin Lehner one-on-one.

Ilya Mikheyev building upon his point-per-game contract year.

Auston Matthews keeping pace in the Rocket race.

And Jack Campbell salvaging two points on a night the Toronto Maple Leafs only mustered 18 shots on the Vegas Golden Knights.

It all adds up to a sneaky (lucky? ugly?) road win for a group that has enough goaltending and game-breakers to scoop points that, at times, it might not deserve.

“A great team,” Knights coach Peter DeBoer said. “I mean, their record [23-8-3] speaks for itself. Their game’s real. When you look at the analytics and dive in on them, they're just a really solid hockey team.”

Here are seven takeaways from a less-than-solid 4-3 shootout victory for the Leafs in Las Vegas. But they’ll take it and jet.

Another third-period letdown

Twice on this road trip the Maple Leafs carried a two-goal lead into the final period.

Twice they had that lead snatched away them without much of a fight.

Combine Toronto’s third periods in Colorado and Vegas, and it has been outshot 31-7 and outscored 4-0.

“We've played two very elite teams here in the West and got three out of four points, so for that we feel good about,” said coach Sheldon Keefe, building towards a big but. “But if we want to be a serious hockey team, we got to be better in third periods and find ways to control the game.

“Today is a completely different animal [than] Colorado. In Colorado, we were just absolutely dominated in the third period.

“We gotta relax and play the game and make some plays and play on offence and control the play. Can't just be on our heels.

“We should be a little aggravated by how we've let these leads slip away here in these two games, and take that aggravation and turn it into motivation.”

Campbell sets career highs in starts, wins

Campbell registered career highs in starts (27) and wins (18) Thursday, both well before the halfway mark of the season.

He was solid once again, particularly when the ice tilted toward his crease in Period 2, and he needed to turn away 11 consecutive Knights shots. After the first, Vegas outshot Toronto 28-9.

Campbell was perfect in the shootout, allowing Nylander’s slick hands to deliver the bonus point.

By all rights, Campbell will be back in Vegas next month soaking in his first All-Star weekend. (Teams will be announced Thursday.)

Concerns over his ability to skirt injury and manage the heavy minutes of a true No. 1 1 are quieting by the night. No doubt, the mental and physical break that came with Toronto’s December pause was well-timed for Campbell.

“The big question coming in for him was: Can he stay healthy? And he's done a great job of that,” Keefe said. “Despite the workload, there hasn't been a time where he's felt unable to practise or sore or anything like that.

“We've managed his workload on some practice days, but that was preventative more than anything -- nothing has ever come from him or our medical team that he's been unable to do anything.

“He and the medical team have found a real nice groove, and our strength and conditioning team has done a terrific job of helping him, and I think he's in a good place with his body and managing this very well.”

Matthews loves Vegas, baby

Sunshine, glitz, and five-star meals… yes, the Maple Leafs were perfectly content to escape some of the harshest winter days in Toronto.

"It's a blast, honestly," said Matthews, who has five goals in four games at T-Mobile Arena. "It's one of my favourite buildings to play in, just the atmosphere and what they do to make the energy in the building.

“It's always loud. They play the music pretty loud. It's always bumping. The fans are always into it.”

Jason Spezza agrees that the party vibe and bells-and-whistles game production makes Eastern Conference teams’ annual trip to the Strip feel like an event.

"It's known as one of the loudest buildings," Spezza says. "It does feel like a more important game when you come in here because of how rowdy the crowd can be. Guys enjoy coming here, obviously because it’s Las Vegas, but also because of the crowd."

Bad penalties can kill

Yes, the Maple Leafs killed off Jake Muzzin’s puck-over-glass infraction in the second period, but two other minors nearly cost them major.

An ill-advised Nick Ritchie hook in the offensive zone led to a Keegan Kolesar power-play goal in the first, and a too-many-men bench penalty late in the third gave the Knights a 5-on-3 opportunity to knot the contest.

That they did, with Alex Pietrangelo’s delayed wrister on Vegas’s fifth man-advantage sending the game to OT.

"He was a monster tonight,” DeBoer said of Pietrangelo’s 32-minute effort. “I thought he was maybe the best player on the ice."

Toronto went 0-fer on its two power plays. Special teams earned Vegas a point, and could’ve cost the Leafs a couple.

“I didn't like any of our penalties today at all -- stuff far away from our net, careless penalties, obviously the too many men. I mean, I can’t remember the last time I've ever seen a shorthanded team get called for too many men, especially when they have the puck. But those things can't happen,” said Keefe, a winning coach striking the tone of a losing one.

“Those are the mental mistakes that you got to get out of your game.”

Rasmus Sandin threw 10(!) hits and Kronwalled Evgenii Dadonov

How Swede it is…

Golden Knights are a sleeping giant

They are the expansion team that decided never to act like one. So, yes, you know the Golden Knights are good and going for it.

But even though the Golden Knights sit atop a relatively weak Pacific Division, Vegas’s ability to pile up points and roll out hockey’s fifth-best offence despite a steady rash of significant injuries should have the West frightened if it ever gets to full health.

The Knights rank second (to Montreal) leaguewide in man-games lost, with more than 230 already.

Top-line players Jack Eichel, Max Pacioretty and Alec Martinez are all out long term.

And regulars Shea Theodore, Nolan Patrick and Nicolas Roy all entered COVID-19 protocol a couple hours before puck drop Tuesday.

So, even without Mitch Marner and Pierre Engvall (COVID protocol), the Maple Leafs were by far the healthier side Tuesday.

Yet it was a depleted Vegas club that finished with the clear edge in shots (34-18), high-danger chances (11-8), and discipline.

“They’re a talented team that plays quick, transitions really fast. Very dangerous on the rush,” Keefe said. “Big and strong as well. Close on you quickly. Play hard defensively. So, they're just really good and dynamic in a lot of areas.”

Got my hockey trunks and my flippy-floppies

Mid-January, you roll to the rink in tax-free shorts and sandals and feed your buddy one-timers?

No wonder free agents want to sign in the desert:

When submitting content, please abide by our  submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.
We use cookies to improve your experience. Learn More or change your cookie preferences. By continuing to use this site, you agree to the use of cookies.
close