The vast majority of the 165th Battle of Ontario was a genuine two-sided conflict until the Toronto Maple Leafs imploded in a matter of minutes, falling 6-3 to the Ottawa Senators.
Nick Robertson tied the game at 3-3, batting a Max Domi backhand saucer pass off the rush out of mid-air for the game-tying goal seven minutes and 42 seconds into the final frame. And then, the Maple Leafs collapsed entirely.
Dominik Kubalik banked a shot off Maple Leafs defenseman Mark Giordano — who was on the ice for four goals — and in, then Tim Stutzle added an insurance goal off the rush on a beautiful passing sequence where John Klingberg — another primary culprit for the Maple Leafs — was caught standing flat-footed in the slot.
Joseph Woll, who has been terrific to start the year, had a rare off-night, exacerbated late as he tried to corral the puck, only to have it stolen got picked off by Claude Giroux and promptly deposited into an empty yet. It was 6-3, in the span of three minutes and 11 seconds. Afterwards, the Maple Leafs tried to explain an embarrassing collapse to their provincial rival.
“Some of it is individual. Some of it is just collective in the structure,” head coach Sheldon Keefe said post-game. “Some of it is just being committed to it… we sit in here and celebrate guys who score big numbers, who score a ton, we don’t talk enough about what we give up. That’s the reality. We have to prioritize keeping the puck out of the net.”
Keefe also provided a fair but candid assessment of Woll’s performance, while tersely agreeing with the idea that John Klingberg’s defensive play is becoming a serious problem.
“He had a tough night. Goalies have tough nights, you have to play better in front of them,” Keefe said of Woll post-game. “Now listen, he didn’t play a terrible game. If he played worse, we would’ve given up twice as much as some other games as we did tonight. The game is right there for us.”
Maple Leafs tie franchise record by allowing 4+ goals in 7 consecutive home games to begin a season, equalling the mark set in 1976-77
— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) November 9, 2023
Woll also took accountability for a rough night in goal, while stating that he felt the same as he always did entering this contest.
"I think first and foremost, not good enough by me. I thought we played well and generated some offence. We needed a little better out of myself."
Woll explained his perspective on the three goals allowed in the third period. He also said he hesitated behind the net with tunnel vision when he got picked off by Giroux.
“Just one hit my skate. A couple of goals that I wouldn’t have played any differently. Sometimes they find a way in and unfortunately, two of them found their way in tonight.”
Klingberg and Mark Giordano were the primary culprits on Wednesday night. The former was the worst defenseman in the NHL last year based on various metrics and has quickly grown into a defensive liability for the Maple Leafs. He was on the ice for four goals, while Giordano, lauded for his strong defensive play during the first half of the 2022-23 campaign, had his own nightmare performance, punctuated with Ottawa’s fourth goal hitting his skate — while being at fault for three other goals due to poor positioning.
“Just too many mistakes against a team like that, a lot of skill and speed with opportunities to make plays. Obviously, we have to cut down the mistakes,” Maple Leafs captain John Tavares said.
“Obviously it’s on us here to figure that out. We have much higher standards than that and the way we have to play and we just got to get more connected. Line to line, shift to shift. Just awareness of your opponent, what you’re up against, the way we got to play and where the game’s at and what’s required. We’re having a hard time finding that consistency through sixty (minutes).”
Toronto is hemorrhaging goals at home and will need a much better defensive effort with an anxious home crowd getting ready for consecutive home games on Friday and Saturday against the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks.