Maple Leafs vs. Hurricanes observations: Joseph Woll stands tall but Toronto falls short

From the moment the Toronto Maple Leafs took the ice at PNC Arena on Sunday, they were in a tough spot.

Playing the second half of a back-to-back on the road, after traveling more than one thousand kilometres, is a tall task. Doing that against the team with the sixth-best point percentage in the NHL — and an 8-2-1 record in March — is a nightmare.

Toronto’s battle with the Carolina Hurricanes had “schedule loss” written all over it, and the Maple Leafs didn’t do enough to overcome the bad hand they were dealt. They conceded a goal 66 seconds into the game following a senseless no-look between-the-legs pass attempt by Jake McCabe, surrendered another on a bad bounce in the back half of the first period, and never dug out of that hole.

Nick Robertson’s 10th goal of the season gave the team a jolt of life late in the game, but nothing came of it in a 2-1 loss that was far more eventful than that score indicated as both goaltenders were on their game.

Joseph Woll and Frederik Andersen turned away 72 of the 75 shots on goal in this one, and made some spectacular stops along the way.

Three stars

1. Joseph Woll

Since returning from an ankle injury he sustained in December, Woll hasn’t done much to reclaim a crease that appeared to be his when he went down. Entering Sunday’s action the 25-year-old had started four of the 11 games Toronto has played since he returned to the team with an .876 save percentage to show for his efforts.

Woll stood tall against a Hurricanes squad that’d scored at least four goals in eight of its previous 10 games, stopping 41 attempts — including a Jake Guentzel penalty shot.

The American netminder prevented the game from getting out of hand in the first period then shut the door for the final two frames. Woll’s performance was particularly impressive considering Carolina’s second goal came on a bizarre deflection that was tough to fault him for.

Woll’s strong glove hand and commendable rebound control stood out in this one. If he’s able to look as good as he did on Sunday down the stretch he’ll add intrigue to Toronto’s goaltending situation.

2. Auston Matthews

Matthews didn’t find the back of the net on Sunday, but he did an excellent job setting up Robertson for Toronto’s only goal.

He also created plenty of looks for himself, particularly in the second period when he was stymied multiple times by his former teammate.

Matthews finished the game with six shots on target, a number he’s topped just eight times this season. That barrage resulted in 0.90 individual expected goals, which was the highest number among all skaters. No one else topped 0.50.

3. Timothy Liljegren

Liljegren did not dominate this game by any stretch of the imagination, but he was decisive, aggressive, and effective. The Swedish blueliner pushed deep into the offensive zone and looked for his own shot, putting four attempts on net his second-highest single-game total in 2023-24.

He missed an opportunity with a half-open net, but outside of that blemish he delivered 22:44 of solid ice time for Toronto. In his five-on-five minutes, the Maple Leafs earned 77.21 percent of the expected goals, the best number on the team.

Jake McCabe’s cursed night

In a year of disarray on Toronto’s blue line, McCabe has made a consistent positive impact both offensively and defensively  — while throwing some highlight-reel hits into the mix.

Even the most reliable players have tough outings, and McCabe’s performance on Sunday fits that characterization. A reckless turnover off of his stick resulted in the first Carolina goal, the second went off of him, and he even suffered a nasty hit from Andrei Svechnikov.

McCabe settled to some extent throughout the game, but his on-ice numbers were rough as his expected goal rate at five-on-five (37.93 percent) ranked last on the team and he was the only Maple Leaf on the ice for both goals against.

With Brodie getting a couple of games off for a mental reset and Lyubushkin sitting due to an illness, the Maple Leafs brought Simon Benoit and Conor Timmins back into the lineup in their previous two games, but the regulars were back on Sunday.

Neither Brodie nor Lyubushkin are flashy even when they’re playing well, but it’s fair to say neither moved the needle against Carolina. The pair’s on-ice numbers didn’t stand out, and they didn’t have a shot on goal or a block between them.

The biggest moment either of them authored was this chance that arrived on Brodie’s stick midway through the third period.

Brodie unsuccessfully deferred to Bobby McMann, and his opportunity to end a goal-less streak that’s now reached 100 games fell by the wayside. Neither player had a dreadful evening, but it’s notable that Brodie skated a modest 17:06 while Lyubushkin gave his team just 13:05.

Game score

Single HockeyStatCards com 9

Final grade: C

It’s tough to grade the Maple Leafs too harshly considering the difficult circumstances they were up against on Sunday, but without Woll’s heroics, the result could’ve been more lopsided.

Toronto lost the possession battle, but created some solid scoring chances the team was unable to convert on — in part due to Andersen’s fine work in the other crease.

Although the team showed some fight late in the game, its complete inability to generate offence in the first half of the third period was noteworthy. This effort fell in line with reasonable expectations, but that doesn’t mean the team deserves a pat on the back for a loss that squandered an excellent goaltending performance.

What’s next for the Leafs?

On Tuesday, the Maple Leafs head home to host the New Jersey Devils at 7:30 p.m. ET on TSN.

(Photo: James Guillory / USA Today)

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