Maple Leafs try, but can't dig themselves out of hole in Chicago

Michael Hutchinson lost again. (Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)
Michael Hutchinson lost again. (Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)

We’ll share points after every game throughout the Toronto Maple Leafs season.

Why is it always exciting when the Toronto Maple Leafs show up to play the Blackhawks in Chicago on a Sunday night?

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Well for one, it seems to bring out the best in Auston Matthews, who relishes the opportunity to play against one of his favourite players growing up, Patrick Kane.

And two, the Leafs tend to throw an underperforming backup netminder out there with him.

The Leafs came close, but in the end could not overcome their blasphemous opening period, eventually falling 5-4.

William Nylander scored twice and Auston Matthews had four assists, but Robin Lehner was the difference for the Blackhawks, making 53 saves.

The Maple Leafs will return to Toronto before heading back onto the road for a clash Wednesday with the wrecking-balling New York Islanders.

Until then, three points:

First Point: SOS

It’s the same old story after another Michael Hutchinson start, but here’s the inescapable reality after the Leafs’ backup goaltender lost for the fifth time in as many starts to begin the year.

It required an extraordinary 56 shots on the part of the Maple Leafs just to cancel out the damage the Blackhawks were able to do with their first eight shots of the game.

And, of course, storming back to answer the four goals Chicago scored in the first period still wasn’t enough to eke out even a point. Because as the Leafs were furiously pushing for an equalizer late in the third, Hutchinson was beaten on a cross-ice pass in transition that Brandon Saad was able to steer home.

You know the numbers: The Leafs have left nine of a possible 10 points on the table with Hutchinson in goal. He’s allowed 23 goals in his five starts, with no less than four in each. And, all five starts have come on the second half of a back-to-back.

At this point, I’d love to be able to comfortably lay the blame at his skates and determine without a shadow of a doubt that he’s just not capable of performing the duties as Frederik Andersen’s backup. But that wouldn’t be even remotely fair to Hutchinson, who once again seemed negatively impacted by the fact that his team played the night before.

In the first, it was as bad a defensive performance as we have seen from the Leafs all season, with all four goals scored the result of mistakes from the skaters charged with protecting their backup goalie.

Which was the most egregious? Take your pick between Jake Muzzin flipping a puck to the opposite point from below his own goal line and the stick-checking from Jason Spezza and Travis Dermott while Patrick Kane danced into the zone 10 seconds later. How about the ease with which the Blackhawks collapsed the Leafs’ structure on a 4-on-3 power play try?

We’re at the point now where Hutchinson can’t look to anyone but himself for his failure to help the Maple Leafs collect points in the standings.

But man, they have to help him out.

Second Point: On one

It is just wild to think that Matthews and Nylander were kept apart most of last season because they are absolutely lighting it up right now.

Here are their roles in the last nine goals the Leafs have scored in regulation:

Matthews: Two goals, seven assists
Nylander: Four goals, six primary points

Suffice to say, the secondary scoring for Toronto has dried up in a big way. John Tavares and Andreas Johnsson are really the only other forwards to have a meaningful impact offensively over the last few games, and their contributions have come exclusively on the power play. (And in Tavares’s case, also overtime.)

This will need to change, but it’s been a treat to watch these guys go to work.

Third Point: Note Spezza’s role

Though it wasn’t through his performance, I think we saw the value of Jason Spezza tonight.

While Frederik Gauther and Nick Shore have earned more ice time from Mike Babcock, it was Spezza elevated to the third-line left wing spot and second power-play unit with Mitch Marner out due to an ankle injury.

Because of his versatility, keeping Spezza as the 13th forward just seems to make all the sense in the world and the latest major injury seemed to validate that.

Yet, with Marner expected to miss at least four weeks, the decision on who stays and who goes won’t be made any time soon.

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