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The Core Four’s Lost Weekend; Leafs Lose In Pittsburgh

November 26, 2023, 8:28 PM ET [105 Comments]
Mike Augello
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The Toronto Maple Leafs did their best to make everyone forget their successful European vacation, following up their overtime loss to the lowly Chicago Blackhawks with a 3-2 regulation defeat at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday.

The Penguins were also playing their second of back-to-back games and were coming off their own collapse on Friday, surrendering a two-goal lead in a loss to Buffalo. The Leafs offense was all in the opening 20 minutes, as Tyler Bertuzzi and Matthew Knies sandwiched a Jake Guentzel tally, but in the second, the Pens moved ahead on goals by former Leaf Noel Acciari and reigning Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson.

Toronto pressed for the tying goal in the third, but Tristan Jarry stopped all 12 Leafs shots and 31 for the game to give the Pens the victory. Joseph Woll made 32 saves in the loss.

The weekend was an interesting contrast to many of the games earlier in the year. Throughout much of October and November, the core four group contributed most of the offense for Toronto, while they got next to nothing from their bottom six. On Friday and Saturday, the core four’s only contribution was a John Tavares assist on Bertuzzi’s opening goal. No points for Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, and nothing from TTC fav William Nylander as well.

A great deal of focus has been paid recently to the struggles of Matthews and particularly Marner recently, especially in contrast to Nylander and his 17-game point streak. This was something that head coach Sheldon Keefe addressed after the game.

“It is interesting, we are getting all sorts of questions about these guys. I think we can all agree they can play better. They have set such a high standard, and yet here we are.” Keefe said. “One of the many reports I get before every game — I am reading through them before every game — is our five-on-five scoring this season. At the top of the list is Mitch Marner. He is a guy who hasn’t played his best hockey and has all the hardest matchups every single night, and yet he is at the top of our team in five-on-five scoring. It is interesting how it all works out.”

Another interesting note was the decision to play 11 forwards and seven defensemen on Saturday, scratching Ryan Reaves in favor of Simon Benoit. Keefe explained that was to lighten the load on Conor Timmins on back-to-back nights after playing 15 minutes against the Hawks, but perhaps another factor was Reaves being on the ice for another goal against after scoring his first of the season in Chicago.

The Leafs return to Toronto to play the Florida Panthers on Tuesday.


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