The Toronto Maple Leafs lost to the Ottawa Senators 5-3 on Saturday night and fell in the "Battle of Ontario" to their bitter rivals. They may also have lost defenseman Morgan Rielly for a few games because of an unnecessary retaliatory infraction in the final minute.
After riding a three-game win streak into the All-Star Game, hosted at Scotiabank Arena, the Maple Leafs have stumbled in their return, going 1-2-0, losing to two teams beneath them in the Eastern Conference standings.
Although there are always a dozen talking points following any Maple Leafs game, here are three key takeaways from their most recent setback to the last-place Senators on Hockey Night in Canada.
3 takeaways as the Toronto Maple Leafs lose the Battle of Ontario to the Ottawa Senators 5-3
#1. The Maple Leafs can't be legitimate contenders unless they clean up their act
On Saturday night, the Maple Leafs opened up the scoring when Auston Matthews netted his 42nd of the year. However, Mitch Marner was the only other member of the core four (including William Nylander and John Tavares) to get a point in the loss.
Even though everyone would be happy with production from other players, it's becoming clear without those guys firing on all cylinders, the wins are harder to come by for a team with Stanley Cup aspirations. During the loss, Nylander and Tavares were each a team-leading minus-three.
Meanwhile, only Rielly earned a point from the backend, extending a personal streak to five matchups. Interestingly, he's the only Maple Leafs defenseman with a point in a game since Jake McCabe scored an empty net goal against the Seattle Kraken on Jan. 21.
Winning a championship takes a team effort, and most nights, it may appear that Toronto is playing good hockey with a 26-16-8 record. Still, this team is flawed from top to bottom, and the Senators exposed it on Saturday night in the national spotlight.
#2. The Senators showcase how special this season could have been in one game
For the first time in a while, it seemed like the Senators were playing to their potential, including Joonas Korpisalo, who made 31 saves to pick up his 13th win. After being acquired in the offseason to anchor down the goal crease for a playoff hopeful, he's disappointed with subpar statistics and a losing record.
However, he bailed out the Sens on Saturday night, who scored five goals for the 14th time this season and the second time against the Maple Leafs. They have given up at least five goals in 16 contests this year, which has led to an underwhelming 21-25-2 record and a last-place ranking in the Atlantic Division.
Meanwhile, in the Senators' triumph over Toronto, giving them the Battle of Ontario season series, 3-1, Ottawa got points from 10 different players. At the same time, Shane Pinto continued his revenge tour with a three-point night. Since returning from a 41-game suspension, he's got seven points in seven outings, helping them go 5-2-0 during the stretch.
Although it is a little too late to salvage the season and qualify for the playoffs, sitting 16 points out of a wild-card spot, their 5-3 win was a total team effort. Some of the club's best players stepped up in a marquee matchup that was more than about two points, but the pride of wearing a Senators jersey.
#3. Rivalries are one of the greatest things about professional sports
Sporting a 4-3 lead in the dying minute, the Senators cleared the puck, and Ridly Grieg had a chance for an empty net goal, which he scored untouched. Instead of just tapping the puck into the net, he fired home a slapshot as an exclamation mark on the upset victory.
However, Rielly took exception to the unnecessary gesture and cross-checked Grieg in the head, leading to a massive gathering of everyone on the ice. Considering these two Ontario rival franchises always leave everything on the ice, fans got more than they bargained for in Saturday night's contest.
Despite this game being the last time these two rivals will meet in 2023-24, there will be plenty of fallout from this affair, including a potentially lengthy suspension for Rielly. Although this matchup didn't affect the standings on Saturday night, there's no telling how things will play out in the upcoming days, which could have a ripple effect for both clubs.