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Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Michael Hutchinson makes a save during the first period of a game against the Minnesota Wild, at Scotiabank Arena, in Toronto, on Jan. 3, 2019.Tom Szczerbowski/USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

Considering what was swirling around the Toronto Maple Leafs in the past couple of days, their 4-3 loss to the Minnesota Wild at Scotiabank Arena on Thursday afternoon can almost be brushed aside.


The Leafs were forced to start newly acquired goaltender Michael Hutchinson, but there was still plenty of blame to go around for the loss, starting with the way they played in their own end. Despite taking a 2-0 lead in the first six minutes, the Leafs fumbled away the game because they continually coughed up the puck in their own zone, finishing with 16 giveaways.

“We weren’t taking care of the puck enough,” said centre Auston Matthews, who failed to score in his fifth consecutive NHL game but set up William Nylander for his long-awaited first goal of the season. “We were starting a lot of times [with] faceoffs in our [defensive] zone.”

By head coach Mike Babcock’s count, the Leafs had 17 faceoffs in the defensive zone in the first period. Their play picked up after that, but Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk held them off to give the Leafs two consecutive losses after a five-game winning streak.

“We should have got the puck in more, spent a little bit longer in the [offensive] zone,” said Leafs winger Mitch Marner, who scored the first two goals. “There’s things we’ve got to learn to do better and learn quick. It’s coming down to the stretch now and this is when everyone starts grinding and playing that lockdown game. We have to make sure we’re ready for that and make sure we find ways to score.”

The Leafs fired away at Dubnyk in the third period, outshooting the Wild 19-4, but the only goal was the winner from Wild forward Zach Parise. Charlie Coyle, Mikko Koivu and Jared Spurgeon scored the earlier Minnesota goals.

The game showed the Leafs’ most pressing need is to get No. 1 goaltender Frederik Andersen back as quickly as possible from his groin injury and, failing that, to get backup Garret Sparks back from what might be a concussion. But there is no news on that front, Babcock said, so Hutchinson, who wore his Florida Panthers pads and gloves for Thursday’s game because he just arrived a few days ago, will probably start Saturday against the Vancouver Canucks.

In the meantime, Babcock said the Leafs may try to get another goaltender because they do not want Kasimir Kaskisuo continuing as Hutchinson’s backup. They would rather see him playing for the Toronto Marlies farm team.

The other issue kicking around the Leafs is the NHL’s insult to Marner, defenceman Morgan Rielly and Andersen. None of them were chosen for the Atlantic Division’s roster for the NHL all-star game on Jan. 26 while Matthews, who missed 14 games with a groin injury, got the call along with Tavares. Rielly has a chance to go because he was picked as the Leaf player eligible for the fan vote.

The problem is the NHL’s insistence that at least one player from each team has to be picked. Add this to the existing problem of no checking of any kind and the game is nothing more than a feeble joke. Yet the league and way too many fans take umbrage when someone such as Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin rightly sees the game for what it is and takes a pass.

If the league insists on suspending Ovechkin for not attending, then it has to make sure it really is an all-star game, not just some sort of league pageant. Not much can be done about the lack of checking – no player wants to risk getting hurt – but by dropping the rule that each team has to have a player there a lot fewer deserving players would be snubbed.

Matthews said he was surprised Marner and Rielly were not picked and offered a solution.

“I think the way it’s set up, a lot of really good players get left off the list,” Matthews said. “In my opinion, having missed the time I did, it seemed those three guys, the way they played, Johnny, Mitch and [Rielly], I’d give up my spot for them any day of the week because they’ve had unbelievable seasons and they’ve been great for our team.”

A lot of players welcome the snub because it means a few days rest at midseason. But Marner is only in his third NHL year and probably wouldn’t mind taking part, even if he tried to brush off the fuss.

“No, I focus on here and trying to help this team win. Nothing I can do about it,” Marner said, although he allowed he has thought about going to the game. “Yeah, it’s always cool. As a kid growing up, it’s always something [that seems] cool to be at. Stuff happens. Not a big deal. There’s bigger things in the world to worry about than that.”

Babcock is probably the one person on the team who doesn’t mind. The Leafs are lucky enough that the all-star break flows into their mandatory bye week so they will have eight days off leading up to a game Feb. 1 against the Detroit Red Wings.

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