There was lots to like about the Leaf effort despite a 3-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens to kick off the 2015-16 season.
In terms of the process on display, the Maple Leafs looked as good as could be reasonably expected in game one of the Mike Babcock era. For the most part, the team was structured, competed hard and owned enough of the puck, but they couldn’t find the offensive breakthrough against the best goalie in the world.
While it will likely bear out that the Leafs didn’t greatly outchance the Canadiens in this contest, they turned their possession advantage into enough meaningful offensive opportunities to take a 3- or 4-2 decision. Carey Price was Carey Price, but the Leafs didn’t bear down on their chances (Boyes breakaway, Holland breakaway, Spaling miss from a few feet out with half the net open, among others). Naturally, after this kind of result, many will point to the lack of offensive difference makers on the Leafs roster post-Phil Kessel.
But, for Babcock and his staff, the focus will be on the process, and in that respect the Leafs approached territorial dominance at points throughout this game. For significant chunks of the 60 minutes, good puck support enabled quick ups by the D, they were fast through the neutral zone, and they managed to sustain some long cycles in the offensive end.
The Leafs showed off a few impressive set-play breakouts off defensive zone faceoff wins, and there were a couple of “wow” moments featuring four- or five-touch breakouts to get the team moving quickly in the right direction. Early in the second period, one such sequence saw an outlet to PA Parenteau in neutral ice followed by a short bump pass to an in-flight Daniel Winnik, a clean zone entry with speed, and two scoring chances.
Early in the third period, another was executed by the Kadri line, with Rielly identifying a chance to take off into space up the right side, receive a pass, and break the zone with speed in what was a dynamic five-man breakout leading to a shot on goal.
You got the sense while watching that Babcock has already begun to instil a greater respect for the value of possession among this group, as there were noticeable efforts whenever possible to regroup and retain possession of the puck rather than fall back on the dump and change option. There also was 1:10 straight of Leaf possession culminating in a half-chance for Joffrey Lupul down the right wing during a delayed penalty situation.
Coaching: Leafs line gets hemmed in DZ, get it out to center, regroup, change, keep puck. Last year it's dump+change, MTL right back up ice.
— Anthony Petrielli (@APetrielli) October 8, 2015
The result was no better, and in the grand scheme the results may not improve for quite some time, but any Leafs fan who watched this team play with no visible system or structure, get bogged down repeatedly in its own end, and look content to look for one-and-done offence off the rush for the past two years had to have a better time watching this kind of hockey.
The Leafs outshot the Canadiens 37-30 – 65-55 on shot attempts – and held the even-strength shot attempt advantage in each period.
1-0 Canadiens, 3:09 of the first period: Three minutes into the first, the D pairing of Phaneuf and Hunwick scrambled for a change after Joffrey Lupul, with pressure from a pinching D on the defensive half wall, directed Shawn Matthias’ pass into the neutral zone and into Montreal possession. The Leafs were in okay shape here, except PK Subban picked out Pacioretty with an amazing saucer stretch pass through a few bodies in the neutral zone, and Pacioretty found some space down the right side as Rielly and Marincin hurried onto the ice. It shouldn’t have been anything worth mentioning in the end, as Pacioretty put a harmless looking shot on net only for Bernier to badly foul it up, losing control and sight of his rebound, which fluttered up and over his head. Morgan Rielly’s diving effort wasn’t enough to prevent the puck from trickling over the goalline. Shades of the season opener last year here, as Bernier let in the first shot of the game and it was a howler.
1-1 goal, 0:19 of second period: After a boneheaded Brendan Gallagher goaltender interference penalty to start the period, Nazem Kadri won the draw on the powerplay, shifted up high to open up for Phaneuf as he backed up across the blueline, took the pass and fired a shot-pass hard and low in the direction of Brad Boyes and JvR; JVR was stationed where he should be and was rewarded with a fortunate bounce off his skate and in.
2-1 Canadiens, 12:02 of third period: The Parenteau, Winnik and Spaling line was out at the end of their shift after generating what should’ve been the 2-1 Leafs goal at the other end, if not for a Spaling miss despite being all alone with an open side of the net. PA Parenteau lost the board battle, the Leafs scrambled as the Habs went D to D, a point shot was kicked out Bernier, and Scott Harrington missed on his clearing attempt before Galchenyuk buried the rebound top corner. A big rebound from Bernier, but Harrington was there and it should’ve been cleared.
3-1 Canadiens, 19:29 of third period: With the goalie pulled and a little over 30 seconds left, Nazem Kadri lost a scrum draw to Brian Flynn, who Kadri felt was encroaching and told the linesman as much. PK Subban again identified Pacioretty sneaking out of the zone and airmailed him a pass for his second of the night into the empty cage.
James van Riemsdyk – Strong game from JVR. Minutes kept in check at 16:41. He was the Leafs’ best possession player all night – a 70% CF! – on a line with Kadri and Boyes. Lots of physical contact, which was quite a sight to behold, and he helped generate lots of zone time on the cycle. A real positive start for a player that folded up shop as hard or harder than any player on the team last year.
Nazem Kadri – Really good game from Kadri. He was physically engaged and was harder on pucks than we’ve seen him in the past. Was carrying with confidence, and looked good on the PP (nice shoot-for-tip assist). Provided lots of zone time when he was on ice – second to JvR with a 68% CF.
Brad Boyes – Looked pretty good alongside JVR and Kadri. Was in alone on a breakaway after picking off the point, and couldn’t get good wood on the shot while dealing with a partial stick lift; you need to bear down on chances like that with a goalie that good in the net (or at any time, in general). -2 (including an open-net goal against).
Shawn Mathias – Thought he looked good as F1 on the offensive zone forecheck; strong on the wall and battling for lost pucks with second and third efforts, and again as F1 on neutral zone forecheck, using his big wingspan to make quick, decisive sweeps to take away passing options and force passes up the boards. Had a couple of nice net drives, one of which was a great power move to the net that he couldn’t elevate over Price, stuffing it into his pads.
Tyler Bozak – Forgettable game for Bozak. Despite leading Leaf forwards in ice time, he put up snake eyes across the board in his stats pack, including the worst possession performance on the team, and he was just generally just taking shifts. If this continues, he’ll be replaced with Holland next to Lupul, which might work out better with two being lefty-righty. He simply can’t go up against top lines and not do anything… as it was, he was barely treading water.
Joffrey Lupul – Looked a bit sluggish out there, and it didn’t help that his centerman (Bozak) was in preseason form. He’s feigning effort on backchecks, at least, but he’ll need to keep his head in the game the full 60 minutes. He missed a good chance in the slot and was shaking his head afterwards. His body language didn’t change for three shifts afterward before he finally started playing with some bite again. Lots of outside play, and he’s not skilled enough to get away with that. He has to get inside the dots and drive the net to be effective and provide some of the offence needed to help replace Phil Kessel’s production.
Leo Komarov – Threw a dirty hit on Subban, hobbling him temporarily, but managed to draw the offsetting call to prevent his team from going down a man. He was wandering quite a bit and playing both wings, and had a few puck bobbles. Took a hard hit that appeared to make contact with his head (his helmet was knocked clear), and he looked to be shaking the cobwebs out afterwards. Best shift came in the second, when he cut off a pass to the point in the D zone, led a rush up ice, chipped it in deep and went to work. It seems like a safe prediction that Babcock will love a player like Komarov, who usually has his foot to the floor every shift, but he played just 9:07.
Peter Holland – A good season debut in which he was physical—by his standards—and determined on the boards, and was able to generate some nice cycle time for his line by using his reach. He had multiple scoring opportunities, including a chance in alone on Price that he needed to bury.
Mark Arcobello – Fairly low-key game, but he generated that glorious chance for Holland with a chip by a pinching Habs D in the neutral zone before spotting Holland streaking down the opposite wing, in what was his best moment of the game. Looked better on the wing than he did at center in preseason at 5v5. He played some PP time (2:00), where he uses his small stature to his advantage with tight pivots to move pucks in different directions.
Daniel Winnik – Part of as good of a fourth line as the Leafs have had in a number of years. He’s going to work himself up the lineup as Babcock realizes what a good decision maker he is and how he leads with a strong work ethic.
Nick Spaling – Along with Winnik, started only 33% of shifts in the offensive zone and still managed to break even with a 55 CF%. That line drove play for most of the night and played a heavy game down low in the offensive zone, with one slip up on the 2-1 goal. Spaling played an effective physical game and was part of the reason the Leafs fourth line dominated the Habs’ for long stretches tonight — hopefully a trend going forward.
PA Parenteau – Looked sluggish getting around the ice when pivots or edgework were involved and his hands weren’t with him at times. Set up Winnik in front for a prime scoring chance after his line with Spaling and Winnik generated one of many good cycles.
Matt Hunwick – Really good game from Hunwick. He was playing with a great tempo and transitioned his D-to-D passes quite well and without hesitation. He had some nice rushes, held the defensive blueline well, and made some nicely timed pinches. 20:28 TOI, credited with 2SOG and 4 hits.
Scott Harrington – Looked surprisingly good playing—primarily—along Gardiner and saw a nice uptick in possession numbers… was much better moving the puck than he was in the preseason, where he struggled at times to make simple breakout passes. He had great possession numbers (63% at even strength), 3 SOG, and provided some snarl after whistles defending Bernier.
Martin Marincin – He’s ugly at times out there, but most plays still get pushed north when he’s on the ice. He’s not able to turn corners and make passes as quickly as a more naturally-blessed skater, but he’s able to make his second and third pass or exit attempts work, which is better than nothing. Expect him to draw in and out of the lineup with Corrado now in the mix.
Dion Phaneuf – Up and down game from Dion. Reviewing early games from last year, he took a few games to get his feet underneath him. He’s going to have to play with more tempo and push the pace of play. He’s tentative with the puck and seems to be over thinking it at the moment. Once the new system becomes second nature to him, it’s expected he’ll start to find a higher level. He needs to stop gliding with the puck when rushing, which is accentuating his declining footspeed—it’s making him look slower than he is because he’s playing slower than he should be.
Morgan Rielly – Looking strong down low; it’s apparent that he worked on one-on-one drills in the off-season. He’s using his considerable leg strength to separate players from the puck and move things north. Offensively, he’s looking more confident than ever carrying the puck; as usual, there were a couple of “wow” rushes where Rielly hit the greenlight. Babcock managed to have his three anchors on each pairing play ~ 20 minutes—even distribution across all three pairs.
Jake Gardiner – High event game for Gardiner, as is tradition. He had some really nice touches with the puck and pulled off some high skilled maneuvers under pressure. Also saved a sure goal with his skate. As noted by Babcock in his post game, he started to try a freestyle act a bit during the 2nd period as he was pushing for offence. Good game overall from Jake.
Jonathan Bernier – Two goals against, one of which was a big “groaner” on his first shot against of the game, but he had a .931 save percentage on the night and rebounded well after the first weak goal. Early goals on one of the first shots on net can be back breakers on teams with poor confidence, like the Maple Leafs, but they rebounded well and stayed in the game the whole way— part-thanks to big saves Bernier was able to make as the game went on.
All Situations Possession Chart
Shot Location Chart
Maple Leafs Player Stats – Canadiens 3 vs. Leafs 1
|J. van Riemsdyk||L||1||0||1||-1||0||4||3||0||-||1:58||0:00||16:41|
Maple Leafs Even Strength Possession Stats – Canadiens 3 vs. Leafs 1
|Name||Position||Corsi For||Corsi Against||Corsi||Corsi For%||Zone Start%|
|JAMES VAN RIEMSDYK||L||21||11||10||66||75|