A missed opportunity, or an encouraging sign that the Maple Leafs could stretch this into a long series?
The Leafs went up 2-0 inside 10 minutes but squandered the lead and lost in overtime in Game 1 versus Washington on Thursday night.
Your game in ten:
1. Well, that was a much better game-one effort than the 2013 squad mustered in Boston. One team was nervous in the opening 20 minutes and it wasn’t the one with six rookies in the lineup. In the words of Mike Babcock, the Leafs were “loose n’ drivin’” early in this one; they looked prepared and unfazed by the magnitude of the game. The Caps came out and tried to run the Leafs over on the forecheck and it led to some chances the other way for the Leafs, who chipped pucks by/made some plays under pressure. The Capitals were more respectful of Leafs’ speed and abilities after they put two past them in the opening 10 minutes of the game, and the game tightened up in the final two periods.
2. The shots after the first were 15-12 Leafs; both teams were funnelling lots of rubber toward the net with traffic in front early in the game, like you’d expect in the playoffs, but the Leafs were able to feast on some Capitals turnovers and carry the edge in possession in that opening frame (52-48 in Toronto’s favour).
The only major blemish in the first period was the penalty trouble in the middle after Brian Boyle and Leo Komarov (officially awarded to Zach Hyman) took interference and tripping (actually more of a slash) penalties in a 30-second span. A good effort from the Leafs penalty killers was spoiled by some rotten luck on a broken play involving a shattered stick and a whiffed clearance, with Connor Brown caught off guard by the bad bounce.
3. Mitch Marner got the Leafs off to a dream start just 1:35 into the game after the Caps were caught in deep and the Leafs took off on a 3-on-2 break. A pretty passing play between Marner, Bozak and JVR was cleaned up by Marner after JVR’s second effort put the puck back into play with Braden Holtby out of position.
The Marner line also set the stage for the Gardiner 2-0 goal, pinning the Caps’ top line in its own zone before the Kadri line came over the boards and scored on the tired Ovechkin unit. Watch all the puck races/battles Marner wins in one sequence here:
Simply a dominant shift, and it led directly to the Gardiner goal seconds later. If the Marner line can maintain this level of performance going forward in the series, it’s going to create serious matchup dilemmas for Barry Trotz.
4. Also wanted to highlight this play from Marner below. On his last shift prior to this video, Marner turned the puck over to the Capitals with a blind no-look pass in his own zone. He came back out and pulled this off even deeper in the D-zone.
He just keeps coming.
5. All over the puck, Marner elevated his performance tonight in his first ever taste of the NHL playoffs. Meanwhile, Nylander put four shots on goal in 5:38 of ice time in that first period. Playoffs? No big deal. The kids were ready to go from puck drop.
6. The Leafs defence pairings got by okay in this game, all things considered.
The Gardiner and Polak pairing carried 55+% of the possession in their 9-10 5v5 minutes against the Ovechkin and Backstrom line, with Ovechkin finishing at minus-one with just one shot on goal at the end of the night.
Morgan Rielly drew praise after the game from his head coach for his “best game of the year”; his pairing alongside Matt Hunwick saw the Kuznetsov-line matchup most often but saw a fair bit of Ovechkin’s unit as well.
Marincin and Carrick were the only two defencemen to break even in possession overall (mostly due to the Capitals’ ascendancy in the third), but they saw very limited minutes — down around 14 apiece. Marincin had options available other than going up the wall into traffic in overtime, but that game-winning goal is on Andersen; it was a bad-angle shot from a non-scoring position and he got beat cleanly. Marincin broke up a few plays with his wingspan and moved the puck well enough for a guy who hadn’t played in a month, while Carrick did a good job of withstanding the forecheck and finding outlets, but that pairing didn’t play much due to Babcock’s limited control over the matchups.
7. As much as they’ve been good soldiers who have played some quality hockey down the stretch, needless to say, it’s going to be pretty difficult to win a playoff series against the Capitals with Hunwick and Polak playing over 20 even-strength minutes apiece (26 and 24 total, respectively).
8. The Leafs did a good job limiting the Ovechkin line — the Kadri line plus Gardiner-Polak, when Babcock was able to get his matchup — but one of the Capitals’ offensive weapons that enjoyed a tonne of space and offensive looks in this game was Kevin Shattenkirk. He picked up an assist and finished with nine shots on goal, a few of which were grade-A scoring opportunities. Two of those shots came off of rushes, his best two scoring opportunities came when he slipped unchecked into the slot, and two of his other shots on goal came when he was wide open at the top of the circles after the puck switched to the weakside with the Leafs in overload:
The Leafs have to tighten the screws here with improved awareness in the defensive zone or Shattenkirk will wage damage with these kinds of looks. 44 shots against with Shattenkirk teeing off like it’s open season is not a recipe for success in this series.
9. It could be viewed as either encouraging or concerning that the Leafs put together a good effort tonight and the Capitals still found a way to win.
On the one hand, the Leafs carried the play at even strength in the first 40 minutes, Andersen let in two bad goals, the Capitals got a flukey one on a 5-on-3 power play, and they shut down Washington’s top line. The Leafs should take some confidence from knowing they can play with these guys after the first half of the game.
10. On the other, they coughed up another multi-goal lead and Andersen was probably the only reason they survived the third period. After the Leafs carried 54% of the shot attempts through 40 minutes, the Capitals took over in the final frame with 66% possession and Toronto didn’t create many openings as the game wore on.
The Leafs were very competitive tonight overall, but Washington definitely has another level to find from what we saw in Game #1. How about the Leafs? Let’s watch and find out. A series this tightly-contested from start to finish would be quite the feat, regardless of the final result.
More Game 1 analysis to come on Friday