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After falling just short in the series opener, the Maple Leafs will be looking to steal home-ice advantage in Game 2 at the Verizon Centre on Saturday night.

The Leafs began Game 1 prepared. Overall, they led for 34 minutes, were tied for 31 minutes, and lost the game in sudden-death overtime. They used their speed, won puck battles, and forced Washington to adjust their game.

Toronto will look to generate the same kind of start that saw them outplay Capitals for most of the first 40 minutes of the game. The game evened out in the third and Washington wound up outshooting and out-chancing the Leafs by the end of regulation, but 2-2 after two periods seemed like a harsh result from the Leafs perspective given the tough break on the 5-on-3 tally and the bad tying goal on Frederik Andersen.

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The OT goal mirrored that of so many others we’ve seen over the years in the playoffs, with a relatively low-profile player in Tom Wilson throwing a puck on net in a play that seemed harmless. Whether or not the Leafs can elevate their play to match a Capitals team that wasn’t pleased with its Game 1 effort — and continue to execute their systems and use their speed to overwhelm the Caps as they did for significant spells of the game — will determine if they can grab a much-needed road split before the series heads back to Toronto.

What to Expect

With Nikita Zaitsev out for Game 1, it was interesting to watch how Babcock and his staff handled the defense core in terms of matchups and zone starts. Babcock acknowledged that he liked Tuesday night’s effort from his blue line; one would assume he’ll go with the same assignments for his defense pairs tonight, but we’ll have to wait and see what adjustments and counter-adjustments are made by the head coaches after Game 1.

The Gardiner-Polak pairing received the highest percentage of their minutes against the Backstrom line of the 3 pairs (35%), but the Rielly-Hunwick pair wasn’t far behind. The coaching staff usually hard matched a Leaf pair more aggressively than that against top competition in 2016-17, but with Zaitsev out, they defended the Ovechkin line by-committee on the road. That strategy may suit the current lineup better, even with a healthy Zaitsev, as the coaching staff hasn’t been able to find a consistently solid matchup pair all year.

The same two pairs mentioned above had the by far the most starts in the defensive zone, with Polak finishing at 29.4ZS%. The third pair of Marincin-Carrick had a combined average 72.0 ZS% and played around 14 minutes total as Babcock sheltered them, to say the least. It goes without saying that the biggest area of concern for the Leafs is that they only have two pairs Babcock trusts at the moment, and even then, neither is ideal with Zaitsev on the shelf.

Up front, Kadri’s line was forced to put in lots of work against Ovechkin-Backstrom-Oshie, receiving zero 5v5 offensive zone starts throughout the game. They did a solid job in Game 1, limiting their opportunities enough (5SA, -3 Corsi Differential) to warrant the same matchup again tonight (as much as Babcock can manage without last change). Barry Trotz acknowledged after the game that he was forced to move Ovechkin’s line away from Komarov – Kadri – Brown after the Leafs carried play in the first period, which is a chess match worth keeping an eye on.

Matthews’ line will look to have a better night than in Game 1. They had a combined 43.39 CF% and were outplayed by Washington’s Johansson-Kuznetsov-Williams line, who had an excellent night.

Coach’s Corner

Mike Babcock, on the message for Matthews’ line after not scoring in game one:

Let’s talk about Backstrom and Ovechkin. What happened last game? I don’t know if they were shut down, but you don’t have an 82-game look at it. You have a one-game look, and you go, “oh my god, nothing happened!” Lots happened. You just keep on keeping on. Willy hit the guy on the first shift right on the shoulder. Great save, Holtby. It doesn’t show on the stat sheet.  Just play the game. Be patient.

Babcock, on ‘upping the ante’ in Game 2:

We feel we can play better, but I bet Trotzy is feeling the same about his crew. We’ve got to play better than we did and then up more because they’re going to play better, too. All you had to do is watch the games last night. The intensity from game one to game two is different. You’ve got to up the ante, but you’ve got to enjoy that. Love it. Love the fact that there is no room, and that you’re still going to get the job done.

I thought we had a whole bunch of plays that were fine, but not as good as they’re capable of being. To be honest, when it was live, I didn’t see it as much as when I went through it. We can skate way better than we skated. I’m not trying to take anything away from them, because at this time of year you’re playing real hockey teams. You don’t want to take anything away from the opposition, but you know what you’re capable of and you want to maximize your group. We didn’t get that done last game.

Babcock, on the performance of the defence in Game 1:

I thought early we did a good job. I didn’t think we do as good of a job after because our forwards were too far from our D. We’ve got to skate better. The better we play, the more opportunities those D will have to look good.

Barry Trotz on Mitch Marner:

It’s probably a Babs question, but I’ll say it in generalities. The smaller players have an element of quickness, they’ve got a high element of skill and IQ, and they’ve got a high drive level. They have all of those aspects. The only thing they don’t have, maybe, is god-given physical size, but the rest is high-end. I think you look at the Patrick Kane’s and the Gaudreau’s of the league, and they all have that.

Trotz, on a quiet first game from the Ovechkin line:

They’ve got to be a little more impactful. They will. They’re big time players. As the series goes along, they’re going to have more and more impact. You see it in every series. When the game is on the line, they are the guys that always seem to step up. That’s at every level. Game 1 they didn’t have the impact that we probably wanted, but they will. They will have an impact on this series as it goes along. They’re too good of a line.

Trotz on systems adjustments and the shots on goal from the Capitals’ defence in Game 1:

Systematically, they do certain things, just like we do. They have their reasons. We have our reasons. We’ll have to wait and see if they make any adjustments, just like we’ll make adjustments. Those are some opportunities that we had. We had some really good looks from the backend walking in pretty deep. Those are some pretty good looks for our D. We’ve just got to capitalize.

We went into it feeling like we were going to go four lines. We didn’t get the start we wanted, so we adjusted, like we will and have done all year.

Trotz on Auston Matthews:

He’s got such a good skill level. He’s got range. The thing that he does really well that I think is underrated is he’s got a quick stick. With that quick stick, he’s got a lot of that Datsyuk ‘pick stick’ from behind. When you think you’re out of his range, he’s able to get a puck. He’s going to do some pretty good things. You’ve got to keep inside positioning and be aware of where he is. You’ve got to get some body contact on him and stay in between. He’s got deceptive speed. With all of those things, you’ve got to keep inside position as much as you can and have really good detail in terms of your ability to check him.

Trotz on whether pure checkers shadowing top players is a thing of the past:

I think there is more group awareness. The pure checking line that used to go out there and play every shift against the other top line, they’re becoming a little bit less and less. You look at a guy like Kadri, for instance, who has been in that role a little bit for the Leafs. He’s got 30 goals. He’s a pretty good player. I think that’s changed. Back in the day, the Dougie Jarvis’ were great players, but their mindset was just purely on the defensive side. They still put up some numbers because they did such a good job. I think in [today’s] game you’re going deeper — nine and ten deep, offensively. You’re getting away from that a little bit more and more from the game. It’s not out of the game, but you want the two-way centers in the league. They get probably more of those matchups. Backstrom can go against anyone in the league. When I was in Nashville, Mike Fisher did a lot of that stuff because he’s very reliable and he still produces offensively and he’s hard to play against. I think that’s more of the role — more the Ryan Kesler-type of player that can play in the league and still produce but still play that two-way game.

Transcriptions by Alec Brownscombe


Washington Capitals Projected Lineups

Click here for a player-by-player breakdown ahead of Game 2

Forwards

Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – T.J. Oshie
Marcus Johansson – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Justin Williams
Brett Connolly – Lars Eller – Andre Burakovsky
Daniel Winnik – Jay Beagle – Tom Wilson

Defensemen

Karl Alzner – John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov – Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik – Kevin Shattenkirk

Goaltenders

Starter: Braden Holtby (1-0, .946 SV%)
Backup: Philipp Grubauer

Scratched: Taylor Chorney, Paul Carey, Nate Schmidt


Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines

Click here for a player-by-player breakdown ahead of Game 2

Forwards

Leo Komarov – Nazem Kadri – Connor Brown
James Van Riemsdyk – Tyler Bozak – Mitch Marner
Zach Hyman – Auston Matthews -William Nylander
Matt Martin – Brian Boyle – Kasperi Kapanen

Defensemen

Morgan Rielly – Matt Hunwick
Jake Gardiner – Roman Polak
Martin Marincin – Connor Carrick

Goaltenders

Starter: Fredrik Andersen (0-1, .932 SV%)
Backup: Curtis McElhinney

Injured: Nikita Zaitsev, Eric Fehr, Nikita Soshnikov
Scratched: Josh Leivo, Alexey Marchenko


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