After a slow start, the Toronto Maple Leafs came from behind to grab a point with a late charge that easily could’ve produced a regulation win if not for the standout play of Roberto Luongo in the Florida net.
Thoughts in note form:
– The Leafs’ first five minutes were decent enough, and the shot count was a little misleading initially. The best chance in the first two minutes came on a Mitch Marner zone entry followed by a saucer pass into Auston Matthews in the slot that just missed the mark. There were a couple of 50-50 shifts as well as a good offensive-zone shift by the Matthews-Marner line that lasted over 30 seconds four minutes into the game — that shift included a goalmouth scramble and a point shot sent wide by Ron Hainsey, with no official shot on goal.
However, the Leafs faded for a spell as the period hit the 15:00 mark. The Panthers threw six or seven shots at the net in a two and a half minute span; none were from home plate area, but you have to be careful not to dismiss point shots as if they’re nothing to be worried about.
Point shots in and of themselves might not be dangerous, particularly in an era in which goalies are so good and so big and players are so good at taking away shot lanes. But the point of the shot is to create a defensive breakdown. The D turn and scramble. Second and third opportunities develop. It begins to feel as though the defensive team is under siege, while the attacking team starts to establish a rhythm. The defensive team’s first play is to clear the zone and get off the ice, which feeds into the territorial control of the offensive team, producing the wave-after-wave effect.
Even though it may feel as though there were no grade-A chances created, the shots are suddenly 11-0, which is how the shot clock read in this game after just eight minutes.
– There is no doubt in my mind the Leafs are more dangerous than the vast majority of the teams in the league when it comes to meaningful possession time in the offensive zone; they’re fully capable of doing more with less zone time. After a sustained spell of conceding shot attempts in their own zone, the Leafs went down the other way with 11:30 left in the period and, in a flash, generated the best chance for either team to that point off of their first registered shot on goal – a Connor Brown shot that led to a rebound opportunity on the door step for Tyler Bozak.
But they aren’t so special that they can start games slow and get away with it consistently, or go very far in the playoffs playing like this early in the game. It wasn’t as bad as the shot clock made it look, but the “wade-in” mindset has to change from what we’ve seen in the first periods of the last five games.
– Here is a cool look at one of the Leafs‘ breakouts in the first period from an eye-in-the-sky camera:
The idea here was to send a stretch pass to a stationary Hyman at the offensive blue line for a tip-in with Matthews in full flight bombing down on the loose puck. It’s a set play the Leafs use quite a bit. But Aaron Ekblad sees it coming from a mile away and jumps the play. The Leafs lose all of their momentum and resort to whacking it in and retreating.
Exhibit A in how a fast team can look slow.
It’s a matter of situational awareness here. At the start of the breakout, there was an option to go to Mitch Marner swinging low for a simple hand-off rather than the long bomb up Hyman + Ekblad’s side. This play is a good one to have in the toolbox for a team with the Leafs’ speed. But the opposition is aware of it, and at times this season, stretch hockey has become the Leafs’ Plan A too often in lieu of the higher percentage play.
-The Leafs revisited basically the same play five minutes into the second period and Florida was again all over it:
– When Auston Matthews is on his game (i.e. almost always), you can see the ice just tilt when he steps on for a shift.
One half of it is his ability with the puck. The other half is his ability without it: The way he uses every inch of his reach — which is very long; longer than the average 6’3 human — to strip opponents of the puck, his anticipation skills and ability to read ahead of the play, his hand-eye coordination and small-area skill that allows him to pick loose pucks out of mid-air or pull loose pucks out of crowds. I wanted to compile a video of the more subtle “puck magnet” plays that make him such a dominant force out there, but it quickly became too much of a project just 10 minutes into the game:
– In addition to large spells of the first period, I also didn’t like the section of the second period that preceded Patrick Marleau’s hooking penalty from the Leafs. They were disjointed, with two throwing-up-a-prayer stretch passes leading to icings followed by a dump out to neutral ice that had them swimming against the tide.
After they killed that penalty, though, the Leafs started to get their game together. There were good scoring chances for Nylander on a 2v1, JVR – on a really skilled play to beat a guy behind the net leading to a jam play out front — and Rielly after joining a rush led by Marner and Matthews.
Just after that came the flukey Florida goal from behind the goal line, but the Leafs weren’t deterred. With Nylander next to Kadri and Komarov for a shift, they generated one of their better spells of sustained o-zone pressure of the first 40 minutes.
– The Leafs started the third on the penalty kill, where Frederik Andersen was called into action for two good quick saves in tight on Jonathan Huberdeau.
The Leafs then totally took the game over as Mike Babcock shortened his bench and started rolling the following three lines out the door (for the most part):
Hyman – Matthews – Marner
Marleau – Kadri – Brown
JVR – Bozak – Nylander
Matt Martin didn’t play another shift after his last appearance with five minutes left in the second period. Leo Komarov and Nikita Soshnikov played only a couple of 5v5 shifts in the third period.
– Initially, I assumed Matt Martin didn’t see the ice again because of an injury. You could see him take a point shot to the arm area and double over on what turned out to be his final shift of the game.
But, based on the reports this morning, he’s healthy enough to play and will sit out as a healthy scratch vs. Carolina for the first time in his Leaf career. It will be really interesting to see the Leafs with their 12 best forwards in the lineup on Friday.
– The above units (Hyman – Matthews – Marner, Marleau – Kadri – Brown, JVR – Bozak – Nylander) are basically three top-six lines — all of which could pass for a first line no problem – and they were coming at Panthers in waves as Florida parked the bus and leaned on a spectacular performance from Roberto Luongo.
Few teams are able to do that successfully for a full period against a team with the Leafs’ offensive firepower, even with an otherworldly goaltending performance. The Leafs inevitably broke through on 2v1 for Connor Brown and Nazem Kadri, which Kadri finished for his 11th of the season, extending his points streak to a career-high eight games.
That Kadri, Marleau and Brown line nearly came right back after their goal and won the game on a pass to a wide-open Nikita Zaitsev at the backpost, but Zaitsev couldn’t settle the puck down. There were additional chances for Marner and Matthews from the slot and Hyman x2 from the door step (prior to the hit that got him pulled out of the game by the concussion spotters), but Luongo was dialled in, as he always seems to be against the Leafs.
– With 1:30 left in regulation, the Leafs had pulled the shot count to 38-37 Florida after starting the second period down 26-19. They were definitely counting shots by two at the BB&T Arena; there’s no way Florida put 11 shots on goal in the third period.
– I was surprised to see Jake Gardiner, on the Leafs’ best chance in overtime, shoot low on Luongo (he was easily turned aside by the right pad). In his deep butterfly, Luongo had walled off the bottom two-thirds of the net and the Leafs couldn’t solve him there all night.
– There is a video circulating of Nazem Kadri catching the official in the penalty box with the butt end of his stick accidentally when he slammed his stick in frustration over the call that went against him (He was well within his rights to be mad after the non-call on the initial cross check, but he should’ve known better re: NHL officiating and retaliation calls). The penalty box official was furious at him and let Kadri know.
For those curious, Kadri did acknowledge his mistake and apologize a little while later after he had cooled down: