Game #22 Review: Carolina Hurricanes 5 vs. Toronto Maple Leafs 2

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Carolina Hurricanes
AP Photo/Gerry Broome

The Toronto Maple Leafs weren’t ready for a fast-paced, organized and hungry Carolina Hurricanes team on Wednesday night, digging themselves an early 2-0 hole they couldn’t fight their way back from.

Your game in ten:

1.  You could say it’s not surprising for the Leafs to lose the shot attempts battle against a team like Carolina — considering some of the respective team’s tendencies in their systems play — but no one expected the near record-setting 28 shots and 38 shot attempts total that the Hurricanes managed after period one.

The intermission crew on Sportsnet joked about it after the period and even recounted to see if there wasn’t some inflation on the part of the home team. There wasn’t.

Breakouts and the opposing forecheck of the Hurricanes was a big part of the reason this happened. Overall, the Leafs just didn’t win enough races and puck battles as the Hurricanes played the first period at a full level above them as far as overall urgency and competitiveness to their game. The Leafs have done less of the casually wading into games on the road than at home, but that was certainly the case in the first period of this game and the Hurricanes consequently ran them over for the first 20.

2.  The Hurricanes looked the part of a challenging foil for the Leafs for periods throughout this game, particularly early, in that they are one of few teams that can actually skate close to the Leafs‘ level and also play a heavier style at the same time.

The Leafs will speed bag most teams this year with their current lineup; when Matthews and Nylander are back, that advantage in the skill and speed department will only be amplified. For success in the playoffs, though, the Leafs will need to be able to counter different styles. They can outskate and out-skill almost anybody, but at some point, a series won’t be going their way, the team won’t have its best skating legs in a critical game in the series, and they’re going to need to be able to pour a bit of honey on the game and win one in the trenches. That’s the challenge this team has to prove it can overcome in the postseason. Until they do, we’ll see games like this and wonder if they can.

3.  The Canes brought their aggressive defensive structure to the PK as well. The Leafs only managed one shot on goal in their two power plays in the second period. Carolina’s focus, naturally, was on Marner and Tavares on the half walls, as they stayed aggressive and tried force plays to happen quicker than the Leafs wanted to make them. The Leafs had their looks, as they always do, but couldn’t complete the critical pass or get the puck to settle down at the right moment.

The Leafs still lead the league by a wide margin in individual scoring chances and slot shots at 5v4, and a chunk of that comes from their half-wall players being able to find deflections and passes in the slot. But Tavares pointed something interesting out last night: The lack of power play time versus Columbus may have played a role in his unit lacking a bit of sharpness on the man advantage. That’s probably a real challenge and one that is unique to the Leafs — knowing how few game reps they actually get on the man advantage relative to the rest of the league — as far as maintaining their feel and rhythm.

4.  Kasperi Kapanen has been an easy talking point of late. His ability in transition, especially for a team that likes to fire passes into and behind opposing defenders as much as Toronto does, are second to none. His third period was fantastic, and he had a couple of shifts with multiple puck recoveries in the offensive zone and some good rush chances — all of it capped off with this beauty to make it 3-2 in the third:

Kapanen has become a real game breaker. His speed and tenacity can make things happen out of nothing when the team isn’t up to much or the game appears to be getting away from them. The consistency of his competitiveness from game to game has been really impressive to watch with another year of maturation in the league.

5.  The Frederik Gauthier, Tyler Ennis, and Josh Leivo line was again a positive for the Leafs. It’s not often they’ll get significantly out possessed or out-chanced by the other teams depth forwards. They might have given up more than they took against the Canes, but they don’t have to don’t have to go up against a bottom line centered by Victor Rask very often.

Gauthier’s commitment to playing low in his own zone is one of the hallmarks of his game. He wins a lot of pucks behind and around his own net, as he helps his defenders with their coverage around the slot. Playing alongside two offensively-gifted depth players, that allows them the freedom to take some more chances and create more at the other end.

Here’s a clip from the first period when Gauthier is positioned down low supporting his defensemen before starting the rush with other way and dishing it off to Ennis, who springs Leivo with an excellent flip pass over the defender:

7.  The second period were 20 minutes the Leafs needed something more out of. They bounced back from a first period where they got killed in the latter half and managed to fire 11 shots on net while giving up just two, with 57% of the shot attempts going in their favour. What they didn’t do was get to the hard areas of the ice often enough, though, as they only managed six shots from the slot in the second and third periods combined.

8.  Ultimately, the Tavares line was the only Leafs forward unit that decisively won their matchup on the night. As a line, they controlled over 60% of the shot attempts and scoring chances. Rod Brind’Amour matched the Jordan Staal line against Tavares with the aim of getting his best defensive center on the Leafs’ best offensive pivot, but JT won that battle decisively and continues to be an absolute warrior in away-from-home matchup situations, piling up 11 goals in 11 road games. Marner has been driving a lot of what this line has been able to do of late, but it was definitely primarily the work of Tavares and Hyman in this one, as Marner never really got going on the night.

On the flip side, Par Lindholm and his line had a rough evening. They were the victims of Carolina’s first long stint in the offensive zone in the first period, and looked slow to pucks against the Lucas Wallmark, Jordan Martinook, and Andrei Svechnikov line, who they played over ten minutes against and finished in the low 20s in CF%.

9.  It was another game light on special times time as the Leafs took just one penalty and drew only two. They’ve killed just 96 minutes worth of penalties this season (second least) and generated just over 100 minutes of power play time (fifth least).

It’s a team that plays whistle-to-whistle with little extracurricular activity, partially explaining the low penalty total for and against, but their speed puts other teams in difficult spots and it should theoretically lead to a reasonable number of penalties drawn. They could certainly do more down-low cycling and driving of the net, though.

10.  For anyone familiar with the Leafs history in games against former Leafs, it wasn’t the biggest surprise to see McElhinney pull off a solid game. There were some scrambly moments where his awkward style shone through, but the 35-year-old was steady and has now won five of seven starts as a Cane.

At the other end, we’ll hold off on the criticism for Andersen — who is about the least deserving of it on the team — but he wasn’t at his best last night. The Canes found his five-hole twice on their second and third goals, although neither was totally his fault. The first goal was an awkward one, with Andersen left helpless after attempting to corral the loose puck and losing his glove and stick.

Babcock challenged it for interference — and maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t… who knows at this point? — but really that’s irrelevant for me because it should’ve been blown dead as soon as Andersen lost his equipment.

Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Carolina Hurricanes

Game Highlights