Sorry to disappoint, but this isn’t your regularly scheduled William Nylander content. We’re going to move on right to some actual hockey discussion.
One Mike Babcock quote I love and have brought up a few times is, “The good teams always eat up the other team in the second period.”
This is all about puck management and the long change; a team can tilt the ice against an opponent and really bury them if they can’t push back. In saying that, let’s take a look at the Leafs splits by period:
|Shots/period||Goals/period||Shots against/period||Goals against/period|
The Leafs are actually tied with the Capitals for the most total goals for in the second period (the Caps have a game in hand on the Leafs). Last season, the Leafs were 14th in goals for in the second period. Where they thrived was the first period, where they ranked second in the league.
It’s easier to change and control the puck in the first and third, and in transition, the Leafs are just about the most dangerous team in the league. This is a player on their fourth line turning a missed chance into a scoring opportunity (in the second period after a line change helped cause the goal!)
In the third period, we can see their shots against and goals against rises — we’ve seen the Leafs retreat while protecting leads — but it’s worth noting:
- 11-0-0 when scoring first
- 10-0-0 when leading after the first period
- 12-0-0 when leading after the second period
The Leafs have generally not come out and started games hot (Flyers game aside), but they’re doing a good job so far of getting through the first, creating a cushion in the second, and seeing it through in the third. Overall, when you’re outscoring your opponents on average in each period and sitting near the top the league, there’s very little to complain about.
– At the start of the season, Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen were on the fourth line trying to carve out opportunities in limited minutes. They only ended up playing a little under 18 minutes together in which they weren’t on for any goals for or against and they were out-chanced by one. It was a very limited sample, but both players were playing so little and overall not particularly impacting the game. Since then, Kasperi Kapanen moved up the lineup rather quickly and now appears to be cementing his role in the Leafs top six. Johnsson took a bit longer, including a few healthy scratches, but injuries mean opportunities, and he’s starting to make good on that.
– Andreas Johnsson didn’t play more than 10 minutes until his eighth game of the season. Three games after that, he scored his first goal of the season against the New Jersey Devils. Including that game, he has five goals in his last 10 games and 23 shots on net. In the 10 games before that (he’s played in 20 games total this season), he had one assist and 12 shots on net. Some of that is just logical – if you play more, you should be getting more points/shots on net. Some of this, it should be noted, might be a little lucky, too. Since moving up the third line with Connor Brown, Johnsson and Brown together have a 46.54 CF%. By scoring chances, it’s even worse at 41.61%, yet their goals for percentage is 72.73%.
Should note, too, that Johnsson just turned 24 last week. He’s a pending RFA this summer as well.
– Conversely, Tyler Ennis appears to be settling in. Since dropping to the fourth line alongside Josh Leivo, they have a 49.04CF% together, a 45.53SF%, and they’ve been on for four goals for and none against. I did do a double take when I saw that his power play point against the Bruins was his first with the man advantage this season. His 5’9 listing is extremely generous, but he’s feisty and runs a guy or two each game.
– Against the Bruins, Travis Dermott had a great stretch pass to Nazem Kadri for a breakaway. We know the Leafs love the stretch pass, but I can’t recall many (if any) going to a center like that. It’s almost always the far side winger. It might have been a broken play and a case of taking advantage of an opening, but it’s something to watch.
– Lots of talk about Patrick Marleau and his veteran value given he hit the 1,600 games played mark this week (incredible accomplishment – congratulations, Patrick), but also of note, he’s been picking up his play with the Leafs missing key contributors. In November, he has nine points in 13 games after a slow start to the season. The Marleau – Kadri – Kapanen unit looks like something worth keeping together. Since pairing the speedy Marleau and Kapanen together, they have a 51.39CF%/49.33SF% together, and they’ve been on for 15 goals for vs. 10 against.
– I try not to talk about the obvious too much in this space, but what a start for Mitch Marner this season. He’s currently on pace for 108 points, which would be the most in a Leafs uniform since Doug Gilmour’s 111 point season in 1993-94.
The game is just going so slow for him as he takes laps around the offensive zone on a nightly basis with the puck on his stick. You could see his amazing ability on his edges in his set up to Igor Ozhiganov — he got the puck, pulled a nifty toe drag, took it behind the net, stopped up, and passed it for the scoring opportunity. ??One of the better examples as well was his 2v1 with Morgan Rielly in overtime against Anaheim, where he got the puck and could’ve raced up the ice, but he slowed right down and allowed time for Rielly to catch up. He played it perfectly.
– If there’s one forward on the Marlies I’m keeping a particular eye on for possibly this season, it’s Mason Marchment. He has 13 points in 13 games, he’s 6’4, and he plays with a bit of a mean streak that goes over the edge at times (yes, we all remember his dad). A lefty that can play wing or center, he might be able to give a different look to a Leafs line at a position they aren’t great at (left wing).
“There is always disappointment when you’re pushed out the door, but that’s just the nature of the game. They had a younger, more viable option with Garret and he’s done a tremendous job so far so it was the right decision.”
– Curtis McElhinney on losing his job with the Leafs to Garret Sparks
Curtis McElhinney is a classy guy and was a good veteran here in Toronto. His save against Sidney Crosby is one of the most exciting Toronto Maple Leafs moments in the past 10 years (yes, that is somewhat sad).
“With Matty, I always felt like I knew where he was going and if he wanted me to go too. With Nazy, he makes great plays but sometimes I get a little bit lost with Nazy, because he’s a bit all over the place.”
– Kasperi Kapanen on differences between playing with Matthews and Kadri
Part of this is just that Nazem Kadri has to have more deception to his game in order to create. For Matthews, it often doesn’t matter if opponents know what’s coming because he can do it anyway and still score. Kadri will also go out of his way to hit guys on occasion and he checks lower in the defensive zone, both of which can throw off the timing for a player whose speed can change things in a second.
“… the bottom line is, we played heavy and we played fast. We did lots of good things.”
– Mike Babcock after the loss to Columbus
Mitch Marner said something similar about playing heavy (and down low in the offensive zone) in an interview after the Boston game. The Leafs are doing it a bit different –- against the Bruins for example, they had a few sequences where they were spaced out on either side of the offensive zone and ripped it around the boards to each other versus a more conventional cycling, but they are on the smaller/speedier/skill side, so that makes sense.
We saw this last season with Babcock, too. As December rolls around, he wants to start seeing more cycling and offensive zone time. Players like Kapanen, Leivo and Johnsson have added more of a forechecking element than they had last year. While they do stretch pass still (and they should to some degree), I see a team trying to diversify themselves a bit here, too.
5 Things I Think I’d Do
1. Once again, not to repeat myself, but I think I’d just trying to ease Auston Matthews back in on the third line. He’s played with Brown before and they can put either Lindholm or Johnsson on the left side. The top two lines are going and they don’t have to break either of them up. It might only last a period — maybe a game — but they don’t have to throw Matthews back in the fire, nor do they need him to carry them/give them a shot in the arm. Babcock is playing with house money here; he can basically do whatever he wants.
2. With the next back-to-back starting on December 22, I think it’s too far off from now Garret Sparks to sit that long. I’ve said this for a few seasons now, but backup goalie stuff aside, they have to preserve Andersen. This is a team built to make a run this year (and for many years). It makes no sense for their starting goalie to play basically a month straight.
3. I think Josh Leivo is passing Connor Brown for me as an impact player at 5v5. At the beginning of the season it looked like Leivo was getting a great opportunity playing on the third line with Nazem Kadri, but it’s pretty clear to me he can’t play his off-wing. Since moving to the right, he has been much more comfortable, both picking pucks up off the wall in his own zone and controlling the puck off the rush on his strong side. To that point, he’s never going to pass Marner, Kapanen, or presumably Nylander, but I think he can play higher up. That stint on the left side was not indicative of his game alongside a top-end player. At this point, Brown’s major contribution is on the penalty kill (he’s second among Leafs forwards in shorthanded ice time per game), but otherwise, he’s creating very little offense himself.
4. I think one thing pulling the goalie early does is forces teams to have two sets of defensive pairings and forward lines ready to go, so the Leafs will have to figure out who that is going to be. At the end of the game protecting the lead against the Bruins, the Leafs had Rielly – Hainsey out, which makes sense, but if they get gassed and the Leafs have to change, the remaining pool of players is Travis Dermott, Jake Gardiner, Nikita Zaitsev and Igor Ozhiganov. That isn’t exactly going to make anyone feel warm and fuzzy. With the way he’s been playing and his role on the PK, Dermott makes sense. At this point, they’d put Zaitsev out with him, but ideally, they upgrade this overall.
5. No matter what happens, I think we’ll all be happy to see the William Nylander saga conclude one way or another this weekend. My guess is that a deal does get done, with the real question being the term as opposed to the annual average (it will be between 6.5 and 7, I figure, but that’s just my own speculation, to be clear).