Game #32 Review: Tampa Bay Lightning 4 vs. Toronto Maple Leafs 1

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Tampa Bay Lightning, John Tavares & Andrei Vasilevskiy
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The Toronto Maple Leafs fired a season-high 49 shots on goal but couldn’t solve Andrei Vasilevskiy in an encouraging effort with a frustrating result against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night.

Scattered thoughts:

– The game ground down to a bit of a crawl as it petered out, but the first two periods lived up to the hype of the first seed and the second seed going toe to toe. It was fantastic entertainment between two teams who are the best in the league when it comes to playing fast, transitioning from defense to offense, and completing skilled play after skilled play at high speeds.

–  From the Tampa Bay Lightning broadcast announcers in the third period:

I don’t think we’ve seen the Lightning spend this much time on their own side of the red line all season.

49-21 Toronto in shots by the end, the Leafs outshot and out chanced (high danger) the Lightning in each period at 5v5 and drew six power plays to boot (that’s more than what they drew in five games combined between Nov. 24-Dec 1). If the Leafs played this same game 10 times, they win eight or nine of them.

It was about as good of a game as the Leafs have played this season as far as exiting the zone cleanly/efficiently and establishing their forecheck — and generating turnovers off said forecheck — consistently over 60 minutes. There was nothing to be ashamed about with the effort at 5v5 in this one. The Leafs should take a lot of positives out of this as far as their belief about how a potential playoff series might play out.

– There was nothing to hang your heads about if you’re the Leafs, but there should be some frustration about the manner in which they shot themselves in the foot.

The shorthanded goal against was inexcusable — a horrible first power play in general, but William Nylander skated straight into traffic when the puck should’ve been laid off to Tyler Ennis on the wall for the easy entry — and the 4-1 goal right at the end of the second period was a total backbreaker that was also avoidable.

The momentum had turned after the Leafs didn’t cash in (somehow) on all of their second-period power plays and the Leafs gave one up to Alex Killorn (would’ve been nice to get a save there, but Hainsey and Nylander played it poorly as well). At that point, they just needed to get out of the period alive. Mike Babcock went with his fourth line and third pairing with 30 seconds left in the period and the Tavares/Marner line was rested enough to go out. A bit of a head-scratcher there.

More than who Babcock put out there though, it was a strange time for Travis Dermott to take a gamble like he did (and he didn’t get himself back in the play properly after the turnover).

– Haven’t seen a goaltending performance like the one out of Andrei Vasilevskiy in this game in a long time — he stopped 47 straight shots after Kasperi Kapanen scored on the Leafs’ second shot of the night.

It’s not like the Leafs made it easy on him — loads of tips/deflections, second/third opportunities, tons of action at the net. Not among the shot total because (for some reason) they don’t count as shots on goal: The Leafs hit four posts.

This save summed up the Leafs and Vasilevskiy’s night:

Just one of those evenings.

 Mentioned William Nylander’s turnover earlier for Anthony Cirelli’s 1-1 shorthanded goal, but really that was the culmination of a horrible first power play from the Leafs in which they got handily outworked by the Lightning PK units. You’ve got to approach your battles and play with the same level of urgency as you would at 5v5 against the talent the Lightning put out shorthanded and how hard-working their units are. A Lightning forward in full possession of the puck down low in the Leaf zone tried to set up a chance for a Tampa defenseman in the high slot twice on that first power play. The Leafs got no less than they deserved there.

That said, on the first two power plays of the second period, it’s unbelievable the Leafs didn’t score at least one. A full two-minutes of in-zone possession, zipping the puck around, completing seam passes to the backdoor only for a desperation stick/block or a ridiculous Vasilevskiy save to shut the door, time and time again.

The Leafs are now 0 for their last 12 on the power play, and there is some adjusting to do, but they should’ve had a couple PP goals in this game.

–  Pretty obvious that the Leafs special teams lost them the game as they were responsible for the 1-1 and 2-1 goals. On the penalty kill leading to the 2-1 Tampa goal, the Leafs were basically giving up free one-timers to Kucherov; Andersen stopped the first one and nearly came up with a miraculous save on the second one, but it edged over the line. The Lightning power play is built around the two one-time options for Stamkos and Kucherov; you’ve got to give up something, so it’s about picking your poison. With Hedman in possession up top, Marner had his stick in the lane to Stamkos on the goal, but Hainsey and Lindholm were doubling up on the bumper play, giving up a free passing lane and clean looks for Kucherov in the left circle.

10th in the league the last two seasons, the Leafs PK dipped below 80% (79.6, 15th) after the game.

–  Whatever the gene is that allows certain athletes to rise to the occasion in the big game, Kasperi Kapanen clearly has it. We all know the history — golden goal at the WJCs, goal vs. Pittsburgh to clinch the Leafs’ playoff berth in 2017, the goals vs. Washington in his first NHL playoff series, the Game 7 goal versus Boston — and those are certainly bigger moments than game #32 of the regular season vs. Tampa, but his start to this game was impressive, to say the least. He had a 2v1 chance that hit the crossbar (the Leafs started the game crossbar – shot on goal – goal for their first three attempts). He then caused the chaos just before the 1-0 goal to chase down and out battle Victor Hedman on the puck race before jumping on a turnover from Nikita Kucherov and burying his 12th of the season.

This pattern is… interesting from a player with Steven Stamkos’ injury history.

The first one got him a fine of $5,000, so it should be on the league’s radar.

– When Par Lindholm has played on the fourth line either centering or on the opposite wing of Tyler Ennis (~60 minutes of 5v5 time), they’re at 40% CF together and have been outchanced 28-12. They scored against Carolina, but the concern here is there is no clear identity on the Leafs fourth line anymore — it’s neither a skilled enough line nor a heavy enough line when these two make up 2/3rds of it.

Doesn’t necessarily mean everything on its own, but Lindholm’s ten goals against (zero for) in 55 minutes of kill time is the worst in terms of total goals against and per 60 goals against of any Leaf forward.  Credit where it’s due, he’s been better in the faceoff circle shorthanded than Tavares and Hyman have been (and won three straight on the Lightning’s first PP of the game), but he’s still figuring out his spacing.

Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

Game Highlights