Over the last few games, the commentary and the gameplan have been pretty straightforward: If they can start the game well and kill penalties, the Toronto Maple Leafs should feel pretty confident.
In Game 6, the Leafs did start well. They had a number of scoring opportunities and opened the scoring about ten minutes into the game. That test was passed.
The penalty kill? They allowed two power-play goals in the second half of the first period.
While soundly losing the special teams battle is a losing recipe (the Leafs went 0/3 on the power play), what made matters worse is it went to the Bruins’ legs and they took over the game. The second period belonged to Boston, as did most of the third. Via Natural Stat Trick:
After the game, Mike Babcock was bang on:
“I thought we were really ready. We were jumping big time. As soon as we had a little adversity and they scored twice, we didn’t recover. I don’t know if that’s the emotions getting the better of us. We couldn’t get that back in check. To say we weren’t ready would be totally wrong. We started really well and played really well. And then, boom, once they scored, we didn’t recover very good.”
Throughout the past few games, we have talked about the Leafs discovering and sticking to their formula to win games – quick transition breakouts, using their speed, and letting their forwards go to work. The matchups were to their liking and the Bruins have regularly been chasing line combinations and matchup changes.
In the second period, the Bruins flipped the switch. They held the puck in the Leafs zone for long stretches, controlled possession, and made plays while in the offensive zone. Often they focused on getting pucks to the point and getting shots to the net with traffic. It was on a power play in the first period, but that approach led to the Bruins second goal of the game.
After two periods, the Bruins defense was outshooting the entire Leafs team. On the night, the Bruins defense put 18 shots on net. The Leafs had 24 total.
What largely kept the Leafs in the game – and has been a huge positive throughout the entire series – is the play of Frederik Andersen. He was once again fantastic. Andersen stopped Jake DeBrusk on a breakaway, David Pastrnak alone in front, Patrice Bergeron alone at the top of the circle, and Sean Kuraly on a 2v1.
Eventually, Morgan Rielly almost hit Auston Matthews for a backdoor pass while staring an open net down, but the puck didn’t drop in time for Matthews to make contact. That was the Leafs’ best chance to tie it as Boston scored an empty-net goal shortly after. They deserved the win.
Now we go to Game 7. If you had told me at the beginning of the season it would come down to this, I wouldn’t have been surprised. It always felt like this was meant to be.
- Biggest matchup difference at home is how hard Babcock matches up. In Game 6, we noted how Cassidy split the matchup against Matthews, but Babcock had him go straight up against the Krejci more or less (over 10 minutes played against Krejci in particular), whereas Cassidy had Charlie Coyle out against him quite a bit as well to even it out. Instead, Nylander saw over nine minutes against Coyle.
- Mentioned after last game that Mitch Marner was held without a shot – now it’s two games in a row without a shot on net. At the beginning of the series, I noted how the Bruins might want to sneak on Krug – Carlo with the top line and spread out their defense, but they have been hard matching Chara against Marner. While Chara’s skating is non-existent and he’s aging rapidly, he’s still 6’9 with a long reach and he’s neutralizing him. It’s difficult for Marner to find space right now and we are not seeing the dominant shifts that we are used to seeing from him. Early on, the Leafs benefitted from the top head-to-head matchup, but when they stalemate each other and the Bruins cash in on power plays while the Leafs don’t, well… Now you’re looking for the Leafs third and fourth lines to chip in multiple goals on top of what Matthews is doing.
- Halfway through the second, the Leafs got a power play while down 3-1 and the best chance on it actually went to the Bruins – it’s one thing if power plays aren’t scoring, but those are just demoralizing, momentum-sucking moments in the game when that happens.
- The Leafs also alternated their power play quarterbacks for the second units — sometimes it was Jake Gardiner, sometimes it was Jake Muzzin. Different looks for sure, but you wonder how that impacts the rest of the players on the unit, having to switch from a shooter to a passer. Even more so for the breakouts – those are two very different players moving up ice.
- Haven’t seen that type of shot from Morgan Rielly very often. A few minutes before his goal he also hit the post on a one-timer (although it was tipped). That’s a nice addition to his game and something to look out for moving forward. The Bruins have been collapsing on the penalty kill and daring Rielly to shoot so he has to make them think twice about that.
- Was also nice to see Rielly mix it up with DeBrusk and give him a little extra – DeBrusk is playing in this series no worse for wear, while Kadri is suspended for the incident. That can’t sit well with the Leafs.
- Nice note from Mike Kelly here – always wondered about Auston Matthews on the opposite side for the power play and thought maybe he doesn’t have a one-timer or something, but he can clearly let it rip from that side of the ice, too.
Auston Matthews scored twice from the right circle this season. He's got three from there this series.
— Mike Kelly (@MikeKellyNHL) April 21, 2019
- Bruce Cassidy spoke after Game 5 about the Leafs not playing their fourth line much, so I wondered if he’d load up to combat that, but he actually evened out his ice time. Only one forward played under 10 minutes. Patrice Bergeron was second among their forward group in total ice time and he didn’t even play 18 minutes (Marchand played over 20 though). The Leafs had four forwards play more than Bergeron and have been much more top heavy all series. With Kadri out, the third line is generally not dangerous, even though they did chip in a goal in Game 6.
- Rather quietly, Travis Dermott was third among Leafs defensemen in total ice time. When the Leafs are down, they look for him to push offense. Tied or winning, they don’t appear to trust him very much. Hainsey seems to get brought up a lot, but he didn’t even play 16 minutes on the night. I’m not sure how much less he can feasibly play.
“We wanted to be aggressive, keep pucks alive with our defensemen… I thought we were attacking the net better. Just more overall of our identity. We typically do have the shot advantage. We were able to do that. And force teams to breakout and change and we regroup and attack.”
– Bruce Cassidy on the Bruins playing with their identity in Game 6
This is the Bruins we expected to see – slow the game down, cycle, jam the Leafs up in the neutral zone and shove it down their throats.
“I just know today that they scored and we had won the faceoff. They shot it in the net. That’s the first one. The second one, we got on our heels and they shot it in our net. The bottom line is we have to fix it. We fixed it before our last game in Boston and did a real nice job. We didn’t do it today.”
– Mike Babcock discussing the penalty kill
Think the biggest thing for me is just how uncoordinated they look and the clear lack of confidence they have right now. Every Bruins power play instantly feels dangerous. They are setting up with ease and getting their shots, and it’s really a matter of if they convert their chances more than anything. That’s scary. The Leafs had success the game prior because they disrupted their entries. But once they do set up, it’s dangerous.
“It’s a new year. I don’t think we need to keep doing those comparisons every time. It’s not what we’re focusing on. We’re focusing on getting better for the next game.”
– Frederik Andersen on a second straight Game 7 in Boston
Frederik Andersen, and most of his teammates, had no interest in discussing last year’s Game 7 after the game.
I don’t blame them, and it is an annoying question, but if they don’t want to hear it, there’s only one thing they can do to stop it.
“They’ve played really well in our building so far this series and the ice has been terrible there so we might as well play with a tennis ball, skate around and see who can bounce one in the net.”
– Brad Marchand on playing at TD Garden for Game 7
The ice has been terrible, and I do think it factors in. That makes it a keep-it-simple, chip-and-chase kind of game. It’s not a game to get cute when the puck is bouncing all over the place.
5 Things I Think I’d Do
- I think the top power-play unit needs to play the majority of the power play. The Leafs had three power plays and their top three forwards in ice time for it were: Matthews, Kapanen, and Marleau, in that order. The Bruins went 2/2 on the power play and played a total of 2:24 in the process. Their top unit played every second. Load up and go down with your best.
- I think John Tavares needs to start taking the shorthanded faceoffs. Hyman is 5/21 on shorthanded faceoffs this series. Tavares was at 53.5% for shorthanded faceoffs on the season and he’s at 49.1% in this series overall. Don’t think asking a non-traditional faceoff guy in Zach Hyman to take all but six shorthanded faceoffs so far this series, primarily against Patrice Bergeron (!), is setting him or the team up for success. Forget the scrummed goal; the Bruins are too easily winning draws and setting up shop.
- I think the penalty kill as a whole needs to be more aggressive. They retreated and let Boston, particularly Torey Krug up top, put on a shooting gallery. Use your speed and close off lanes, but get on them. It’s way too easy for any team in the league to just set up shop and move the puck around at will, let alone a team as good on the PP as the Bruins are. You have to make them uncomfortable.
- I think this Patrick Marleau ice time deployment is bordering on crazy now, if not full on crazy. He played 6:03 in the third period, fourth-most among Leafs forwards. He played 3:07 on the PP, third-most among forwards. He has six shots on net and two assists in the series so far. What is possibly being seen to justify that much ice time? I mean, this isn’t rocket science at this point.
- I think on that note, Tyler Ennis and Trevor Moore are deserving of bump ups in ice time. Nothing drastic, but they should be around the 10 to 11ish minute mark each, instead of 7-8. Ennis brings something offensively and Moore brings forechecking.