The Toronto Maple Leafs prevailed in the shootout after a disappointing final two periods in Philadelphia on Saturday night.
Your game in ten:
1. The Leafs put together the first period we were expecting against a tired opponent after a light week consisting of a string of rest and practice days. They were coming out of their zone clean in five-man units, playing fast on defense and offense, looked organized through the neutral zone, and got all four lines rolling. They ran up a 10-1 shot count to open the game, including the opening goal by Kasperi Kapanen.
The game sort of devolved from there. The too-many-men penalty and unlucky bounce on the Flyers power-play goal was a tough break late in the first in a period which the Leafs should have led by rights, but from the second period onward, it was hard to wrap your head around Toronto’s second-best effort against a tired opponent.
The numbers: 72% possession in the first period for the Leafs, 27% in the second, and 39% in the third. The shots were 12-5 after the first 20 minutes in favour for the Leafs and ended 40-26 in favour of the Flyers, who outshot Toronto 35-14 in the final 45 minutes. Which team was rested and which was tired again?
2. Auston Matthews and William Nylander disappeared in the final 40 minutes, forcing Babcock to split them up by moving Nylander off the line after the Flyers’ 3-2 goal at the start of the third. The team played with terrible discipline yet again, which could partially explain the disappearing act by the top line. It’s not an excuse, but to go from 9-10 shifts in the first period for the top line to six in the second, with several three-minute spells without touching the ice surface, definitely doesn’t help matters — it kills the flow off the bench and lets the legs of Nylander and Matthews, in particular (as they don’t kill penalties), go cold.
The Leafs have battled this issue way too often in the first month and a bit — they’ve taken five or more penalties six times in 15 games and have been penalized 13 times in the last two. A lot of it is extending a free hand or sloppiness with the stick for high sticking, tripping, and slashing calls. Some of it might be due to the Leafs looking disorganized defensively on a consistent basis, which naturally lends itself to some sloppiness as the team chases the puck, but some of it is occurring in the offensive zone as well, such as Spezza’s costly high stick tonight (and Marner’s in the overtime vs. Washington). They’re shooting themselves in the foot here.
3. It went barely noticed because the Leafs power play was tripping over itself on its sole two-minute opportunity in this game late in the second period, but in the brief time they were set up in the zone, Mitch Marner was playing the slot ‘bumper’ role and William Nylander was lined up on the right half wall. That’s clearly something they’ve practiced this past week.
It will be interesting to see what they do with it once John Tavares returns, which could happen as soon as Tuesday vs. LA. Do they go with Marner in the middle, Nylander on the halfwall, and put Tavares back in front of the net? Do they default back to Marner on the half wall opposite Matthews and Tavares in the middle?
I’ve been an advocate for giving Tavares a look in the bumper role, but he may need to go back to the net-front to give this overall configuration a proper extended look. Tavares is good in either spot (and is really strong on his stick in front). In the big picture, the ability to sag off both of Marner — who is not a shooting threat — and Rielly — who is good enough at sifting shots through, but doesn’t have a bomb the opposition needs to respect — has made this unit too easy to defend for opposing PKs since the second half of last season.
We’ll have to see if the Leafs are willing to put Tavares right back into the danger zone in front coming off of his hand injury. But sooner or later, playing around with placing Nylander’s shot on the half wall — which brings the added benefit of his zone-entry ability on PP1 — or Tyson Barrie’s shot up top (or both) on PP1 seems like it is an inevitable change the Leafs will have to try out.
4. I heard the Claude Giroux 2-1 power-play goal early in the second called a miscommunication between Mitch Marner and Cody Ceci on the radio broadcast, but to me, it’s a bizarre decision by Ceci more than anything. Marner did not have clear inside positioning while forcing Giroux down the wall and Ceci took off up the slot in anticipation of a drop pass for the one-timer, giving Giroux the free lane to the net. That’s a case of not playing the percentages by Ceci.
A somewhat similar play took place seconds earlier in the opposite corner with Jakub Voracek in possession, and because Rielly didn’t play it incorrectly (he stayed in position with his stick in the lane for the high slot feed), nothing came of it. Stay in the right spot with good stick positioning and make them make an outstanding play to beat you — don’t hand them the keys to the front of the net.
All of that said, you’d like to get a save from Andersen there.
5. If I’m taking the temperature of the fan base correctly, many fans were somewhat pleasantly surprised in their first impressions of Cody Ceci, who isn’t a totally irredeemable player without some tools to his game. But what really is clear from watching him back in Ottawa through until now is that he is surprised easily and makes boneheaded decisions with some frequency.
This has always made him a less-than-ideal fit for playing big minutes against top players — and as the Leafs lost Hainsey and Zaitsev (who played their matchup minutes the last couple of years) and replaced them with Barrie (who has never played a matchup role) and Ceci (who has but has been been terrible at it historically), he remains in a tough-matchup role in Toronto to the detriment of the team’s Cup aspirations.
The pairing with Rielly has given up way too many grade-As in the first 15 games — letting forwards free in behind them for breakaways, getting split through the middle, caught with two in the corner in the d-zone, leaving forwards untouched for opportunities in front — and it nearly cost them the game tonight with two minutes left in regulation due to a bizarre decision by Ceci.
The Flyers took control of the puck on the wall after Ceci had come across into Rielly’s corner in an attempt to make a play up the wall under pressure from a Flyers forechecker that chased him around the back of the net. The first instinct should be to cover off the slot/net front here. Ceci turned the wrong way with a weird 360 in the corner, giving up a free look in the slot that easily could’ve had the Leafs leaving Philly with zero points tonight (Konecny fired wide).
Also visible on that play — the far-side winger (Johnsson) blowing the zone with the team not yet in possession of the puck.
6. It’s maybe a little harsh to single out Ceci knowing most of the Leafs blue line has had some ugly moments like this in the first month and a bit, but this is where the Leafs and Rielly in particular miss Ron Hainsey — I’m not saying bringing back Hainsey, now a year older and slower, was the real solution here, but his fundamentals of standing in the right spots and reading the situation correctly defensively was a lot easier to rely on for Rielly.
7. If there is an encouraging sign on the right side of the blue line, it’s the play of Justin Holl, who played another tidy game alongside Travis Dermott (75% CF). The minutes are limited and sheltered to the point where it’s not the most meaningful stat going, but they played a clean, up-tempo game, moving the puck crisply/confidently and staying out of trouble in their own end. Holl (16:54 TOI) has earned some extra shifts from Dave Hakstol as well as secondary penalty-killing duty, and he was also on the ice in OT during the 4-on-4 sequence. Call me crazy, but I don’t see where Ceci has much of an edge over Holl in hockey ability other than in the experience department.
8. The decision to split up William Nylander and Auston Matthews didn’t surprise me in the least based on their final two periods in the game. This is always what Babcock has turned to when the two aren’t going — he’s not going to take the digger off the line (Johnsson now, but it was the same when it was Hyman there), so he’s going to rotate in a different right winger. There were too many shifts where Matthews and Nylander were switched off and going through the motions out there after a promising start to the night.
The shift where Babcock saw enough was the 3-2 Flyers goal to start the third period; Nylander turned the puck over in the offensive zone, put in a good effort on the backcheck, and then lost a puck battle and got walked down the wall by the Flyers defenseman, who scored at the back post. That’s not good enough to start a third period in a tie game.
Mixing Kapanen — who was having a great game, pushing the pace and making things happen offensively, and tracking back hard defensively — onto that line for a few shifts made sense in the context of the game.
9. Not helping matters tonight in the possession game over the final 40 minutes — Babcock was turning to his fourth line for defensive-zone faceoffs, as has become tradition, and they were getting cleaned out by the Claude Giroux + Sean Couturier combination to the tune of a 2 for 12 night against them in the d-zone (Gauthier was 0-for-6, Shore 2 for 6).
10. As disappointing as it is that he had to in the first place, it’s encouraging to see Frederik Andersen steal one for the Leafs, something that didn’t really happen in October. He was outstanding after the Giroux goal. Pucks were sticking to him like velcro on the OT penalty kill and he was nearly unbeatable in the marathon shootout, staying with each shooter the whole way.
It was also encouraging to see Mitch Marner come up with a timely, brilliant individual effort for a key tying goal in the third period. Andersen and Marner were leading my list of “best Leafs who need to be better” in October, so this was an encouraging start to the new month.
Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts