Coming off of by far their worst performance of the playoffs so far, the Maple Leafs are looking to hit the reset button as they return to the friendly confines of the Scotiabank Arena to kick off a best-of-three that will decide the series winner (7:30 p.m. EST, Sportsnet & CBC).
Given the start of Game 4 saw Tampa overwhelm a shellshocked Leafs team right from the drop of the puck, the expectation tonight is that we will see a more hungry and composed Toronto team that will ride the momentum of their home crowd’s reception by starting the game on the front foot. Anything less will be unacceptable.
After the decision to start the third line seemed to backfire on Sheldon Keefe, we can probably also expect him to task the Auston Matthews-led top line with establishing the tone tonight for the Leafs on the opening shift.
Keefe and his staff have decided to keep the same group of 18 skaters in the lineup tonight, although there will be a couple of pieces shuffled again up front. Namely, Michael Bunting will start back with Matthews and Mitch Marner while Alex Kerfoot will move to John Tavares’ wing opposite Ilya Mikheyev. Ondrej Kase will start on the fourth line with Jason Spezza and Colin Blackwell.
As much as there is an understandable focus on the line combinations, there have been 15 minor penalties handed out in the first periods alone through four games, which has created a constant shuffle almost right away in each game. Combine that with the fact that every game has featured a three-plus goal lead for one of the two teams, and the constancy among the line combinations has been basically non-existent. In fact, Toronto’s most common forward line so far this series is one that they haven’t often listed in their starting line combinations to begin the game: Engvall-Kampf-Mikheyev.
Though he’s been rightfully criticized for his 5v5 performance thus far, John Tavares made some strides on Sunday that hopefully indicate he is turning the corner. He had five overall shot attempts in Game 4, two in the slot, and set up a William Nylander goal at 4v4 in garbage time. While he was on the ice for Steven Stamkos’ goal a minute into the game, he held the Lightning to just seven shot attempts in his minutes at five-on-five. Over the four games of the series so far, however, Tavares has been among the worst forwards for either team in terms of on-ice chances generated — only Bellmare, Simmonds, and Bunting rate worse.
With the Point and Cirelli lines handily winning their matchups at five-on-five as the series moved to Tampa, the lack of production from Tavares has come under even greater scrutiny. Nylander returning to a line with two of the team’s most reliable performer in this series, Pierre Engvall and David Kampf, should mean Tavares will have a chance to take advantage of some easier matchups and offensive-zone starts as Tampa focuses more on the Matthews and Nylander lines — and as last change at home belongs to Keefe, who can spot in the Kampf line for some tough defensive zone starts as needed while finding the Tavares line some favourable matchups against the Lightning bottom six.
Looking back on this past offseason, there was little fanfare when the Leafs opted to sign Kampf to a two-year, three million dollar deal. From my estimation, the fit was clear, but it wasn’t readily apparent if he could produce enough offensive to justify even the modest AAV — boy was I wrong.
With Keefe seeking to alleviate some of the defensive burden on Matthews and Tavares in the top six, Kampf was leaned on in an even more defensive role than he was in Chicago and ended up producing the best defensive numbers of his career (first among Toronto forwards in GAR and xGAR on defense). That would arguably be enough on its own to justify the contract, but Kampf also went and produced a career-best 11 goals and 26 points in an injury-free regular season, and he has now scored twice in four games in the playoffs. At five-on-five, he is the only skater in the series who hasn’t been scored on. He also leads both teams in on-ice xGoals percentage.
In net, Tampa’s fourth goal — a decent rush chance that should have ended in an easy glove save — came at the worst moment for Jack Campbell and the Maple Leafs. Campbell has to prove tonight that Game 4 was merely a blip after he largely outplayed Andrei Vasilevskiy in the first three games of the series. With Campbell and Vasilevskiy producing the worst numbers of NHL goalies with more than two starts in the first round, Campbell’s ability to bounce back tonight is absolutely critical in determining the final outcome of this series.
Article stats from evolving-hockey.com
Series Stats via NaturalStatTrick
- After a stellar Game 4, David Kampf now leads both teams in individual xGoals at five-on-five.
- Ilya Lyubushkin leads both teams in minor penalties with four.
- Victor Hedman leads the series in both shots and shot attempts.
- Leading both teams in even-strength ice time, Ryan McDonagh has been an integral matchup defenseman for Tampa as they’ve slowed the Leafs down at 5v5 in the last few games.
- Alex Killorn is first among all skaters this series in CF% and fourth in xGoals%.
- Alex Kerfoot, Pierre Engvall, and David Kampf are all among the top-five Leaf skaters in overall xGoals For this series.
- Despite surrendering 21 shot attempts against through two games, Justin Holl has only given up .73 xGoalsAgainst and is second on the team in xGF%.
- Jake Muzzin and T.J Brodie have been a force as a matchup pair with 58% xGoals share in their minutes despite matching primarily against the Palat-Stamkos-Kucherov line
Game Day Quotes
Mark Giordano on the team’s focus heading into Game 5:
You’ve got to look at the opportunity we have as a team. Obviously, we’re playing a team that has won [the Cup] in back-to-back years and they’re a great team, so we’re in a pretty good spot, I would say, going into Game 5 with home-ice advantage tied in the series.
We have to come out and believe in our game. It’s been great all year, especially coming into the playoffs. We have to believe in what got us here. We’ve got to be excited. It’s a great opportunity.
Giordano on the number of penalties in the playoffs thus far:
The standards are pretty tight. There are a lot more penalties than you’re used to seeing in playoffs. As players, you’ve got to adjust and know what’s coming. You have to be aware.
You just have to be more aware of it on the other side — where your stick is, moving your feet, and being in good body position so you don’t have to clutch and grab at all. It’s definitely an area that we want to be aware of because penalties do take away from the flow of the game for sure. You’ve seen that across the league in the first round.
Giordano on the number of high-scoring and lopsided games in the playoffs thus far:
This year, for whatever reason, there have been more lopsided victories across the playoffs. I don’t know what to say. The one thing that sticks out is that when teams get the lead, they don’t sit back anymore. Five or ten years ago, if you got a two-goal lead, you sort of trapped it up. [Today], teams are willing still to take chances and build on that lead. I think it’s important because it’s hard to hold the other team down if you’re just sitting back.
Giordano on his partner Justin Holl’s performance and mindset:
I think Holl has been playing well. I mean the first shift we were sort of hemmed in our zone, but other than that first shift, I thought we moved the puck well. He was making good reads defensively. He’s obviously one of our best penalty killers [as well].
He’s a confident guy, and we chat a lot about plays throughout the game. He’s just got to build on his game and keep doing what he’s doing.
Sheldon Keefe on offense becoming tougher to come by for Matthews and Marner as the series has gone on:
At five-on-five, it was tough for them on the road, but it was also tough for our whole team. Part of that is the matchups and part of it is just that we’re chasing the game a lot.
In Game 4, we didn’t have the puck a lot on offense, shift over shift. When you’re coming onto the ice and momentum is going the other team’s way, it’s tough sledding. Those guys have to continue to play hard, but with all that said, in the third period of Game 3, Matthews had some of his best looks of the series. They’ve been good on the power play for us, too, so there are lots of good signs there for those guys.
Keefe on Tavares and Nylander being split up most of the series:
The focus for me is not so much having Tavares and Nylander apart as it is having Mikheyev, Kerfoot, Engvall, and Kampf on two different lines.
Keefe on whether his focus lies more on tactics or motivation at this point in the series:
I don’t think motivation is lacking in any way for anyone who is playing in the playoffs, so I don’t think it’s necessarily motivation. Managing emotions [is more what it’s about]. Up and down is a tough thing — even [in the media], it’s up and down, right?
Emotion is all over the place, and that’s why we love this time of year. You’re experiencing so many different things and sort of riding that wave.
As a coach, it’s your job to keep things focused and keeping things dialled in. It’s more about that: keeping the team on task and focusing on what we can control.
As the series goes on, even [the tactical aspect] becomes a little bit less. You get to know each other, and each team’s made a couple of subtle adjustments each game. By the time you’ve reached this part of the series, it’s about attrition more than anything: trying to wear teams down, and trying to get an edge mentally or physically when you can.
Keefe on the bizarre back-and-forth nature of the series so far:
In each of the games, for the most part, one team’s been going and one team really has not. I can’t help but prepare for and expect the fact that both teams will be going the rest of the way here. As a result, things are going to be tight.
We haven’t really had a game yet where both teams are really driving and rolling at their best. There’s been a bit of a disparity between the two. I felt in Game 2, we had a really good start and we were rolling pretty good. It just so happened that we took a penalty and they scored right at the end of the first period. [We] never really got it back from there.
Keefe on the decision to keep Justin Holl in the lineup:
When we set our team up for Games 1 and 2, we had Liljegren with the edge on that mainly because of the chemistry he had with Giordano. That [pairing] didn’t do very well in Games 1 and 2 — not nearly close to where it had been in the regular season.
That, combined with how many [penalties] there had been, made it an obvious change to put Holl in. He stabilized our PK, and although there are lots of other things, he’s done a good job there.
I watched the game back the other night. To me, the Giordano and Holl pairing was as good of a pairing as we had. I’ve watched the game back three times now, and Holl is a driver of that. To me, he’s coming off his best game of the two that he’s played.
Keefe on the lack of production from John Tavares through four games:
The reality is we’ve played four hockey games. As much as it’s playoffs and you want everyone to be rolling — everybody to have over a point per game — that’s not really the reality of how the league works. Obviously, Matthews and Marner have done well. They’ve produced at a good clip.
To me, [Tavares] has worked extremely hard and done good things. He made an elite, elite play to [Nylander] on the goal they scored in the third period the other night. He’s doing a lot of little things we’re asking him to do. As the series goes on, there are lots of opportunities to make a difference.
John’s time is going to come, and that’s good news for us. The fact that we’re in this series and competing at a high level against a good team and he and [Nylander] have more to give is a good thing for us.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#56 Michael Bunting – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#65 Ilya Mikheyev – #91 John Tavares – #15 Alex Kerfoot
#47 Pierre Engvall – #64 David Kampf – #88 William Nylander
#25 Ondrej Kase – #11 Colin Blackwell – #19 Jason Spezza
#44 Morgan Rielly – #46 Ilya Lyubushkin
#8 Jake Muzzin – #78 T.J. Brodie
#55 Mark Giordano – #3 Justin Holl
Starter: #36 Jack Campbell
#50 Erik Källgren
Healthy Scratches: Wayne Simmonds, Timothy Liljegren, Nick Abruzzese, Kyle Clifford, Rasmus Sandin
Injured: Petr Mrazek
Tampa Bay Lightning Projected Lines
#18 Ondrej Palat – #91 Steven Stamkos – #86 Nikita Kucherov
#38 Bradon Hagel – #21 Brayden Point – #71 Anthony Cirelli
#17 Alex Killorn – #79 Ross Colton – #20 Nick Paul
#14 Patrick Maroon – #41 Pierre-Edouard Bellmare – #10 Corey Perry
#77 Victor Hedman – #81 Erik Cernak
#27 Ryan McDonagh – #24 Zach Bogosian
#98 Mikhail Sergachev – #52 Cal Foote
Starter: #88 Andrei Vasilevskiy
#1 Brian Elliot
Healthy Scratches: Riley Nash, Jan Rutta