A much better effort for the home opener as the Leafs were improved on offence, defence, and in goal.
As noted above, this was a much better effort from the Leafs on offence, defence, and in goal. Even with the late penalty kills, it never really felt like the Leafs were in much danger of giving up the tying goal. Samsonov made the saves he had to, and the Leafs kept piling on with some pretty good chances late.
You may notice I’m going to refer to the concept of “drama-free third periods” throughout the season. There are many ways to hold a lead, either with drama, and you’re relying on your goalie as you’re constantly under fire (I’m watching the third period of Kings-Kraken, with Seattle up 3-1, as I write this), or without drama, which is mainly what we got last night.
Let’s get into the numbers.
5v5 Team Stats
As always, the first thing I look at is entry differential, since that helps me gauge which way the camera was facing over the course of the game.
Unlike in Montreal, where the Leafs had a pretty strong, +16 advantage in entries, it was much closer in Toronto, with the Leafs holding a meagre +4 advantage over the Caps. That, however, was offset by the fact that the Leafs were much more efficient than Washington was, entering with control 33 times to the Caps 24. Much of the advantage came from the D, and we’ll see exactly who was responsible when we get into the individual numbers.
Following the 3-2 goal, when you’d expect Washington to control much more of the play, the Caps held a 13-8 zone entry advantage, which isn’t particularly dominant. In addition, the controlled entries after that point were tied 5-5.
One issue for the Leafs is the Recovery% for the Capitals. They recovered 61% of their dump-ins. The Habs recovered 67% of theirs. You’d like to see that number a little lower. If this continues to be an issue I’ll start to look into which defensive pairings are most at fault.
Shots and scoring chances
This was a pretty dominant performance by the Leafs in the offensive zone, a good sign after holding a slim advantage against Montreal the other night. Here, they turned their neutral zone advantage into some good chances, out-chancing the Capitals 34-20 at 5v5, with 16 of those chances being on net compared to just 9 for Washington.
Also, it was good to see the powerplay break out. The Leafs had 7 5v4 chances compared to just 5 for Washington, despite the fact that the Caps had 6:44 of 5v4 time to the Leafs 5:41. The Leafs PKers also added 2 shorthanded chances of their own.
Despite getting some pretty strong goaltending from Samsonov after his howler putting Washington up 2-1, the Leafs were full value for the win.
Exits and DZ touches
The major difference between this game and the Montreal game is that the Leafs were able to forecheck much more effectively and force the Caps D to make a few more turnovers. That group was under pressure all night, and had just 7 controlled exits to 13 turnovers. It’s never a real good sign when that ratio (controlled exits to turnovers) is below 1.
Otherwise, the Leafs got strong nights from both their forwards and their D. That’s a staple of this team and we should expect it to be like this going forward.
5v5 Individual Stats
- The big line had a big night, and they can thank Marner for that. He had a game-high 11 entries and was ridiculously efficient, entering with control 8 times. Neither Matthews nor Bunting really got much going in the NZ.
- I’ve been really encouraged with what I’ve seen out of Tavares this season. There were times last season when it looked like he was starting to slow down, but he’s now had two solid performances to start the season. He works really well with Nylander, and they’re good at finding each other open around the blue line.
- As noted above, it was a big night for the Maple Leafs D, and pretty much all of that came from Rielly, who had one of those nights where he contributed a lot to the offence. Part of that made up for the fact that Matthews and Bunting didn’t really generate much themselves.
- The Capitals had solid nights from just about everybody except the fourth line (who had an assignment tethering them to the Matthews line), Marcus Johansson, and Dylan Strome. Every other forward made multiple controlled entries.
- I thought Protas and Mantha looked really good right up until the puck went below the tops of the circles in the offensive zone. They have ability to get the puck where it should be, but weren’t really feeding off each other or taking advantage of extra space the way that Nylander and Tavares were. Each of Protas’ controlled entries were immediately followed by shots preceded by no passing. That group is going to have to learn to pass a little better if they want to compete. I don’t know if Washington has enough firepower to be a true contender. They need Mantha to be good.
- Nothing from their D, as well. That’s to be expected when they didn’t really get to find themselves in the NZ with the puck often after a controlled exit, which is usually when conditions are ideal to then skate the puck to the other end.
Zone entry defence
- A better night overall from the Leafs. Only Brodie was worse than a 50% controlled entry percentage against him. Rielly was the weakest defender in Montreal, but forced two failed entries against Washington.
- The Leafs had much more success going up against Fehervary than they did against Carlson, but some of that has to be due to the fact that the Leafs are quite a bit more dangerous on the right wing (and facing left-side defencemen) than on the left. LD are going to have to contend with Marner and Nylander, and RD get to deal with Bunting and Malgin, who was invisible after a strong first outing.
- Pour one out for Trevor van Riemsdyk. It’s never a good sign when you’re allowing 6 entries on 7 attempts as a third pair D. The players you usually face aren’t even trying to enter with control! (Funny that 4 of those 6 controlled entries against were from Leafs D: 3 from Rielly, 1 from Muzzin)
Shots and scoring chances
- Matthews took a team-high 6 shots. All of them qualified as scoring chances. It seemed like the Leafs were really trying to set him up in that spot just next to the shooter’s left circle, with Marner feeding him multiple passes… and after all that, he gets his first on the year on the slightest of deflections. (I’ll explain in detail at a later date, but that deflection gets recorded in my dataset as a shot from Giordano that was deflected, not a shot by Matthews, as the NHL records it)
- Marner set up 4 shots, all of them qualified as scoring chances. That was also a game-high. It wasn’t just moving the puck where he was dominant, he was buzzing around the OZ as well.
- Like I said above, Nylander and Tavares played well off each other. Despite not being very noticeable, Malgin got in on a couple of scoring chance plays in the OZ, setting up a pair.
- Jarnkrok finished a beautiful Kerfoot pass, and Aston-Reese had a good 4v5 chance late. Other than that, the bottom two lines didn’t really seem to know where the offensive zone was.
- Wednesday night the Leafs had to contend with Cole Caufield. Last night… well, as noted above with the points about Mantha and Protas, the Capitals were really not trying to move the puck at all in the OZ. They had some chances around the net, but usually as a result of hard work off the cycle rather than skill plays.
- The line that had the most scoring chances for Washington? Sheary-Dowd-Hathaway, the dang checking line. (I should note somewhere that, per Natural Stat Trick, the Capitals out-shot Toronto 6-2 with Dowd on the ice against Matthews). I don’t know if there’s another Capital outside of those three that I was really enamoured with at 5v5.
Exits and DZ touches
- Marner didn’t just have a great night entering the OZ, but he was an all around puck-moving machine, also racking up a game-high 6 controlled zone exits. Matthews was also a bit better by this measure as well than his entry stats.
- Engvall was quiet in the NZ, but he was pretty good in the DZ. He commit 3 turnovers, but did so on 12 touches, which is abnormally high for a forward. He also still finished with more controlled exits than turnovers. I didn’t think he looked particularly fast, but he seemed to get the job done.
- Here, we can see which D the Leafs victimized for turnovers. It was the Fehervary-Carlson pairing. Both players were among the bottom three Capitals in corsi for the game, which makes sense because they kept giving the puck back to Toronto. 4 of those 9 combined turnovers were forced by Marner, not the guy you wanted to have the puck.
- Orlov was really the only Capitals D that moved the puck well at all. Considering that both of their bottom pair D in Gustafsson and van Riemsdyk hold reputations as being offensively-inclined, you’d hope that at least they can exit the zone with control on occasion. That didn’t happen tonight, and while neither put the puck in dangerous spots, it didn’t help Washington much.
Overall, this game was full value for the Leafs and they were the stronger team in most areas. Marner, Nylander, and Tavares were exceptional for Toronto, and Rielly had his moments. The best things you could say about Washington, by contrast, was that their checking line did a good job shutting down the Leafs top line, but even that comes with the caveat that Matthews’ winning goal came with Sheary, Dowd, and Hathaway on the ice.
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