This one was ugly, and reminiscent of the performances I used to blog about when I was doing this a decade ago.
First, a preamble about being playing well enough to win.
Back in the Randy Carlyle days, it wasn’t uncommon for the Leafs to get out-shot, out-chanced, and win. They’d get dominated in every aspect of the game but the scoreboard. For the casual viewer, it was sustainable: the Leafs just worked harder on defence than the other team did and took advantage of good opportunities.
There were a lot of times when we (“we” being the collective wisdom of online hockey analysts) just shrugged. I guess the Leafs played well enough to win.
They played well enough to win in Vegas. It took the Knights fumbling the ball on the goal line for several grade-A opportunities. It took Ilya Samsonov looking like a first-round talent right in his prime. And yet, had Matthews converted that rebound on the doorstep, had Marner scored on that breakaway, had Sandin’s hard point shot that briefly felled John Tavares glanced off the shin pad and bounced towards the net… this could have easily been a 3-3 hockey game. They played well enough to win, but that doesn’t count for anything. They still played like trash, but in any one game enough bounces can go your way that you can even win, against a good opponent, on the road. They already got two dozen bounces, what’s three more?
Hockey doesn’t work like that, of course. You don’t get mulligans, you don’t get your great opportunities back. The Leafs benefit greatly from luck tonight and still lost by two goals. It’s one of the worst performances we’ve seen from this team in a while, unable to generate anything offensively and leaving the middle of the ice wide open for Vegas to skate through. If they make a habit of it, we’ll be sure to mention it.
Onto the numbers:
5v5 shots and scoring chances
The story of the game might be told here. Or maybe it will be told in the next chart. The Golden Knights had 36 scoring chances to Toronto’s 15. Just as outrageous, the Golden Knights, by my count, had NINETEEN scoring chances that were disrupted before being taken. Usually in a game I’ll count between 5-10. These are usually plays when a defender blocks a pass just before it gets to a shooter, or when an attacker has a puck shoot off the heel of his stick. It happened NINETEEN times for Vegas, at least. We probably won’t see much of that.
The situational breakdown of shots also tells the story here:
Vegas was just generating chances off the rush all night, and Toronto wasn’t. They struck early and often. The most concerning thing for the Leafs, other than their inability to get anything going off their controlled entries, was just how wide open the ice was.
The problem wasn’t even allowing entries up the middle of the ice: 32% of Vegas’ controlled entries were between the dots, which isn’t that elevated from the 28% the Leafs had allowed coming into this game. Either the Leafs caught Vegas on a night when they were just really good at moving the puck, the defence had an off-night, or a little bit of both (probably a bit of both).
The Leafs generated just one scoring chance off the forecheck, usually their bread and butter.
- The first line played OK (I’ve seen Auston go through stretches like this, and he always breaks out of them. The chances are there and they will eventually fall. He’s still going to score 50 barring any health issues). The second line played OK. The Leafs got pretty well nothing from anybody else in the lineup.
- I usually type these up immediately after I’m done tracking the game. As I had to also track the Canucks-Hurricanes game, I opted to do that before this write-up. That means I can’t remember specific episodes from this game, such as “The One Where Pierre Engvall Gets A Good Shot Away”. It may even have been a broken play inside the blueline.
- Worse, the Leafs actually played two shifts with four forwards (unnoticed by the usually sharp Golden Knights broadcast team). They seemed very passive, even when down 2, when together, and a little more concerned with not giving anything up, and forgot that they needed to generate shots.
- I don’t have a section for special teams yet, but I was not very happy with the look of the top PP unit with Auston at the point. I understand the impetus to get him more shots, but you’re neutralizing his shot by having it further back and in a spot where the goalie is less likely to lose his net. There’s a reason why point shots on the powerplay have gone out of style over the years.
- They had Matthews at the top during the 6v4 as well. I did not like it.
- The Knights got multiple scoring chances from every line tonight. They shuffled their lines during their last game in Colorado to the combinations we saw tonight.
- Chandler Stephenson is one of the most underrated players in the game. He was type-cast as a checker in Washington for a few seasons before eventually finding a spot in the Vegas lineup and being fantastic. After Mark Stone, Stephenson is 2nd on the Knights in P/60 since ’20-21. We saw his playmaking ability tonight, setting up 3 chances.
- Despite holding a massive advantage in scoring chances (36-15) you may note that only a third of Vegas’ chances were set up by a teammate, meaning that they had pre-shot movement, compared to about half the Leafs chances. While Vegas did create a lot of dangerous looks, a lot of it was off the rush, push the defender back, and wire it. They didn’t really make Samsonov move all that much in those situations, probably a reason he looked so good. They missed a lot of passes around the net, sparing Samsonov from having to make some really tough saves. As mentioned above, this game could have easily been 3-3, but it just as easily (and much more fairly) could have been 8-1.
5v5 zone entries
Here’s the weird thing about this game… if you look at the zone entries (and the exits below) you wouldn’t be able to immediately tell which team held a massive advantage in shots and scoring chances.
I don’t think it should be too controversial to say that a good exit creates the environment for a good zone entry, and a good zone entry creates the environment for a good shot. These things have been studied for the last 10-15 years.
The most telling number for me here is the Leafs created just 12 scoring chances off 38 controlled entries. This isn’t at all anything my data would have picked up on coming into this game: coming in, the Leafs had created roughly 0.6 scoring chances every controlled entry, same as their opponents. There was a massive gap
(This chart also clued me into the fact that I’m counting attempted chances, not just actual scoring chances. I’m leaving it in here until I can think of a good reason to make a change. But it’s why it shows Vegas generating 41 chances when they only took 36, and also very illustrative of what happened here, which is that the Knights dominated the Leafs off the rush and with controlled entries)
It wasn’t a great night for the Toronto forecheck. Like with the zone entries, they looked good right up to the point that they actually had to take a shot at the net. The Knights D sure was tested a lot, but Logan Thompson wasn’t.
Matthews and Marner led the way here for Toronto, forcing 5 turnovers and 4 turnovers, respectively. That’s part of what led the Leafs to a massive edge in puck recoveries. They just weren’t able to do anything with the puck.
- I’m not really concerned about Matthews’ goals, but I kind of am concerned that he hasn’t really been dominant on zone entries or set up his own shots. His entry stats are basically identical to Michael Bunting’s this season, and Marner is carrying all the load.
- Nylander also carried the load in this game. He had a game-high 12 entry attempts and a game-high 7 controlled entries. While both he and Matthews had the same number of scoring chances, I think Nylander was the best Leaf (duh, he scored the goal) because he was able to create his own shots, something I don’t think Matthews has done enough of this season.
- Eichel, Stone, Marchessault, Smith, and Amadio carved through the Leafs Monday night. They were also dangerous rushes, with all players entries leading to multiple scoring chances for Vegas.
- There’s not much more to say here. We see the numbers. We know that Vegas created a tonne off the rush in a way Toronto wasn’t able to, which was the difference in the game. Here we see it was all down the lineup.
- After I pumped his tires on Twitter following Saturday’s game, Holl has rewarded my faith with a string of bad performances, beginning Monday night tripping over his own feet when defending a zone entry, and things didn’t improve much from there. He allowed 6 controlled entries on 7 attempts, resulting in 9 Vegas chances.
- It was also another tough night for Mark Giordano. I think that Holl’s issues are much more visible, but opponents are also tagging Giordano for a lot of chances against lately. Timothy Liljegren can’t get healthy soon enough for this team. Holl’s a capable player but he’s playing some very bad hockey at the moment.
- Given how this game went, normally we’d see a different look for the defensive pairings in San Jose. Sandin-Holl are 48% corsi, and both players are in the mid-50s when apart from each other. Keefe’s options are limited with the injuries on the back end, but maybe they return to Gio-Sandin and use it as a second unit?
- The Leafs generated nothing against any of these defenders. Even though they tagged Shea Theodore for 10 controlled entries, including 4 up the middle, and turned that into just 4 scoring chances.
5v5 exits and DZ touches
Again, the numbers here are pretty good for the Leafs, which is what makes this whole night so strange. They exited with control a lot, didn’t turn the puck over, and made life difficult for the Vegas D.
After they escaped the early part of the game down 1-0 and began skating, they started putting together some good rushes, and I figured it would only be a matter of time before they would be able to create some chances, except they didn’t. I kept waiting for 60 minutes for this to make sense, and it never did.
- Nylander’s and Marner’s strong night carrying the puck also applied to their DZ exits. Whatever was the issue for the Leafs in this one, those two were able to carry the puck effectively and generate a lot of good entry attempts. What happened next is just weird.
- I thought I liked Mete during the game, but his numbers in all aspects of the game were pretty uninspiring.
- It’s probably time for a new fourth line experiment. This group may have earned another look based on their performance in Winnipeg, but they were the only line that wasn’t really able to move the puck well.
- Again, the Leafs made it a tough night on the Vegas D when it came to pressing and forechecking. The only problem was being able to turn those OZ puck touches into productive ones, roughly about 100 times during the game. Every D except Theodore commit multiple turnovers.
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