Another loss against a weak opponent for the Maple Leafs, two more days of the commentariat failing to notice what is plaguing this team.
What’s plaguing the Leafs? The same issue that the Blues, Lighting, and Wild. Those four teams were top-4 in the NHL last season in Sh%, combining for 9.8%, and are collectively down to 7.1% this season. Scoring is up, but these four teams are snakebitten. It isn’t just Toronto this is happening to, don’t worry.
But, also, the mark of good teams is that they’re able to succeed despite this. The only team I mentioned there that has so far lost more games than they’ve won is Minnesota, who are 3-3-1 despite the 2nd-lowest PDO in the NHL. The Leafs are only 11th-worst, thanks to some early season heroics from Ilya Samsonov, but the shooting is the major problem here.
From watching these games as an outsider now, I don’t get the sense that the “vibes” are bad yet, at least not in a way they were at the beginning of last season. I think Auston Matthews is taking a few more shots from distance than he otherwise would (and, despite his goal in this game, I’m not keen on him setting up at the point on the powerplay) but still getting his looks. Tavares and Nylander are finding each other. The rest of the roster is kind of plodding along, and other than Kampf, unable to bury the few chances they’ve generated.
This probably clicks for the team sooner rather than later, but since this is a #ResultsBusiness and all that, the players and staff are going to be talking about things like “urgency” when interviewed. I think they know it’s bogus, because the Leafs are outplaying other teams most of the team (Vegas was a real stinker) and coming up a goal short. They’re just unable to buy one at 5v5 right now, which has for some reason become a fixture of their starts.
There’s been a few other stretches where the Leafs in the Sheldon Keefe era have gone 8 games with 6.4% shooting or lower. Ironically, this was their Sh% in the first 8 games of Keefe’s tenure in Toronto. They proceeded to shoot 12.6% over the next 8 games and went 7-1. They shot 5.2% during an 8-game stretch last November, and shot 10.4% over the next 8 games.
Or maybe they just suck, and the 208 games prior to this season, where the team was 4th in 5v5 GF/60 and 4th in 5v5 Sh% was really the mirage, and these 8 games is what this team is actually capable of.
5v5 shots and scoring chances
This game was pretty equal territorially, with San Jose holding a slim advantage in shot attempts and the Leafs holding a more significant edge in scoring chances. This kind of makes sense when you see what each team tries to do in the OZ, with the Sharks looking to create chaos with point shots, tips, and rebounds (Erik Karlsson had a game-high 10 shots), and the Leafs preferring to methodically cycle the puck and try to set up open looks with cross seam passes.
Neither team was very successful doing either, as scoring chances were few and far between. The Leafs out-scored the Sharks 2-1 at 5v5 and, honestly, that’s probably full credit for what they were able to do.
The Leafs cleaned up the rush chances a little bit, after giving up a boatload against Vegas, they actually out-chanced the Sharks off the rush here. The major problem for the Leafs though is they weren’t able to establish their forecheck, creating just 5 shots and 1 scoring chance directly from it.
- Matthews shot quite a bit in this game, with 6 5v5 attempts, but just 3 were chances. Typically, he’s been getting to areas this season where every shot is a scoring chance, so he might be a bit antsy and taking shots from longer range so long as he can wind it up. Still, he was set up with time and space by Marner twice in the slot, with Kahkonen just getting to both pucks.
- Marner had a great night distributing, setting up four scoring chances. I noted the two above that he set up to Matthews, but he also set up Tavares and Giordano late in the game (the Tavares chance came when he forced a turnover by Radim Simek). He was rewarded with a goal for his efforts and, despite Matthews’ struggles, Marner has still be able to produce points at 5v5.
- This fourth line was a bit more noticeable in this game. Engvall was doing a good job getting to pucks, and Aston-Reese and Kampf both made some useful offensive touches. The Leafs probably could have done with Aston-Reese missing the net in the first period following a cross seam pass.
- As noted, the Sharks top shooter was Karlsson in terms of volumem but only two of those shots were scoring chances.
- At 5v5, the Sharks generated very little, and only the top line was able to move the puck well-enough to create multiple scoring chances thanks to passes.
- While the Leafs were 4th in the NHL in goals rate from ’19-20 to ’21-22, the Sharks were 28th, and are 30th already this season. Without that track record of success unlike the team’s they’re ahead of (St. Louis and Colorado) it’s tough to say this turns around for them. They had the quick strike goal on a weird play at the start of the game and that was really it at 5v5 for them. Late in the third, it seemed like they were content to hang on for the point.
5v5 zone entries
As noted earlier, the Leafs generated quite a bit more off the rush than they did against Vegas, but their chances per entry rate was still quite low. They also had trouble gaining the zone with control, with just 33% of their entries being with control and turning it over 24% of the time, with some forwards having particularly bad nights. Still, they held the volume, and with both teams creating chances at identical rates, generated more off their entries.
The Sharks were the same way, really failing to gain the blueline and opting for dump-ins. I have to say, this was a difficult game to track and a slog to get through, particularly having started it at midnight pacific and not finishing it until the following afternoon.
Despite neither team really creating much off the shoot-ins or the forecheck, both teams were able to recover a large percentage of dump-ins. Not much else to say, as neither team had a big advantage here.
- Better night on volume for Matthews than we’ve seen, but he needs to enter the OZ more with control and be a bit more of a distributor. Pretty much every scoring chance this line generates has come from Marner, and that’s going to be more apparent as the season drags along. Especially since we recorded Matthews has having 4 failed entries. Get those pucks deep!
- Kerfoot has been the Leafs best player on entries this season, so moving him to the top line, where they’re a bit starved for rush offence, made some sense: link up Kerfoot’s transition ability to two players that know how to create in the OZ. It didn’t really work though, with Kerfoot really failing to get much going at all.
- Bad night for Nylander as well, whose 2-for-7 would be fine if not for the fact that the other 5 entries all failed at the line.
- Rielly and Holl stepped up to create some offensive sequences.
- Huge night from Timo Meier, who was 7-for-9 entering the zone and his prowess led to 4 scoring chances from the Sharks. They generated 4 scoring chances total through the rest of the lineup following controlled entries.
- I also need to give Meier credit for his strong puck hound work, forcing 4 turnovers by Leafs D in this game. Very strong all around game from him.
- Friend-of-the-blog Alexander Barabanov went a respectable 4-for-7 here, but they weren’t really able to create any lasting pressure or chances as a result. Like I’ve said above, this is a bad offensive team. We saw what Barabanov did on the Leafs, and now he’s a fixture in the top six of the Sharks.
- I thought that Erik Karlsson stood out visually throughout the game, but I checked midway through the 2nd period and found I didn’t record a single zone entry from him at 5v5. He jumped up in the play in the OZ, made some good reads in the DZ, and scored the OT winner, but otherwise, a signature aspect of Karlsson’s game, his ability to create offence from the back end, was missing.
- With the Sharks not really generating much in the way of offence in this game off the rush, this table is more or less meaningless (or at least more meaningless than it is after other games, for you jokers out there).
- Meier’s big night came against a variety of defencemen. He did have more than 2 controlled entries against any one Leafs D, so none of the guys on this side were really victimized by him.
- The Sharks know the stay away from Justin Holl Island, evidently. Just 3 targets all game.
- The Leafs had some failed entries, so it shouldn’t be a shock that every Shark defender has at least some shade of green.
- Karlsson probably had the strongest night, especially considering the matchups. He held the Leafs to 5-for-11 against him with 2 failed entries. However, those 5 entries against resulted in 4 scoring chances.
5v5 DZ touches and exits
The Leafs D had a tough time moving the puck out of their own end, especially compared to their higher standard. They also had some turnover issues. All of this likely impacted the forwards’ ability to enter with control, as they had to spend a lot of effort lugging the puck out themselves.
It was a pretty similar story for the Sharks end. Really, neither team was particularly sharp at 5v5 in this one. It was ugly to watch.
- The Leafs D turnover issues were mostly due to Brodie, an uncharacteristically bad game, and Sandin. Among D, Rielly had the only good night, exiting with control 6 times on 8 attempts and committing the 1 turnover on 15 total DZ touches.
- Up front, Nylander, who unfortunately had lots of shoot-ins find opposing shin pads, did well to at least bring the puck to the NZ. He wasn’t able to turn that into anything, however.
- Matthews and Marner both had good nights here and, as we saw in the entries table, that whole line had a lot of volume when it came to OZ entries.
- The Sharks had three defenders turn the puck over a bunch here, but Simek was the worst. As noted, he coughed the puck up to Marner with a little over 5 minutes left, allowing Marner to find Tavares point-blank in the slot.
- Karlsson and Benning each exited the DZ 4 times on 6 attempts, but had 3 turnovers each.
- Unlike the Leafs, the Sharks didn’t have any one or two players that were very strong at exiting the DZ, but several forwards showed up for them, including Nieto, Sturm, and Labanc. While Meier and Hertl were below 50% on controlled exits, I thought they were pretty good at getting to pucks with their speed.
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