This recap comes a few days late, but some lessons to learn.
I watched the third period of this game writhing in pain on my couch. Not from watching the Leafs attack, but from whatever respiratory bug has hit Vancouver the last few weeks, which is why this recap comes a little late. Anyway, I heard Gord Miller call most of the game and watched maybe half of it, as I was alternating laying on my right side and my left side, unable to get comfy.
Now, from what I heard, there wasn’t a whole lot going on. There were extended stretches of the third period where the Penguins melted the clock away and left the Leafs almost no time to punch through. I’m not sure if this is by design, but the Penguins used that flow to keep their four lines rolling and keep the Leafs rolling four lines (hard to double shift a line when there are no pauses in the action to rest up). It was a textbook example of what I call a drama-free third period.
The Leafs have been criticized for being unable to break through when their opponents park the bus with a lead. I don’t think this was one of these games. The Penguins were incredibly disciplined in the third period: the didn’t let the Leafs make an easy play or give them any space. They forced the Leafs to make breakouts against pressure, took away the middle of the ice in the neutral zone, and shut down the Leafs very effectively in the defensive zone, getting their sticks on pucks before the Leafs could generate any time and space. This aggressive style gave the Leafs a few chances (Calle Jarnkrok was left wide open on two occasions) but they didn’t let Casey DeSmith be under a whole lot of pressure. This was less parking the bus and more driving on the highway with cruise control. I was impressed by the Penguins effort.
For the Leafs though, offence has been an issue this season, and chance generation was a problem. To my eye, Auston Matthews has been trying to get shots further away from the net than he was at the start of the season, and he’s been pretty ineffective at 5v5 as a result. The Leafs forecheck is still very strong (Mitch Marner forced 6 turnovers in the defensive zone) but they aren’t getting their shooters into the right spot to turn those possessions into goals. I don’t think that was the problem in the third.
The issue for me with the Leafs in this game wasn’t the third period, it was the first: they entered with control just 3 times on 26 entry attempts in period one (11%) while Pittsburgh did 11 times in 29 attempts (38%). I think they’ve leaning a little too hard on that effective David Kampf line and trying to build their game in that style. They’re not generating enough scoring chances off their dump-ins to be able to sustain that kind of attack.
Anyway, we’ll get into the numbers right now, and in a few hours, you’ll be able to read up on the win over the Canucks the following night.
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