Alright, let’s write about hockey again, shall we?
It’s been a while since I typed up any games. While my goal once I’d caught up at the All-Star break was to stay no more than two days behind live play, I had to deal with some offline stuff last week, which was poor timing with the trade deadline and all. I’d like to get in a few words at some point about why the Maple Leafs chose to deal Rasmus Sandin and Pierre Engvall over the other options.
Saturday’s Canucks-Leafs game seemed like an ideal point for me to jump back into writing. I know both teams well or… at least I thought I did. There has been a lot of player movement over the last week and both teams have a few players that I don’t know really well.
First, the Canucks, especially on defence, are a lot more mobile and better at passing than the version of the team we saw earlier in the season. I don’t know whether this has to do with Rick Tocchet, or the fact that some of the team’s worst defenders at exiting the zone, including Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Luke Schenn, and Ethan Bear (yes, Ethan Bear) are out, while Craig Wolanin, Guillaume Brisebois and Noah Juulsen are in. Unfortunately, neither of the latter three are at the age where you could talk about them as being legitimate future NHL options. Wolanin especially has been a bit of a revelation, even as I was skeptical about him from the get-go because I had so much experience watching him as a proverbial AAAA player (excellent minor league player, has something holding him back from the majors) in Ottawa, but he’s looked great since being called up.
On the Leafs side, the deadline activity saw two lifetime Leafs leave the organization in Engvall and Sandin. Engvall was one of the last remaining players from the 2018 Calder Cup run, with Justin Holl and Timothy Liljegren as the last two remaining players from that team. Sandin was also an ex-Marlie and a lifetime player in the Leafs organization. Of the 20 players dressed by the Leafs Saturday night, 11 are newcomers from this offseason or later, meaning they joined the organization after I left it. We’re approaching “group of guys” territory with Toronto, where past players that established continuity with the team are out, replaced with a collection of random parts like Sam Lafferty and Noel Acciari. I don’t really have reads on these guys.
So both teams were looking a little different after the flurry of activity over the last week, and the game was pretty good from an aesthetics standpoint. You’ll see in the numbers below (and I’m not putting them behind a paywall for today) that the Leafs were a little better, but probably not as much better as they had to be. In my view, this game came down to three things:
- The Leafs were unable to finish their early chances. At 5v5, the team had 6 scoring chances before the Canucks got their first one, which wasn’t until early in the second period.
- The Canucks had three quick-strike goals. Obviously, two came on the one penalty kill in the third period and another came as a result of a quick shot after a turnover late in the game.
- Canucks puck-management, which has been very solid of late, held up again against a good forechecking team in Toronto. The defence especially did a wonderful job avoiding that first man and not allowing easy recoveries or chances as a result.
And here are the numbers from the game. (No paywall this game, but it’ll go up for tomorrow’s post about the Canucks-Preds game):
Shots and scoring chances
5v5 team stats
Shots and chance totals:
As I said above, the Leafs were a bit better, but they probably should have been a lot better. That’s fine though, the Canucks usually play pretty hard for this game, and while this game means a lot to Vancouver fans, it doesn’t really mean as much to Toronto. I’m not entirely sure of what mechanism exists that keeps the Leafs from winning in Toronto (they won just twice in eight years here during my time with the team) but it doesn’t really have anything to do with the team being outplayed.
Shots by type:
There was just the one 5v5 goal Saturday, and I have it counted as a cycle goal, rather than a forecheck goal, since I have Aman’s marker coming five seconds after the Schenn turnover, not the prerequisite four.
It’s tough to credit either team for its defensive work despite the near shutout at 5v5. Both teams picked up scoring chances in every situation, but the goalies were good. Demko early, and Murray in the second.
Some new-look lines, first with Aston-Reese out of the lineup and then with O’Reilly out for the third period, the lineup was basically a bit more random. I liked the early look of the Bunting-O’Reilly-Lafferty line, but unfortunately we won’t be able to see that when the team is at full strength because they didn’t go out and get that needed winger. Despite how much people are wishing that Morgan Rielly become a winger, I don’t think that’s the proper response.
Elias Pettersson was the best player in this game, again, with five scoring chance contributions. While Auston Matthews has been a good player this year, I’ve seen Pettersson take over games more often than Matthews this year, in a way that Matthews did last season when he won MVP. That’s a compliment to Pettersson’s two-way ability, who just isn’t surrounded with the linemates that take advantage of how good of a season he’s having.
5v4 team stats
The Leafs powerplay obviously gave up those two rushes but was otherwise pretty good, getting 7 scoring chances in a little under 7 minutes of action. The Canucks were held without a chance in 5:19, though got as many powerplay goals as Toronto did (Hughes’ initial shot that was tipped by Kuzmenko would not be considered a chance, and I consider shots to be deflection-agnostic).
5v5 offensive zone entries
The Canucks D really held up against the Leafs rushing forwards, forcing a failed entry 26% of the time. Whether that was the Leafs being sloppy for the Canucks being aggressive at the line, both teams had an equal rate of chances per entry, so the Canucks aggression didn’t cost them if they failed to make the play.
Meanwhile, the Canucks weren’t really attempting for controlled entries and had a low Ctrl% even with a low Fail%. Still, they made their entries count when they did go in, thanks in part to a couple of breakaways (I believe), they had more chances than they usually do following controlled entries.
As noted, the Leafs were held to 44% dump-in recoveries, more excellent work from the Canucks D. The Canucks got a few more chances following dump-ins than Toronto did.
Nylander had a big night, and the only other notable Leaf performance was Sam Lafferty, who had the puck on his stick a lot and kept it moving the right way, but they couldn’t really establish a forecheck so many of those dump-ins went for naught.
No Canuck had 4+ controlled entries in this game, but I do commend players with a big number of entries but no failures, such as Di Giuseppe, Aman, Miller, Beauvillier, and Boeser.
This was the best I’d ever seen the Leafs work a bench with 7D, which never seemed to work when I was in Toronto. Probably helped by the fact that McCabe missed the first period.
I thought McCabe looked good (this game was my first look of him in blue and white) and he and Brodie did an excellent job containing. Rielly also did well in transition, though he had issues elsewhere. I’ll be interested to see of Schenn’s entry defence stats hold up in an environment where the forwards are a lot better at slowing down rushes before they start.
The Leafs got results basically whenever they targted Tyler Myers. Oddly, the four non-regular defencemen the Canucks have were their best defensively, both in terms of preventing controlled entries and containing rushes. Wolanin, like I said, has been a bit of a revelation and has played great, certainly a better run of games than Stillman ever gave them, making the decision to give up a pick for Stillman after the preseason ended a little more curious.
5v5 defensive zone exits and touches
The Canucks D held up when it came to exiting the zone, though the forwards dumped it out quite a bit. I did find, though, that earlier in the game, both teams were exiting at roughly the same rate, so it was score effects-induced that saw the Leafs finish ahead via both positions.
Both teams also limited the turnovers, though there were two on the shift leading to the clinching goal, one by Rielly and one from Schenn.
Lafferty had the puck a lot, and he did the work to get it to himself in the neutral zone. Rielly and Schenn each only made one turnover, but they were critical and costly, which might be something that I’ve forgotten about by the time I load these numbers into my database.
Big night for Hughes, who loves to carry the puck, though he was also the only D (he and Myers, I guess) that were disrupted by the Leaf forecheck. Wolanin, Juulsen, and Burroughs all handled themselves well (Brisebois gets an incomplete grade from me) and Saturday’s game, perhaps completely by accident, was the best the defence looked all year.
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