This post will just be a compilation of the stats I recorded and a few final thoughts.
The actual analysis for Games 1-4 and Games 5-7 can come from clicking the links. Everything I’ve intended to say is basically in there.
Here are my keys to this series:
Victor Hedman and the rest of the TBL D
Hedman was actually only 4th on the Lightning in 5v5 TOI during last year’s series (McDonagh, Sergachev, and Cernak all had more) but he led the Lightning in zone exits, shot attempts, and was second in zone entries. He also drew the second-most zone entry targets and was an all-around stud for the Lightning.
Hedman showed some cracks this season: he had his worst corsi season in the Jon Cooper era, his worst season in goals for percentage since ’11-12 (excluding the season they didn’t get Kucherov to pass the puck too). He’s 30 now, and is having to be the stud on a Tampa team that has lost two of their top six defenceman from last season, without really replacing them. Hedman used to be able to be put with just about any right-shot defenceman and he could be effective, but he hasn’t really been great when not paired with Sergachev this year (and those two mostly get paired up for offensive zone starts). I dunno, it just doesn’t seem like the Lightning, who have never had a lot of defensive depth, are in a bit of a worse spot now that Hedman is exiting his prime. How good can he be in 2023?
Can the Leafs diversify their attack?
A big problem with the Leafs during last year’s series was that they were too one-dimensional. The stars played well, but they never really got that key 5v5 goal from a player lower in the lineup at an opportune time, except for Game 3 when they got goals from both Kampf and Blackwell, the Blackwell one, if you recall, coming at the tail end of a successful penalty kill (on a rush led by Ilya Lyubushkin of all people).
Here was the lines the Leafs used in the bottom six last year:
Engvall-Kampf- Mikheyev Spezza– Blackwell– Kase
Five of the six are gone. Kyle Clifford and Wayne Simmonds, who also played, are technically around, but the Leafs just have too much depth right now to warrant either getting in the lineup.
It’s not about skill with the bottom six, it’s also about a certain way of playing. The Lightning third line forechecked the Leafs relentlessly, forcing lots of turnovers and bad breakouts. The Leafs third line was probably a little too focused on puck play. If the game gets slower, or there isn’t a lot of space, what is Pierre Engvall going to do? It’s been written a lot by people that aren’t me, but I think that’s a big reason behind the changes the Leafs made midseason. Guys like Noel Acciari and Sam Lafferty can skate in straight lines, bang and crash a little, and have a tangible effect (maybe) on the opposition’s exit numbers. Zach Aston-Reese is a hell of a forechecker and has been disrupting opponents all season. Alex Kerfoot and David Kampf are both playing lower in the lineup in Game 1 of 2023 than they did in Game 1 of 2022.
I never had a chance to say my piece about the series, but I really would have hammered home the point in the off-season about the Kampf line being so ineffective in the playoffs compared to the regular season.
This is important as hell. We can talk about Tampa falling off at 5v5 this year, and they have, but that powerplay remains elite. They’ve carried over all the major pieces from their dominant powerplays in the past: Hedman, Kucherov, Stamkos, Point, and take your pick: Killorn, Cirelli, Hagel, Perry can all play well in front of the net. The Leafs can’t give that powerplay any space to move the puck to the front of the net.
I think if the Lightning win this series, we’ll be able to point to a couple of games that were won by the powerplay.
My prediction, if I could trust the Lightning 5v5 numbers, would be Leafs in 5. But I have a sneaking suspicion that the Lightning have been holding back all year and they can flip a switch at any time. They’ll be ready for this again.
Fuck it, Leafs in 7.
And now, onto the microstatistics:
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