Let’s start off by saying: Tampa Bay is in some real trouble here.
The losses of Victor Hedman and Erik Cernak can’t be understated. I think that these are Tampa’s top two defencemen. Media people seem to give Mikhail Sergachev a lot of credit, but I’ve never really been sold on him. He’s good at transporting the puck in space (he’s great in space) and is good at creating in the offensive zone. He may even be a better PP1 quarterback than Hedman is, but he was really struggling in Game 2 to contain the Leafs cycle, now that he’s the number one defender in Tampa.
The Hedman injury
It’s the introductory paragraph and also the first section we have of this observational post. First, I want to get into what I think happened with Hedman. Let’s watch the videos from Hedman’s last shift, first:
Now, I’m no doctor, but it looks like Hedman’s foot gets tangled a little with Acciari in the first video. I think, because there’s a very short window where Hedman is shown on the screen after they cut to the corner camera to show us Wes McCaulay’s #4, but does it look like he pulls up lame or limps a little bit in the frames we see him?
Either way, he stayed out there for an offensive zone faceoff at 2:15, leading us to that next sequence. He pivots twice, takes no contact, and goes to the bench at 1:51. Did he tweak his knee or ankle and tested it the next shift?
The fact that Hedman didn’t even take warmup prior to Game 2 is concerning if you’re a Lightning fan, so is the fact that he sat on the bench for four minutes at the start of the second period of Game 1 before determining he couldn’t go out, after two stoppages.
That’s probably not good for him, and I’d wonder about his ability to pivot or accelerate if he were to return before he’s ready. Tampa’s left side in Game 2 was Sergachev, Ian Cole, and Haydn Fleury. It’s not an inspiring group. I’ve already written on this blog about how it’s a tall ask to get Sergachev to replace McDonagh, who took on a lot of heavy minutes last season.
Leafs starts in Games 1 and 2
I always talk about zone entry attempts as an indicator of how well things are going, and it shows in the first periods of Game 1 and 2, respectively.
Look at zone entry rate for each team in the first period, as well as each team’s respective controlled entry percentage:
Anyway, it’s interesting that the Leafs, normally a team that generates a lot of entries, were streets behind to start the first period of Game 1. Normally they’re generating entries at a rate of about 100 or more entries per 60, similar to Game 2.
Zone entries usually stem from successful breakouts, and successful breakouts, almost always, have some form of controlled zone exit attached to them. The Leafs really struggled in the first period of Game 1, especially their forwards. It wasn’t just the Aston-Reese turnover that did them in (the turnover count was actually quite low), but they couldn’t get any exits or any sort of continuity in their rushes.
You may recall in my recap posts for last year’s series, that the issue for the Leafs early in last year’s playoffs was that they had trouble generating off the rush, but they kept the entry count quite high in Games 1 and 2 (before backing off in 3 and not really playing to comeback in 4).
So they fixed the breakouts and the entries, ever so slightly, to tilt the ice a little bit in Game 2.
Can the Lightning defend the rush?
Tangentially related to the Hedman point, I’m not even sure the Leafs wound up being the worse team in Game 1. They struggled to break the puck out in the early going, but they’ve actually been dynamite off the rush so far, including in Game 1.
One issue with the Leafs in Game 1, particularly in the early going was that 9 of their 17 scoring chances were blocked shots. Blocked shots aren’t counted as scoring chances or factor into expected goals by public models, but I’m not constrained by those. The Lightning blocked six in first period, including two off rebounds.
So far, the scoring chances per 60 (as counted by me, the only neutral arbiter) have been pretty solidly in Toronto’s favour at 5v5. I’ve broken it down into the scoring chances per 60 rate by period to show:
The Leafs have won 4 periods and tied another, losing only the third period of Game 2, which was the lowest-event period of all of them.
How are the Leafs generating their chances? Well, they’ve out-chanced the Lightning 10-5 off the rush so far. That’s a huge change from last season, and it’s happening because defencemen pushed up the lineup like Nick Perbix and Ian Cole are being beaten.
This play here, early in the 2nd period of Game 2, made it clear to me that this series was going to go a bit different than last year: the changes for Toronto are mostly upgrades, and the changes for Tampa are mostly downgrades. Noel Acciari and Perbix are two such additions.
That’s the moment where you think “oh, Tampa are in a lot of trouble here”.
The series is still 1-1, but I think the Leafs have been the better team by a considerable margin. We’ll see that below in the microstatistics for subscribers.
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