We’re back reviewing games.
I guess it’s fitting that I put out my first game post in a couple of months after the Leafs first round two game in nearly 20 years. I get that this post is going to edge pretty close to puck drop for Game 2, so I’m just going to breeze through with some observations backed up by the microstats. I’ll post full microstats for a team and series level after Game 2.
The good (Leafs perspective)
- I noted in my recap of the Leafs-Lightning series that the Leafs had real difficulty on their zone entries, particularly after Game 2. Tampa did an excellent job pressing high in the neutral zone and prevented the Leafs from exiting with any sort of speed, which affected the quality of their zone entries. Well, in Game 1 here, the Leafs entered with control 37% of the time, better than any game in the series against the Lightning. They also exited with control 2.9 times for every turnover, better than any ratio they had in any one game against the Lightning.
- To that end, Timothy Liljegren was very good with the puck, exiting with control 6 times on his 10 attempts, and turning the puck over just 1 time on 24 touches. A key thing to remember last series is that the Rielly-Schenn pairing was used against pretty soft competition at home, as Sheldon Keefe tried to maximize the amount of time McCabe-Brodie and Giordano-Holl could contain Tampa’s top forwards. With Holl out of the lineup, it pushes that second pairing a little higher, and it’s imperative the third pair is able to drive play, which starts with good zone exits.
- The top six created a lot of scoring chances at 5v5: Knies had two scoring chances, Nylander had two, and Tavares had two. They also had a lot of scoring chance setups, with six forwards earning a scoring chance setup. That indicates to me that the Leafs are able to find some space to move the puck in the attacking end, a little more than they did against Tampa.
- Despite the shot count and expected goals count, both of which favoured Florida, the Leafs did very well off the rush. The Leafs generated 5 chances off the rush or in transition, same as Florida, and outscored them 2-1 in this regard at 5v5.
- The powerplay was pretty good. The Leafs got 12 shots away, 5 of them were scoring chances, and 4 of those made it on net, in 6 minutes of action. Toronto had 6 minutes of powerplay time, and were set up in the offensive zone for 3 of those minutes, a 50% formation% which was way better than any game they had against the Lightning.
The bad (also Leafs perspective)
- Despite the quality of their exits, the Leafs had a very difficult time recovering dump-ins, though they started out very well in this regard. In the first period, Toronto recovered 50% of their dump-ins, and just 44% the rest of the way. I was expecting this series they’d be able to establish the forecheck a little better, but they had trouble forcing the Panthers forwards to turn the puck over: Duclair commit two turnovers in a single shift in the first period, but they only commit two more the rest of the way among the entire team. The Panthers D were moving the puck quick and just rimming the puck out into the neutral zone and were happy to play on their heels since the forecheck lacked any bite.
- Speaking of the Panthers rimming the puck into the neutral zone… normally when the opposing team dumps the puck out, you’re able to re-enter the zone fairly easily since you don’t have to win the puck in centre ice. That happened to an extent with the Leafs generating 91 zone entry attempts to the Panthers’ 83 (and not all score effects-induced, either, the Leafs had a healthy lead throughout the game). However, following a Panthers dump-out, Toronto only got the next entry attempt 51% of the time (19-18 advantage) with the Panthers entering with control 61% of the time in that situation, including the Verhaeghe winning goal. By comparison, the Panthers out-attempted the Leafs 18-14 following a Leafs dump-out, and the Leafs only entered with control 21% of the time in that situation.
Basically, to avoid a big block of text if you missed all that, the Panthers dumped the puck out a lot, but won a lot of the neutral zone battles after those dump-outs, including the play resulting in the winning goal. Verhaeghe’s shot came just 4 seconds after an uncontrolled exit by Sasha Barkov.
- The Leafs had a lot of trouble handling Florida off the cycle. While cycle chances were just 4-3 for Florida, cycle shots were 24-12 for the Panthers. That’s far too much zone time, especially since 8 of those shots came from one of Tkachuk, Bennett, or Cousins, a line that gave the Leafs fits all night. Remember, one of the things that Justin Holl is good at, in particular, is breaking up the cycle game. Maybe he gets a look later in the series to play against this line if the Leafs are unable to handle it.
- Further to that last point, in the third period despite trailing, the Leafs spent just 5.4 minutes in the offensive zone to Florida’s 7.5, and were out-chanced 4-2. Toronto skated well and found some space, but didn’t find a way to keep the puck in the offensive zone for long stretches, except for the second period.
- The bottom six did basically nothing. Ryan O’Reilly and Michael Bunting have done some good things when they’re able to play with the stars, but none of these players (Aston-Reese, Acciari, Kampf, Kerfoot) have moved the puck well at all or created much off the forecheck. Maybe Sam Lafferty can do something in this game, but this is likely not what the Leafs had in mind when they rebuild their bottom six midseason. David Kampf is lost without some speed on his wings. He was one of the best Leafs at zone entries early in the season, but that hasn’t materialized in the playoffs at all.
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