November 21 2013 08:48PM
It's a prickle with small sample size, and one that's not questioned as much as it should be. Remember earlier this season when James Reimer was 8-1-1 in his career against the Ottawa Senators, before laying a massive egg on the Air Canada Centre ice? The major narrative of this game propped out on the Fox Sports South broadcast was Jonathan Bernier's previous dominance against Nashville: 8-1-0, a .941 save percentage and two shutouts, including one this season.
Jonathan Bernier wasn't the reason the Maple Leafs lost at home to the Predators tonight, but he wasn't at his best, and the Leafs need their goaltenders to be at their best every night if they expect to win the way they've been out-shot this season. Bernier has 11 games of .919 or better in his 13 starts this season, Reimer has had 6 in his 8—that counts the Carolina game as a Bernier start. That wasn't the case against Nashville, and… hey. A lot had to go right for the Predators tonight as well.
Craig Smith, who has scored on 7.1% of the 311 shots he's taken in career, scored two goals on four. Matt Cullen, who is at the tail-end of a long, distinguished career as a checking centreman, recorded his first four-point since December 15 of 2002. It was one of "those" nights all around, and Toronto wound up on the wrong side of a 4-2 scoreline.
This game started like any other. The Leafs were out-shot in the early going, but generated a goal off a quick strike. It was the Leafs' first shot on the game, but it came after a sequence the Leafs were under a lot of pressure, having conceded the previous six unblocked shots thanks partly to a Nazem Kadri penalty.
The sequence leading up to the goal wasn't a bad change by the Predators or a great breakout with speed, it was just… a lousy pinch by Shea Weber?
Either way, Marek Mazanec, playing in just his sixth NHL game, didn't look particularly comfortable on the play. Early on, the first draft of the script had been written. COULD IT AGAIN BE ONE OF THOSE NIGHTS?
In a word… no.
Toronto maintained their lead until the start of the second period, where they allowed Nashville to creep back into the game. After a powerplay, the Leafs actually managed to gain control of the shot clock for the remainder of the first 20 and should be credited for that. The problem is that hockey games are 60 minutes (well… about 78% of hockey games are 60 minutes. A significant minority of games go beyond that) and Toronto definitely didn't play well-enough in those final 40 to merit a win.
First, it was Seth Jones scoring on the powerplay, then Matt Cullen fanned on a shot, recovered it before Paul Ranger and Bernier both knew what was going on, and tucked it in to make it 2-1. Craig Smith scored his first of two, beating out Dion Phaneuf to a loose puck off a rebound in front of the crease, and then in the third period, Bernier got a big piece of a Smith shot, but it bounced in the air and landed in the net.
(Anybody notice that Bernier has been the unfortunate victim of some hilarious-looking goals this year? He's been great, but his blooper-reel is embiggening.)
Nazem Kadri made it 4-2 late in the third period, off a long shot that deflected past
Mazeno… Mazanaj… Mazanac after striking Victor Bartley in front, but that wasn't enough. The Leafs health bar was extended late as Nashville couldn't find a way to score on the empty net, despite two odd-man rushes into the zone.
If anything sums up the Predators last two seasons, I think it was that.
WHY THE LEAFS LOST
Gus Katsaros had an interesting take:
Im hoping zone data confirms this but I find a lot of teams dumping it in vs Leafs. My hunch is due to their low-zone collapse in the d-zone— Gus Katsaros (@KatsHockey) November 22, 2013
I thought this was most noticeable on the Predators third goal, that came on the powerplay, where the Predators set up in the zone after first being stymied twice on carry-ins. The Leafs bring their defencemen forward a bit, which means that one man is going to be overmatched trying to enter the zone with control, but it means the defencemen have more ground to cover if they want to recover a dump-in attempt.
This is just anecdotal but it's seemed through much of the season that Toronto has been worse at recovering dump-in attempts than their opponents. I haven't tallied up the numbers from my zone entry project yet, but it wouldn't surprise me if the data bore that out. I can tell you that Thursday night at even strength, the Predators successfully recovered 17-of-37 dump-in attempts (46%) while the Leafs only recovered 16-of-42 (38%). I think the less time the Leafs system permits the defencemen to recover the puck could also explain some of the problems with their breakout as well.
It's tough to say. I liked Peter Holland's game, but he only generated one shot on goal (that went in) while his linemates Mason Raymond and Nik Kulemin combined for just five. I don't think any player had a particularly solid night, but I've really liked what Holland has showed so far in his brief time so far with the Leafs. So far he's looked pretty good on a couple of lines, has done a great job in the neutral zone (three controlled carry-ins tonight. Not the best on the Leafs, but…) and I think is very good defensively. We'll see what those shots and shots against numbers look like after five or six more games.
- Anybody catch the Nashville change at the start of the third period? They kept re-gaining the puck, but would be passing to players either exiting the bench or trying to hop on the bench. They narrowly avoided three separate too-many-men infractions, yet the Leafs couldn't capitalize.
- As mentioned, that was Matt Cullen's first four-point night since 2002. However, he now has six points in his last three games.
- James Mirtle mentioned during the game that the Leafs' penalty kill was back down to league average. Seven shots against in 5:42 of 4-on-5 time does not lead to sustainable PK success. I've been mentioning it for a while now that the Leafs have been giving up just too many shots on penalty kills and the goalies are no longer bailing them out.
- Just 15:27 for Phil Kessel, his lowest ice-time in a loss since March 13 (when the Leafs were thumped 8-0 by Boston. When the game is on the line, Kessel rarely plays this little). Is it his wrist? Is it the flu?