February 14 2013 09:14PM
Photo: Gregg Forwerck via NHLInteractive
The Toronto Maple Leafs certainly didn't play like a plus-possession team tonight.
Nor did they play like a team belonging in the National Hockey League. Up against a team short two top-four defencemen in Tim Gleason and Joni Pitkanen, the Leafs failed to generate any sort of significant play in the offensive zone against a backup goaltender. They let both of the Carolina Hurricanes' top lines walk all over them, and the Leafs' two best defensive centres were a combined minus-8 in scoring chance differential.
Not one you'd totally want to relive. Carolina won its third straight and broke Toronto's four-game winning streak with a 3-1 win. But let's just say you did want to relive, and at least know which Leafs players to cuss out at during tomorrow's call-in shows?
-I hinted above that the Leafs got smoked in the scoring chance count. After coming out of the first period 4-4 at even strength, the Leafs were out-chanced 11-3 at five-on-five over the next two periods including 5-1 in the third, the time in the game when Toronto ought to have been pressing when down by two goals. They couldn't generate anything. The rag-tag top four defence of Carolina shut them down very effectively, thanks mostly to the play of Jamie McBain and Justin Faulk.
-There wasn't one decisively 'won' or 'lost' matchup here. Without digging too much into who was on the ice against who, I can tell you that two of the Jordan Staal line's four chances 'for' were against Nazem Kadri's line and two were against Tyler Bozak's line. Of the seven scoring chances 'for' Eric Staal's line, two came against Bozak, two came against Mikhail Grabovski and three came against Kadri.
-It's somewhat interesting because Muller isn't a coach known for zone matching. The lack of a lot of special teams play let both coaches roll three lines, and both seemed to leave the fourth by the wayside, especially in the third period. Carolina's third line—made up of Tim Wallace, Jussi Jokinen and Drayson Bowman—played very well late in the contest, not just preventing chances against but also generating a couple of scary moments in the Leafs' end that would have really iced the game, but Ben Scrivens made a couple of big saves.
-Scrivens was very good in this game. It's probably the best he's looked, even playing the puck, there weren't many scary moments around him where he mis-handled a rebound or was caught out of place as has been the norm in his previous starts. More importantly he stopped a lot of pucks: he stopped 24-26 at even strength, 30-33 overall and 13-16 on scoring chances on-net. That last number is particularly telling—while James Mirtle wrote about how the Leafs have been keeping chances to the outside, Scrivens didn't face that luxury tonight. Carolina saw a lot of space in the middle of the ice and high in the slot, but the young goaltender was mostly well-positioned and didn't have to rely on reflexes at all. He got hit a lot of times in the logo, which is an excellent sign.
-That said, where was the defence? I mentioned earlier that Mikhail Grabovski and Jay McClement both had gaudy scoring chance numbers against. No one defender looked particularly bad. Cody Franson had a couple of bad turnovers at the blue line, but ultimately it was Dion Phaneuf and Korbinian Holzer who were the worst defenders on the Leafs in terms of scoring chance differential. They didn't have to play too many minutes, Phaneuf was at 23:59 and Holzer was at 19:07. For some reason Mike Kostka played 24:16 and led all skaters save for Faulk and Jay Harrison on Carolina's side.
-On the plus side, the first line was clicking offensively, and the only line on the Leafs to do so. Phil Kessel had eight shot attempts: six shots, one blocked, one missed, and three of those attempts were recorded as scoring chances. James van Riemsdyk had nine attempts: five shots, one blocked, three missed, and two scoring chances. Unfortunately they couldn't generate any rebounds off those attempts and didn't manage to beat Dan Ellis, but that was a positive game on offence for those guys.
-Weird night for Nazem Kadri's line, who got beat by both top Carolina units. He took nine non-neutral zone face-offs, six of those in the defensive end and three in the attacking end. I'd never seen Kadri deployed in that situation, although I think two of them were off icings, but in a road game it's weird for Carlyle not to use zone matching to get Kadri offensive zone draws. More importantly, he was bad in the circle, going just 3-for-11. Grabovski went 5-for-15. The only Leafs centreman who was 50% or better was Jay McClement, who took just two draws.
-Wait… how come your second best face-off guy took just two face-offs while playing on a line with one of the more inexperienced players you have in that department?
-The best player on the ice for either team was Alexander Semin, especially in the second half of the game. With the Hurricanes playing well and winning games, and the Washington Capitals playing poorly and losing games, and Semin being a key first line piece for the Canes on a unit that's been very dangerous in both games against the Leafs you have to wonder whether there was ever any substance to how bad Semin supposedly was in the room. An excellent slash-line for him tonight: game-high twelve shot attempts, six on net, three blocked, three missed, and five of those attempts were recorded as scoring chances. He also had a chance set-up to Eric Staal on the 5-on-3.
-Second best player on the ice? Probably Joe Corvo, who took some undeserved heat in Boston last season despite a Corsi rate of +10.04 per 60 minutes. Coming into tonight, he was +18.42 per 60, so his team has been getting excellent possession when he's on the ice. He took a couple of good shots in this game, one went for a goal, and his pairing was the best one the Canes' had defensively.
-Name of the game? Michal Jordan, who, being Czech, is probably not related to the other famous MJ to play in North Carolina…
-Don't fret too much about the Leafs' play. Some people today on Twitter noticed that coming in, Toronto's PDO was 1.040, which was the second highest in the league. PDO is the addition of team shooting percentage and save percentage, and in the long run, it will generally regress to 1.000. The Leafs were getting some good bounces without having terrific puck possession they were out-scoring their expectation. Obviously they weren't going to beat every single team 6-0 or 5-1, but this is a team constructed to lose more games than it wins. So far this season they've bent the luck.
-Carolina is a good hockey team again. I think they built a pretty good squad this season, they developed some nice young defencemen, made a savvy pickup with Semin and that third line has pleasantly surprised me in both games they've played the Leafs. Definitely the favourite in the Southeast.
|TARANNA||Chances For||Chances Vs.||Chances +/-|
|James van Riemsdyk||4||6||-2|
|NASCAROLINA||Chances For||Chances Vs.||Chances +/-|
|Toronto (EV)||4 (4)||4 (2)||2 (1)||10 (7)|
|Carolina (EV)||5 (4)||7 (6)||8 (5)||20 (15)|