Photo via Claus Anderson/NHL Interactive
Coming into this game, the Toronto Maple Leafs had significantly outplayed non-playoff opponents. They had out-chanced them 185-145 this season, compared to being out-chanced 196-242 by playoff teams. That is a very significant swing.
But it’s one you might expect of a team whose true talent level is likely in that big swath of teams positioned between 6th and 12th in the Eastern Conference standings, separated by just 7 points. The idea, you see, is that it is easier to play against bad hockey teams, and harder to play against better hockey teams.
Toronto, after a rough stretch of schedule, finally got to play an opponent that is not only lousy, but not particularly well-coached. From the opening puck drop, the Maple Leafs asserted themselves as the better team over the Tampa Bay Lightning. They scored the first four goals, let time tick away in the third, and ended up winning 4-2, and it wasn’t really close.
-Score effects, of course is the qualifier. I wrote a post on Canucks Army between periods to explain that ~all~ teams, not just the team ~you~ cheer for, play worse up by a couple of goals. This is why Toronto appeared to get roundly out-played in the third period. At the time the Leafs scored their fourth goal, they had out-chanced the Bolts to a tune of 9-3. After that, the Lightning pulled up a bit to bring it back to 6-5 in the next phase of the game, and overall 1-4 in the third at even strength.
-How about that defence, anyway? Not like Tampa is a tough team to control the pace against, but it was nice to see six legitimate NHLers on the ice for once. The Jake Gardiner and John-Michael Liles pairing looked pretty good early on. Gardiner was playing on the left side but they rotated a couple of times in the offensive zone and it looked like they were on the same page.
-In fact, Jake Gardiner was in on three scoring chances in this one, “taking” two attempts and setting up a Tyler Bozak miss midway through the first period. Seeing the Leafs involved in the offence is extremely rare this season. That pairing took its lumps in its own end, but nice seeing a couple of defencemen try to play hockey rather than stand at the blue line on their natural side keeping pucks in and not allowed to skate past the Bowman line.
-But that wasn’t the big story. The big story was that Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Teddy Purcell combined for one scoring chance at even strength. That’s among those three people. Stamkos was not on the ice for a scoring chance “for” the Lightning until there was :21 seconds to go, when he sent a shot just high with the empty net. Steven Stamkos is a pretty good hockey player, so that’s pretty good I guess.
-Who matched up against him? According to the Head 2 Head chart linked below, Stamkos played 17.9 minutes at even strength. 12.2 of those were against Dion Phaneuf and 11.4 of them against Carl Gunnarsson. 11.3, 10.3 and 9.8 minutes were against the noted checking line of… Joffrey Lupul, Nazem Kadri and Nik Kulemin.
-Wait did the official timekeeper get those numbers right? From one respect “what a game by Kadri & Co. against Stamkos” and from the other respect “woah Carlyle you’re matching up Kadri against Stamkos are you friggin’ nuts?”
-He is nuts, but not in this game. That said, in the first period, Stamkos was set up on two occasions by Marty St. Louis but couldn’t settle the puck and just whiffed. Stamkos isn’t known as a high-volume shooter who’s going to get six or seven shots when he’s on. Stamkos is a high-percentage shooter, who gets a lot of goals because more than 15% of the shots he takes go in. He probably purposefully whiffs when he sees that the goaltender is probably in a good range.
-If you play for quality, you’re not going to get quality. The Leafs put a lot of pucks at the net, and Tyler Bozak’s goal was set up the following way: Phil Kessel passed a shot that had been blocked by Matt Carle over the Bozak who had a wide open net. The block broke down the defence and had everybody scrambling, because it’s not a play that can be anticipated:
That was one of 14 blocked shots on the night for Tampa Bay, who probably should have blocked one fewer.
-The first line was good I guess, in the sense that they weren’t bad but they gave up quite a bit of chances against the AHL call-ups and rookies that perpetuate Tampa Bay’s second and third lines. In the context of the first line not playing well lately, I’d say it was good they at least got a couple of chances and a goal. That said, other than the goal, and Phil Kessel’s hit that set up a 2-on-1 (???) in the first period, they didn’t have a lot of memorable plays.
-By the way, Kessel wasn’t credited with a hit for that play. It’s pictured above. We all saw it happen.
-Mikhail Grabovski didn’t play much, because, uh, with the lead Randy Carlyle sat all his best players and, uh… Grabovski’s one of them? Grabovski played 11:40 of time at even strength, less than any Leaf skater except for Clarke MacArthur, Colton Orr and Leo Komarov. I know they won but that makes little sense. Grabovski looked good when he was playing, although his primary forward matchup was Nate Thompson.
-On the Leafs first powerplay, Grabovski won a faceoff, but that play was blown dead because the draw was contested unfairly. Later in the sequence, Grabovski scored, but that was nullified on a penalty by Joffrey Lupul. The knocks on this player is that he doesn’t win enough faceoffs, and he doesn’t score enough. Even when he does do those things, he doesn’t get credit for them.
-Phaneuf and Gunnarsson should have been together since the start of the season. I’ll wait a few games before I call them a pairing that’s guaranteed to be +7 in scoring chances every game, while starting nine shifts in the defensive zone and zero in the offensive zone playing primarily against the leading scorer in the NHL. Small sample size.
-Individual scoring chance differentials:
|Chances For||Chances Vs.||Chances +/-|
|James van Riemsdyk||4||3||1|
|Chances For||Chances Vs.||Chances +/-|
|Martin St. Louis||1||7||-6|
|Toronto (EV)||5 (5)||7 (7)||3 (1)||15 (13)|
|Tampa Bay (EV)||2 (2)||2 (2)||4 (3)||8 (7)|
LeafsNation Three Stars
- Dion Phaneuf
- Nazem Kadri
- Carl Gunnarsson