Leafs Play First Playoff Game in 8 Years, Lose Badly in Boston

Basically a metaphor for the game itself.
(Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

It’s clear to anyone who understands "luck" in hockey, and how a team can in fact get lucky over a sample size of nearly fifty games, that this years Toronto Maple Leafs aren’t particularly good. They’re not as bad, however, as they looked on Wednesday night in Boston.

In game one of the Leafs first round series against the Bruins, Toronto’s cinderella club were outshot two-to-one by the 2011 Stanley Cup Champions. Toronto’s best players hardly showed up, and frankly there aren’t a lot of positives outside of the play of James Van Rimesdyk to really cling to. Though I guess if you count "at least it can’t possibly get any worse" as a positive you might have something.

Read on past the jump.

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Cam’s covering the Canucks game with credentials for CanucksArmy.com so I’m just writing up a quick recap. Rest assured Cam will post the full chance data and everything else you’re used to later this evening. For now let’s just focus on some key things the Leafs did well and did poorly on Wednesday.

What Went Right:

– The Leafs are in the playoffs. Yeah it sucks to have waited eight years only to watch your favorite team get their teeth kicked in, in game one of their first series in the postseason. But the Leafs are in the playoffs. Perhaps that’s not enough for you but I think that statement will have more effect if you curl up into the fetal position and repeat it endlessly in a strained falsetto tone while rocking back and forth.

– Colton Orr played well. Yeah that’s a secret negative since it means he’ll stay in the lineup over the likes of Matt Frattin (who could’ve legitimately been helpful in this one, I’d think) but he was the only Leafs skater in the red by unblocked shot differential at even-strength and nearly had a goal on a back-hander at one point. At least he didn’t score on it!

– The power-play was pretty good. Four shots in just over four minutes of work is nothing to scoff at, especially against a pretty good penalty-killing team in Boston. The opening goal of the game was a beauty too, a slap-pass from Kessel to Bozak that JVR managed to bury after a scrum in the slot. The Leafs simply can’t match Boston’s fastball at even-strength, in fact they look a bit hopeless at evens, but if they’re going to show respectably in this series special teams and goaltending are key. Toronto’s short-handed play, a major strength of the team all season, was lacklustre on Wednesday but at the very least the power-play did its job on Wednesday.

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– James Van Riemsdyk. Yeah his possession numbers were ghastly, but Toronto got outshot by nine at even-strength so that’s to be expected. At least he played a lot, the Leafs didn’t surrender a goal against while he was on the ice at even-strength, he earns kudos from me for battling (and occassionally out-battling, like on the goal he scored) big Zdeno Chara in the slot and he generated five-shots on net.

What Went Wrong:

– Honestly looking over the head-to-head ice-time data over at timeonice.com it doesn’t even look like Randy Carlyle tried to win this game. Here’s some key numbers:

  • Phil Kessel played 11.7 even-strength minutes on Wednesday, ten of them against Zdeno Chara. The Leafs were on the road so Julien had last change, but Carlyle needs to figure out how to mix in a Kessel shift away from Zdeno Chara occassionally.
  • Julien managed to get the Kelly, Jagr, Daugavins line out for roughly four minutes against Toronto’s fourth line. In fairness Carlyle managed to get the Kadri line out for four minutes against Boston’s fourth-line too, but unfortunately for the Leafs Dan Paille and Gregory Campbell can, y’know, help a team win hockey games.
  • Phaneuf was only on the ice for 6.2 minutes against the Bergeron line. That might not be the best way to use your only top-pairing defenceman.

– Phil Kessel. One shot, ten minutes through two periods (I’m not going to go on about his final ice-time, keeping him out of the third period wasn’t a terrible call) and a -14 attempted shot differential. A really ugly return to the playoffs for the slick shooting winger from Madison.

– James Reimer. This loss isn’t "on" Reimer or anything but two of the four goals were of the "soft" variety, and in a series in which the Leafs are pretty severely overmatched at even-strength, they’re relying Reimer to do better. Much, much better. The big guy between the pipes needs to a steal a game or two (or four) if the Leafs hope to win this series, and hell, he might need to steal a game for Toronto to even avoid a sweep.

– The penalty-kill. Look Boston’s power-play is nowhere near as bad as its reputation. Most of their issues this season were percentage based, I think, and certainly they don’t have any issues generating shots. Boston managed to generate fourteen shots of the power-play variety on Wednesday, cashing in on one of those fourteen, in eight minutes and change with the man-advantage. That’s a very un-Leafs-like performance for Toronto, and they’ll be dead in the water if it continues.

James Jake Gardiner and Matt Frattin were in the press box. What’s up with that?

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  • Willi P


    This really sums up what Burke didn’t want: Scrape into the playoffs and get your ass kicked. Sure the Leafs finished fifth, but only 2 points separate them from eighth place.

    The best medicine for this team would’ve been to be unlucky in the 48 game season and snag one of the big three in this June’s draft. Instead they’ll get a decent player in the 16-21 range.

    Gonna be interesting to see what moves Nonis makes this summer, this team still needs a lot of work.

  • jasken

    Interesting game to say the least. Kessel not only receives a slash required medical attention on left wrist which obviously everyone was oblivous. The flagrant targeting of Ference to Grabo’s head which he will probably receive a suspension for. Fraser and Kostka played totally laughable making you want to see ahler’s on defence at about middle of 2nd period because they really couldn’t be as bad as those 2 were. Leafs inability to tell when they were supposed to change really didn’t help them either. A few questions remain for next game as to Grabo’s status and Kessel’s in my mind how bad the hit to grabo’s head was and have Kessel’s wrist checked out. Well cause you kinda need your hands to shoot and pass effectively might be the reason he only played 11 minutes.

  • jasken

    The maple leafs have officially played their first playoff game in years as a franchise and for some players its their first time ever. Why is everyone getting so negative about this. It is one hockey game. Look at the statistics however you want but lets not forget what this is. It’s playoff hockey. There is a possibility for 7 games to be played. A team loses a game, studies, practices and comes back to kick the teams ass the next game. It’s annoying to see players singled out for mistakes and over analysing each individual players game. Some players had a good game, some players gave it their best while some other players need to step it up. It’s that simple. But lets not count the boys out yet and lets stop looking at the draft as a solution everytime something bad happens. Look at edmonton. 3 first overalls and still no playoffs. No major draft pick is gonna be that beneficial to the leafs. They can do this. They got this far now they need to finish the job. Let’s Believe in them and ditch the “Well they will lose anyways but I still like them” attitude. It’s pretty bad to see.

  • jasken

    Hey Steve, been a fan for a while. I liked your ideas about line changes and that, how to move forward. Thought I’d share my take on it.

    Go Leafs Go

    Put Grabovski in between our top two. He’s the only one who seems to want it and his drive and determination will most likely open up ice for Kessel. Hopefully the tenacity of JVR and Grabo combined rubs off on him as well. Grabovski also has the skill to be dangerous and is quite effective on the forecheck and cycle, which is something that line desperately needs. I think this line would match up quite well against Boston’s top unit, they definitely can out skate them and I would argue are significantly more skilled. The biggest question is puck possession, but I think Grabo would help that out a lot more than Bozak.

    Go back to what was a deadly line just a short time ago. Kulemin to me is the only leaf who could effectively match up against Jagr, and I think he would honestly give him fits. The skill and chemistry of Lupul and Kadri could also expose Kelly and Daugavins and the offensive zone play of these three would be quite a lot for the Boston line to handle.

    You simply have to have Bozak out against Bergeron, unless we want to get dominated on the dot. Also Bozak matches up favorably to the skill-set of Bergeron. They can shut each other down in a sense. While I was incredibly disappointed with the play of Macarthur, he is a skilled player with experience who can be quite an effective player when he’s riled up. Wake this guy up and get him on Seguin, tell him to be a rat. He has the speed, skill and tenacity to effectively shut him down. Finally, I put Frattin up against Marchand because I believe Frattin to be someone who you don’t want to piss off. He can also be pretty scrappy, and if he catches Marchand with his head down….bye bye.

    While I have nothing against the play of McClaren, Orr is better and when you have Komarov with Mclement, it actually becomes an effective line. High energy and high skilled, great defensively. This line could actually play significant minutes, especially if you double shift Kulemin in Orr’s spot.

    No real need to explain
    Leafs biggest weakness to me last night was neutral zone play and our break out. Gardiner can significantly help this, hell his speed can often get him to the puck well before the forecheck. When he’s on he can be effective in defensive zone with quick passes and foot speed, which leads to a quick exit. If they do get hemmed in you have O’Byrne to clear the way, actually block shots (Kostka ) and dump the puck. Ultimately though, I would only give this line limited minutes.
    These two are actually quite an effective pair, bit of a slip though last night. Keep them together and don’t over expose them. Have them and the Gardiner pair each play 15-20 mins.

    Have Phaneuf and Gunnar out against the Bergeron line for obvious reasons and mix up the Franson pair and the Gardiner pair against Krejci…see who is the strongest.

  • jasken

    ^^^Sorry Tom I think I put that in the wrong spot . Like how you gave JVR props though, to me he seemed like the only one (for the most part) willing to battle. Gained a lot of respect for him