Suffice to say, a major difference between regular season games and playoff games is that coaches stick more to matches in the playoffs. Phil Kessel played less than two minutes in the first game against defencemen other than Zdeno Chara, and if you consult the graph after the jump, you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about. Huge difference between Chara v. Kessel in Game 1 of the series and Chara v. Kessel in the two regular season games.
In Game 2 however, Randy Carlyle worked his bench to maximize the number of shifts Kessel could play away from Chara, and Kessel scored his first five-on-five goal ever against the Bruins on one of them.
Coincidence? Probably, but that was one of the bigger Leafs goals in the last decade.
Chara v Kessel
Randy Carlyle talked in the post-game just how stingy the Bruins are with their matchups. Chara saw a lot of minutes against Alex Ovechkin last playoffs and not much of a change this time around. Julien isn’t extraordinarily stingy about his forward lines: he wants Patrice Bergeron out for big faceoffs, usually in the defensive end, and tends to avoid paying too much attention to the forward matches, but Chara on the top forward is a given:
One reason why is that Zdeno Chara is really, really good, but another is that after the top pair, the Bruins are pretty weak on defence. The Leafs were able to exploit that last night. Dennis Seidenberg was to the Bruins in Game 2 what Mike Kostka was to the Maple Leafs in Game 1. This doesn’t mean Seidenberg is a bad defencemen who needs to be sent down immediately, but he had a rough game, looking bleak on both the Kessel and James van Riemsdyk goals.
He was moved off the Chara pairing, presumably so that the Bruins’ would have something resembling a second pair with Andrew Ference suspended. Having Adam McQuaid, a tough third-pairing guy, in the top four really changes the dynamic because he’s slower and doesn’t have the offensive instincts of Seidenberg (Chara talked in the Bruins post-game about the strength of the Bruins’ D being their ability to move the puck forward as a five-man unit. This team uses their points a lot when they’re in the offensive zone).
To the Leafs’ credit, they beat up on the Bruins’ defensive depth last night. The scoring chances were 16-10 for Toronto at five-on-five and Chara was +5/-8, but six of the Leafs’ chances were immediate rebound opportunities that aren’t normally available if Tuukka Rask is on his game.
So discount those opportunities and it’s 10-10: Chara was a +1, McQuaid a +1, Seidenberg was a minus-3 and Johnny Boychuk was a minus-5. Kessel was a +4 total, but he was in on four of the six “rebound” sequences (for the record, I’m counting the first chance in these) so that works out to even.
Who were those chances against?
9:13 1st period – 42-81-19 vs. 44-55
7:16 2nd period – 43-81-48 vs. 33-54
19:07 3rd period – 43-81-48 vs. 44-55
17:07 3rd period – 42-81-19 vs. 33-55
And the ones against Kessel?
1:40 1st period – 42-81-21 vs. 33-55
3:04 2nd period – 42-81-19 vs. 33-54
3:50 3rd period – 42-19-81 vs. 27-33
3:36 3rd period – 42-19-81 vs. 27-33
Though those two last chances are close together, they don’t qualify as “immediate rebounds” since the Leafs had three chances to clear (Chara had a huge hit on Tyler Bozak during the sequence). But you’re seeing that Kessel did some damage against Seidenberg in those few shifts he spent away from Chara. Minus-2 against Zdeno, +2 against others.
The first non-Chara chance was a play created entirely by Tyler Bozak. But the second one was Kessel’s goal, without Chara on the ice. How did Randy Carlyle do it?
No. 1 – The quick shift
Right at the start of the game, it became clear that the Leafs were taking a “screw the scoring depth, we’re going to have our top guys do it” approach. Clarke MacArthur was scratched and Kessel after the opening faceoff immediately went over the boards and was replaced by Matt Frattin who got a big promotion after being a healthy scratch in Game 1.
While some around the team had quietly grumbled about having a two-day break following a disappointing loss in Game 1, it’s clear that Carlyle and his coaching staff made the most of the extra time off.
They communicated the line shuffling game plan to the players during two days of practice at Boston University and made sure everyone was ready to execute when the puck dropped. With all of the extra in-game juggling — Kessel and Frattin frequently alternated between units — it was important for everyone to be engaged during the game.
I looked through the shift chart and counted four “quick shift” attempts by Carlyle. That would be what you saw off the opening faceoff, where the Leafs would bait Julien into sending out Chara for a shift against Tyler Bozak, Joffrey Lupul and Matt Frattin by replacing Kessel with Frattin immediately after the faceoff.
Side-note, I asked Todd McLellan after Game 1 of the Canucks and Sharks series how he was able to get Marc-Edouard Vlasic against Henrik and Daniel Sedin so much and he said he was easier to change a defensive pairing because you can do that on a transition play. Since much of the Leafs’ attack on the first line lies in the transition offence, I’m not surprised this didn’t work.
Neither of those quick shift attempts fooled Julien however, and he was able to quickly substitute Chara and none of Kessel’s ensuing shifts were Chara-less. They weren’t entirely without purpose though…
No. 2 – Ultimately, it’s the execution
Forechecking is a verb, not a noun, so says an uncle of mine who used to play D in the QMJHL and had a season and a half in the pros after a failed try-out with the Leafs. (Side-note, he scored two goals in an intra-squad game at Maple Leafs training camp one year. A family joke is that they went with some guy named Salming).
What the quick shifting did do was keep Chara vigilant, knowing that at any opportunity, Kessel *could* come over the boards. The Bruins have an advantage at the TD Garden with the benches in the first and third period on his side of the ice. The shift at the start of the third period I’m wondering if it was game planned at all: the Leafs dumped the puck in twice against Chara on Chara’s side of the ice:
Matt Frattin is good at forechecking. He’s a speedy guy who knows that if he isn’t coming back to the bench at the end of every shift needing to puke, he’ll probably go back down to the minors because he isn’t particularly talented. but he’s good on this Leafs team and the Leafs got two entries on Chara’s side before he was able to go off the ice, meaning the Leafs’ improvised “1A” line of Bozak-Lupul-Frattin got some offensive zone time pressuring Chara down low and wearing him out for a few seconds. I’m not sure if it was in the Leafs’ gameplan to overload one side, but they drew Chara into the corner and Frattin made Chara work physically to get the puck out of the zone:
Transition the other way, the Leafs change on the fly, as do the Bruins, bringing on Seidenberg and Boychuk. The Leafs get Kessel, Nazem Kadri and Ryan Hamilton. The rest is, well, history.