Photo Credit: Bruce Fedyck/USA TODAY SPORTS
Let’s be very blunt; that wasn’t very fun to watch, especially given the kick in the pants that Toronto sports fans had received earlier in the day with the Blue Jays being eliminated. A Leafs game that started so well on the scoresheet ended in disaster, with the Winnipeg Jets rallying back from being down 4-0 to defeat Toronto in overtime. Katy gave you the rundown on the situation last night, but let’s talk about what actually happened.
Having a lead is a good thing because the object of the game is to score more goals than the other team. But in unfortunate circumstances, it can also be a curse. I’d imagine that most people that regularly read this site are familiar with score effects. If you aren’t, this article by former TLN editor and present Leafs R&D analyst Cam Charron serves as a good primer. In short, teams that are behind by multiple goals will start throwing pucks on net in an attempt to change the momentum, taking risks they otherwise wouldn’t.
Combine that with leading teams going into defensive shells and taking fewer risks, and all it takes for a comeback to happen are a few seeing eye shots or some spotty goaltending. Many will argue that the Leafs were outplayed front-to-back last night, and I’m not going to lie to you and tell you it was a brilliant effort, but a lot of it might come from having a huge lead for as long as they did.
|Leadup||Time||Toronto Attempts||Winnipeg Attempts|
Toronto spent most of the game up by at least two goals. When the score was 2-0 or 4-2, the Leafs took just 33% of the full-strength attempted shots, 45% when up 3-0 or 4-1, and in the pocket where they were up 4-0, they gave up all five shots attempted at 5 on 5. On the other hand, they had a slight edge in the 25 or so minutes where they were up 1-0 and took 60% of the attempts at 0-0 or 4-4. When the pressure and expectation was relatively equal, they appeared to do better. Now, that doesn’t excuse a four-goal collapse, but it at least gives some context to Winnipeg’s resilience; the game may have felt like it slipped away suddenly, but the Jets began their panic mode very early and reaped the rewards of some favourable situations.
The Goals Themselves
There seems to be a cause for alarm on just about every play leading up to the winner.
On the first goal, the Jets get a 2-on-1 rush thanks to Jake Gardiner getting stuck along the boards. He made the right decision to be there in an attempt to keep Shawn Matthias from clearing the line, but once he fails, he his foot catches a run and he doesn’t build up speed in time. Give Mitch Marner credit; he’s at the left-wing hash marks when Gardiner begins to enter the boards and ends up being the second player back. Connor Carrick is the lone defender; he plays the shot instead of the pass, and so does Frederik Andersen, leaving Tyler Myers all the room in the world to fire on an open net.
Laine’s first goal, the 4-2 tally, is an individual thing of beauty, in the sense that he spins and blind fires a shot bar-down. There’s not much to get on the case of the skaters for here; it was a lost draw, Byfuglien’s shot to the danger area is nothing unordinary, and Martin Marincin was on Laine’s tail. Perhaps you can get on Andersen’s case here; he’s already moving to the butterfly before Laine corrals the puck.
Mark Scheifele’s goal is more of an unfortunate circumstance. Mitch Marner sprawls to block Josh Morrissey’s shot, and it squeaks through. By the time Andersen is back up in position, Scheifele is already loading his wrister, and because none of the Leafs skaters were anticipating the puck to land where it did, the Jets forward has a clear lane to aim high blocker. That’s exactly what he did, and the Leafs were suddenly in trouble.
The tying goal, well, that’s a meltdown.
The Leafs are down two men with Morgan Rielly in the box and Michael Hutchinson on the bench. That’s four guys trying to get the puck out, and they don’t win the faceoff cleanly, but they do get possession and Connor Carrick makes the right decision to try to blast the puck into outer space. Unfortunately, he hits the stick of Nikolaj Ehlers instead, who now has Dustin Byfuglien and Patrik Laine at his disposal. You’d think at least one of the involved players would try to cover somebody other than Ehlers, right?
Carrick and Leo Komarov aggressively go after Ehlers. Zach Hyman starts going too, realizes he’s been beat, but doesn’t do much else. Matt Hunwick starts heading Andersen (most likely to keep Blake Wheeler from getting the rebound, to be fair).
Andersen darts to nearly the hashmarks, something that TSN analyst and former goaltender Martin Biron noted that he never did in Anaheim. Some have wondered if this is something that he’s being told to do. As I mentioned after the season opener, I wouldn’t be shocked if he’s still playing hurt. Presumably, playing further out while heading towards the butterfly would close up angles in a way that he normally would if he had full, painless shoulder mobility. The EyeTest (TM), showed him coming progressively further out as the game progressed, which could verify that suspicion. In any event, he’s played himself so far out here that he’s left Laine a wide open lane and a wide open net. he didn’t even have to take a full slapshot to bury his one timer; he used a guiding motion to bury it.
The winner, ironically, is perhaps the least of my concerns. It’s 3-on-3, the Leafs put on a ton of pressure for most of overtime, the Laine rush came off a rebound, Nikita Zaitsev stayed close to Laine while still playing the pass, Andersen was out deep again but in a situation like this, he should’ve been, and the shot was really good. Terrible given the circumstances, but if this was a 1-1 game where the Leafs had tied it up, nobody would be that concerned about losing on a goal like that.
It wasn’t all bad, though. There are good takeaways to be had from this game.
- Toronto’s defencemen were very active in supporting their forwards offensively. Connor Carrick made a very smart pinch to pick up the JVR rebound on the first goal, Morgan Rielly anticipated a loose puck and moved to the left wing to set up Kadri on the second one, and Nikita Zaitsev had a few seeing-eye passes.
- I guessed that William Nylander was due for a good night, and he delivered. The 3-0 goal was a gorgeous shot off of a Matthews pass, and his feed to Kadri on the 4-0 tally was as pretty as the rush to grab the puck was smart. The kid line wasn’t overly brilliant in terms of possession, but they also played through most of the leading stretch.
- Nazem Kadri potting a couple is always a nice thing to see. His puck luck last year was horrendous, and if he can get a few of those goals going back the other way I’m sure he’ll be thrilled.
- The Leafs are still undefeated in regulation, and a collapse like this in Game 3 is better than in Game 73. There’s no doubting that the points matter equally, but the coaching staff can isolate what went wrong and start teaching it now, which works as a development accelerant of sorts. Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe mentioned that his favourite part of one of the 5-2 wins that his team had this week was a bad third period to teach off of; you obviously don’t want those mistakes at the NHL level, but they’re bound to happen with a team that has a core as young as this one its better to catch them earlier than later. Not to mention, the sacrificed points went out-of-conference.
- For those worried that this is proof that the Leafs aren’t, in fact, poised to be better this year: this loss is the most catastrophic collapse the Leafs have had in the regular season since November 2000, when they blew a 5-0 lead to the St. Louis Blues. That same Toronto roster went on to, despite being underdogs, sweep the Ottawa Senators in the first round of the playoffs and seemed well on their way to another upset until the Domi/Niedermayer incident. I’m not saying the Leafs are going down the same path this year, but a heartbreaker like that doesn’t mean an early end to the road. That was really, really, bad but there’s no reason to believe it’s the start of a pattern.