WWYDW: Last Gasp

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After last night’s game, Mike Babcock had a really interesting comment about how the Toronto Maple Leafs react to the final minutes of play, and how they should react:

“We got some saves, but I thought we did the job. I didn’t like that we took a penalty; I didn’t like Carrick taking the penalty there. All in all, we turned it into something it’s not. It’s just a game. Play like the game is tied and go get the next one. Don’t be conservative, don’t back up, don’t protect anything, just play the damn game. When it goes bad for you, you start making it a bigger deal than it is. It’s no big deal, just play.”

Transcription via Mark Masters, TSN

Now, in a sense, this feels a little weird from him, seeing as many of these late-game “meltdowns” have come with one or both of the fourth forward line and the third defensive pair on the ice, or with a penalty kill unit on as a result of an infraction taken by that group.

Babcock talking about pressing in the third is exactly what I want to hear, yet, his deployment is a little contrarian to that. Maybe it’s just a matter of running out of options at the wrong time, and that those line selections aren’t what he’s planning for. I’m hoping that’s the case, because while it really doesn’t feel like the actions are matching the words, the words align with my own thoughts.

But I’d be curious to hear what you all think. Is pressing the way to go late in the game, or is it passive protection play? Are the Leafs sending out the right players to close things out, or is there a particular group that should be there instead?

Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

  • Stan Smith

    I personally don’t think Babcocks philosophy is at odds with his assignments. I think that he would love to have any one of his top 3 lines kill the last few minutes of a close game with the puck in the offensive zone. The problem with that is they can’t get control of it in their own zone. The 4th line are more capable of playing it like a penalty kill, and can lessen the chances of giving up a good scoring chance, plus are more capable of gaining possession of the puck, and at the very least clearing it out of the zone.

    • LukeWarmWater

      Totally agree Stan and I would occasionally like to see one of our players in the last minute of the game with the goalie pulled by the opposition, sacrifice his body to make the big block that knocks the puck out of the leaf zone. Far too often a point shot gets through and three opposing players crash the leaf net. Get your best defensive players out there and as you pointed out play it like a man short which you in reality are as the other team has pulled their goalie. Plus what ever center has had the best record in the face off that night, go with him in the last minute, you know your opponent will be using their best face off man.

      • Stan Smith

        I would also like to see someone score into the empty net in those situations. Has it happened this season yet? If it has, it hasn’t happened very often. At one point in time if a team was up 2 goals with an empty net opportunity, they would take pot shots at the net, and not worry about icing calls. Heck, even if you fire it blindly you have a 14% chance of hitting net. LOL Plus if you have your best faceoff guy out there odds are you win the next faceoff anyway. Here is a question. I wonder if any teams ever have their dmen practice taking a pass, to duplicate a won draw, and firing at the opposing net?

        • LukeDaDrifter

          D-,men can’t see that far. They need to be up at the point to see the net. What they could do though is practice getting the puck back to Andersen let him fire it at the opposing net. That’s what I call rubbing salt into the wound.

      • LukeDaDrifter

        Re- “sacrifice his body to make the big bloc” You forgot to mention after they cart you off on a strecher there will be great round of applause from the fans. Not to mention the 70 virgins that await you in paradise

        • LukeWarmWater

          Yeah but brother Luke you forget I come from the Bobby Baun school just zap me with a needle of that pain killer and I’ll drag my ass back out there and I’ll swallow the puck to run out the clock. Now that 70 offer is enticing as I get close to the age of 70.

  • LukeDaDrifter

    I don’t think Babcock was referring to the last couple of minutes with the goalie pulled. I think he was talking about leading in the last 10 minutes or so. We have all seen it over the years. Teams limit their forecheck and hang back around the blueline waiting for the other team to come to you. Babcock feels with the players we presently have they should continue to press them and try to score another one. This is one area we excel in. They aren’t going to score from their end of the ice. When in our defensive zone go for the breakout pass, as we have been doing all game, instead of up the boards, giving the puck back to them in the neutral zone and letting them attack again. Defend by playing to our strengths not the weaker part of our game. It will not work every time but it likely will be more successful than hanging back waiting for them. When the other team pulls their goalie, ya we are going to have to go into penalty kill mode.

    • Stan Smith

      What makes it difficult is you don’t want to give up an odd man rush as well. I think you do have to play things differently in those situations just do it with more energy and determination. Win the battles instead of shying away from them. Check more aggressively as opposed to sitting back.

      • LukeDaDrifter

        The chance of an odd man rush is the reason players quit trying to pressure the other team in their defensive zone. The end result is we spend most of the time in our own zone allowing the other guys to screen our goalie and keep firing the pucks at our net. Eventually they will pop one in. I think Babcock feels with our personnel we have a better chance at playing offensively. When teams are behind near the end of the game they must throw caution to the wind and take some chances to generate a scoring chance. What we haven’t seen much of this year is us taking advantage of that situation. If they do get an odd man rush, our goalie still has a better chance of making the save than playing behind a screen. That is not to say checking more aggressively is a bad thing.

    • LukeWarmWater

      Plus as the other team press with their defencemen taking chances we can have Hyman and Brown go in on a two on one or Marner on a breakaway to have the goalie end up with his jocks strap in the 25th row.

  • Tigon

    I agree with Babcock. His message is no different from how he wants them to play the whole game regardless of the score. You should want to push the pace from puck drop to get the lead and win the game. You have to posses the puck to push the pace, which limits their scoring chances because you have the puck and controlling the game – I think this is what Babcock is saying.

    Regardless of you having the lead early or its within the dying minutes of the 3rd, or you’re playing from behind – you want to be the team controlling the game and not play that counter attack or conservative game that is now always defending the game/their push.

  • AussieBoy

    This game was frustrating to watch,as I felt Mcelhinney made great saves,but 39 saves?….Something tells me he is not supposed to make that many if the D is better.This reminds me of when Bernier would have a great night in goal and people would comment”Wow,he made 40+ saves tonight”…..and as good as that was,my question was”Why in Hell does he HAVE to make so many?”
    Again,we are back in D land.
    Relieved as I am they won,they got through by the skin of their teeth….
    Which means if they make the playoffs[I honestly don’t know] they will be lucky to survive the first round.
    I will gladly eat my words if they win the cup this year for obvious reasons,but I just can’t see it.
    This was a badly needed win,but it nonetheless for me,was a wake up call that showed there is still quite a way to go before this team is a REAL contender.
    I respect the opinion of all you guys[I have learnt alot from you] but I just can’t see it happening this year.
    And this game,in a weird way,showed me just that.

    • LukeDaDrifter

      Re- “I will gladly eat my words”……..Do you want fries with that?

      Let’s not forget all of our rookies are still in the middle of their first year apprenticeship in the NHL. The are all still learning the tricks of trade. They are now seeing a lot of teams for the second time. They’er starting to look confident out there. I believe they are contenders. It is true though there are a lot of really good mature teams with playoff experience ahead of us. With the fire power we have coming from our top nine and Andersen’s reputation for coming up big in playoffs I can’t imagine anyone wants to meets us in the first round.

  • Harte of a Lion

    The Leafs have zero players with experience winning at the NHL level. It’s not just the rookies, it’s the veterans as well. When you look at Kadri, Bozak, JVR, Komarov and the defence like Gardiner, Polak and Hunwick, none have played a major role or experienced what it takes to win or close out a game. The only brief flirtation the veterans have had with success ended in a heartbreaking game 7 loss to the Bruins. The team is way ahead of what anyone dreamed of in year 1 of the build and though I no longer have fingernails and I no longer need haircuts as I tend to pull it out every third period, the team is learning how to win.
    Babcock is doing the best he can with the pieces available to him and we all should remember that how can we expect the players to learn other than by playing by fire.
    Kadri and Matthews will get better at faceoffs, Rielly, Gardiner and Carrick will learn to take that hit to make the play, and the wingers will learn to make the sacrifice to block more shots and put more pressure on the points.
    All in all, I love this team and win lose or draw, this year will be one to remember.

    Go Leafs! Go Marlies and thank you Brendan Shanahan for renewing the passion in all those bandwagon jumpers. It’s a lot more fun when everyone is cheering for the Toronto Maple Leafs!

    • Stan Smith

      You have a point that I agree with 100%. You can teach a player in any sport how to play better and more technically correct. You cannot teach them how to win. That comes from within.

    • LukeDaDrifter

      One should remember these guys all have a high hockey IQ. I am sure they go over the games in their own mind and try to understand how they could have played better in certain situations. What they haven’t seen much of yet is the close checking that comes with playoffs. This is when everyone is playing the body and finishing their checks. That will be the next learning curve for them.

    • LukeWarmWater

      Harte I was weeping and gnashing my teeth tonight, pulling out my grey hair rendering my DeMar DeRozan jersey. Kicking ass in the after game posting site of the Raptors Then I come in here and I feel the love, the warmth, the joy the peace, the tranquility of having an exceptional young hockey team that is only going to get better.

      I was going to call it a night when a phrase came to me from the Bro, Come to me and I will give you rest. So here I am. Okay I borrowed it from the gospel of Matthew. Now how about that Auston Matthews. whoooooooooo.

  • Draper55

    I’m getting tired of hearing all this hate about the fourth line and the third D pairing. I’ve watched enough games this year to know that its more than those two lines that have problems clearing the zone during the last 10 mins of the game or so. I’ve seen shifts with 2-3 mins left in the game where JVR Bozak and Marner get hemmed in with Gardiner and Carrick on the back end. I’ve seen the Matthews line get caught in their own zone with Reilly and Zaitsev back there as well. To say its mostly due to our bottom line guys is very unfair. We get it already Jeff you don’t like Ben Smith, Polak, Hunwick and Martin but for once I’d love to read an article about something other than blaming those guys for everything wrong that happens to the team, how amazing Jake Gardiner is or saying that the guy who is scratched should be in the line up cause some numbers on the screen in front of me say that hes better or because it hurts his feelings.

    • The China Wall

      Careful Draper55, you’re going to hurt little Jeffie’s feelings with the truth.

      Earlier Jeff and others were openly taking pot-shots at the commenters (therefore readers) of their articles but it seems now they have become a little more passive-agressive about it.

      Don’t get me wrong, I do value what Jeff and crew do produce here, but as others have said, “we get it, you hate the players you hate (Smith, Hunwick, Polak)” but how about listening to your readers and write about other topics? The chicken little routine does get a little tiresome after a while.

  • DukesRocks

    Part of the same interview Babs mentions the teams is at the bottom of the league in faceoffs… in their own zone. He stated Bozak and Mathews are solid but Kadri needs to work on it if he wants to be an 2 way shut down centre. He goes on to say it’s hard to move the puck out of your own zone if you don’t have the puck (because you lost the faceoff).

    I agree with Babs on Kadri but to say Mathews is solid in the faceoff dot makes me scratch my head. In addition Smith was terrible last night when the game was on the line.

    The two best faceoff guys the Leafs have at present is Bozak and Gauthier and they sent Gauthier to the minors.

    So back to Jeff’s question: who should the Leafs have on the ice when the games on the line? This is a hard question to answer because you need more then one line to do the job. If the question is less then a minute in the game and I have a time out. I would put Bozak, Kadri and Kamorov. The D is Zaitsev and Rielly.

    • LukeDaDrifter

      Well if you follow Jeff on twitter you will see him and drag like pull still believe winning faceoffs are a waste of time. You will also learn that Hunwick and Polak are not Bobby Orr. Smith is not Crosby. Every second twit enlightens you that those players are reason the Leafs are not very good. There is a constant barrage of negativity regarding the Leafs. While their assessment of those players may or may not be accurate they have absolutely no solutions. In a nutshell they have half a clue. I would copy and paste some the crap that is posted on LeafNation twitter but like Draper55 I find it pointless.

      PS. What about some articles about how our prospects in Europe are doing. How our junior prospects doing. We will pick around 18th in the draft. Is there any good defencemen going to be available? Enough with this bitching about Polak and Hunwick, If they want Brent Burns then say so. He is available. All it is going to cost you is a couple of 1st round picks plus Matthews and Marner then move some guy on to the long term disability. The Sharks would make the deal.

      • DukesRocks

        Yeah it can get tire-some reading Jeff’s condescending tone to the players mention by Draper55. However, I do agree with Jeff that given the personnel available to Babs, there’re decisions that make you scratch your head. Ex: Sending Gauthier down and replacing with Smith. Frankly at present, I couldn’t care less with the decisions the Leaf’s brass make because I’m resigned to the fact we’re in a rebuild and chances are the Leafs aren’t good enough to win the cup. If they become sellers to find the pieces that will make this team better, at the risk of compromising the playoffs, I would be fine with that as well. Fast forward a year or two and I feel this team is a contender, then you bet my comments will be questioning Leaf management decisions when I disagree. You can bet I’ll be scrutinizing every move and player if it becomes a WTF trend.

        As far as I’m concerned Jeff’s targets have little to do with the Leaf’s future and therefore who gives a fuk.

        • espo

          no, every article complaining about the fourth line and third pairing (yes, Rielly has been dreadful this year but the fourth line and the third pair are the fourth line and third pair for a reason here gents) it’s about opportunity costs.

          The leafs need to be as good as they can be while they’re young and cheap, and actually playing well. drafting Matthews was a game changer. We’re no longer in draft pick and asset hoarder mode.

          Funny how every proponent on this site of getting better marginally better FO% guys in, are also the ones saying that a marginal improvement over the 3rd pair or 4th line won’t matter.

          The Leafs arguably aren’t good enough to win it all this year. That said, they’ve hung with the big boys all year, they’ve got the skill and speed to score buckets of goals. Oddly enough, outscoring the other team is a great way to win games. Not suggesting blowing our brains out with trades for rentals, but the Leafs should be pushing for the playoffs hard, that experience will come in handy over the next two years while the Leafs are still hella good, and still stupidly cheap (ie we can still afford to surround the young guys with even more skill)

          Thought we’ve played like hot garbage since the Philly game, but good teams, especially young ones, go for little swoons through the season some times. Lets hope for the best, and enjoy the ride.

      • leafdreamer

        Funny how faceoffs all of a sudden begin to matter so much in their narratives when one of their wipping boys such as Ben Smith has a bad night or two at the dot eh?

    • leafdreamer

      I think Babs was saying that Matthews is a rookie so he’s letting him off the hook but that he expects Kadri to be able to win those draws by now as he is no rookie himself. Ben smith is clearly shaking off some rust after not playing due to injury to his hand and that’s probably the reason he’s not winning as many draws as we’re used to him winning. Ben Smith is not a bad player or, at least, he’s not as bad as he’s looked the last few games since returning. Gauthier may be marginally better (on his good nights) but there’s no question he needs a little more time in the minors.

      The bottom line is Babcock wants to play 4-line hockey whereby all the lines are as good as each other and all can keep the puck out of their zone and score. He doesn’t have the horses to do that just yet. I think the plan is to get the ‘4th line’ prospects get used to creating offence and scoring in the AHL and then bring them up when they’re ready – it’s between Sosh, Laipsic, Griffith, Rachel, Frose and The Goat to take those 2 spots (because Martin is a lock as someone has to be there to protect the rest with fists) either next year or even for the playoffs this year.

      • DukesRocks

        Nice comment agree with mostly everything you’ve stated. I mentioned this before, I don’t even notice Smith on the ice. Listening to the broadcaster and watching the play develop my eyes never register Smith. This could be considered the status quo, that Smith is never out of position (no glaring mistakes) but doesn’t contribute to the offence (never drives the play). Therefore making him good in the dzone and a non-contributor in the ozone. In reference to Gauthier, I found him driving the 4th line and creating opportunity. In the dzone he was a big body that could move people.

  • leafdreamer

    I’m finding it really hard to figure out what exactly’ going on with this expansion draft – I think a lot of the roster decisions have something to do with that – i.e. there may be kids being held down in the minors so as not to be exposed and vets like Smith playing so they could be exposed. I wonder why the writers on this site aren’t digging into the ‘numbers’ on this a little harder – it may explain quite a bit.

    • LukeDaDrifter

      I think you are right about roster decisions. Include possible trades in that.. Most young guys on ELC’s are exempt.

      All first- and second-year professionals, as well as all unsigned draft choices, will be exempt from selection (and will not be counted toward their club’s applicable protection limits).

      The Las Vegas franchise must select the following number of players at each position: 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goaltenders.

      The Las Vegas franchise must select a minimum of 20 players who are under contract for the 2017-18 season.

  • Draper55

    Thanks for the love guys, I knew I couldn’t be the only on here who is tired of rereading the same articles, about the same players over and over again. Like you said it’s a team game and to blame every bad bounce or blown lead on 5 guys is unfair. Like espo said, they’re the bottom 5 guys for a reason, they’re not on the team because they’re the most gifted offensive players, they’re role players, they’re given a role by the coach and they go out for 8-12 mins a game to fulfill their role. The Leafs sent Gauthier down to the Marlies because they wanted him to dominate, learn how to drive play, play 16-18 mins a night on a top 2 line, hone his offensive abilities so in the next 2-3 years when he is up on the big club he can drive play and do what Babcock is asking for so they don’t blow leads. Gauthier is already very defensively adept enough to play in the NHL as a shutdown bottom 6 guy, the Leafs want him to be more than one dimensional hence the reason they sent him down when Smith got healthy. The same goes for guys like Liepsic, Lindberg, Timashov, Rychel, Froese. The Leafs are not gonna win the cup this year, that was never the plan, the playoffs were but a pipedream to start the season but could be a reality come April which is an amazing achievement for this young team. It’s great experience but if the Leafs decide to sell at the deadline and get rid of guys for prospects and picks that’s a good thing. The Leafs are building for the future, so they can compete for the cup year after year in the not so distant future, this is year 1 of a 3-5 year process let’s not forget that.