Beyond Mitch Marner’s obviously excellent performance in the first game of the playoffs for the 2018-19 Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night, another winger played the exact kind of game that is expected of this team in the postseason.
Andreas Johnsson didn’t show up on the scoresheet, but he was all over the ice, providing offence and that physicality that so many fans and media wanted the Leafs to show. It wasn’t the most sustainable performance, but he demonstrated why he should stay in the group of top-six forwards and continue to be an offensive threat.
It was expected that the big names — Matthews, Marner, Tavares, etc. — would “show up” in this first game, but what was going to either win or lose this series was the Leafs offensive depth. No matter what, if any forward besides those stars were absolutely thrashed at even-strength, it would be tough to see the Leafs pulling this series out.
On a line with Matthews and Kapanen, the trio did not have a very successful night for keeping the puck off of Bruins’ sticks. The line was +15/-24 for shot attempts but mainly faced tough competition via the Bruins’ second line and top-four defencemen. The opposition had the advantage over the young forwards, but in such a small sample size, it’s more important to view the more raw stats and predictors for future success.
Bruce Cassidy heavily matched up the Matthews line against the DeBrusk-Krejci-Kuhlman forward line and the Krug-Carlo defensive pairing. For more than 62% of the time Johnsson was on the ice at even-strength, he had to face that Krug-Carlo pairing that was able to get in all the right shooting lanes.
Johnsson led the team with six even-strength shot attempts last night, while Matthews came second with five. Even with the ability to get some shots off, they were mainly shut down — Matthews had only two of his five attempts hit the net. While Johnsson had five of his six attempts hit the net, they were generally from low-danger areas.
This should not be concerning at all — the ability to get those shots off against those top Bruins skaters should be a telling sign that Johnsson might be able to score some goals in this series.
Beyond Tavares, Johnsson had the most individual expected goals (ixG) at even-strength of any other Leafs player. With 0.42 ixG, Johnsson’s ability to get shots towards the net and actually hit the net against some tough competition might be more about quantity over quality. While Tavares balances both, with a 0.6 ixG at 5v5, Johnsson’s five shots definitely contributed to the high expected goals number.
Among all Leafs skaters this season, Johnsson ranked fourth with 59.3% of his even-strength shot attempts hitting the net. Just behind other depth skaters as Marleau, Ennis, and low-volume shooter Hyman, Johnsson was able to hit a stride and succeed next to Matthews with the open ice that he was able to get.
His style of volume shooting goes beyond what the Leafs have been known for this season. Growing a reputation of not shooting until you can see how many nose hairs the opposing goaltender has, Johnsson broke that mould in Game 1.
One way that he was able to continue to stay within the role of a Toronto Maple Leaf in the year 2019, was heavily relying on a transition game and excelling at that.
He was able to break the puck out of the zone and enter the offensive zone with ease, sometimes at the same time.
In this one short segment of last night’s game against the Bergeron line, as soon as the puck was loose on a failed shot attempt, Johnsson was able to recover, transition, and then create a scoring chance for Kapanen with the help of Rielly on the point.
Protecting the puck through the neutral zone, he was able to continue his streak and get the puck off to Rielly as more Bruins paid attention to the winger. Especially with Krejci right on top of him, Johnsson was able to create a play that all started with him getting into the zone.
This was not just a one-time scenario as well, he was constantly getting the puck into the Bruins’ zone throughout the whole game. While Matthews and Kapanen had some trouble in that situation, Johnsson was there to prevent the Bruins from getting to continue their possession. They mostly got hemmed in their own end, but plays like the one above by Johnsson was able to transition the game from defence to offence with ease.
If the Leafs are to win this series, they will need to be reliant on more than just their top players. In one game, the Johnsson-Matthews-Kapanen line was somewhat destroyed on shot attempts at even-strength, but their individual ability to create chances out of mostly nothing was key to the Leafs handily winning Game 1.
While Kapanen is seen as the creator on that line with Matthews, Johnsson has shown much more potential to be a key factor on that line in the small sample size of one single game. If they’re able to come into Game 2 and have the advantage in shot attempts, it will instill even more confidence in this line for what they can produce.
Putting it all together might be a difficult task, but Johnsson’s first game of the series is a reason to put some assurance into this team to win some more games in this series.
-data via Natural Stat Trick-