Game Two Thoughts: How the Bruins adjusted and took over Game Two

Game Two was one of those games that feels more important than it actually is. It was a textbook Boston Bruins win. The Leafs couldn’t get anything going offensively, the Bruins imposed their will physically, and they were able to bait Kadri into a suspendable act.

The Refs didn’t do the Leafs any favours either and were probably the reason why the game got out of hand. That’s the most I’lll comment about the officiating in this piece. While the Referees might have made it difficult for the Leafs to get back in the game, it wasn’t the reason why they lost. Therefore, in this piece I will demonstrate some of the major reasons why the Bruins dominated the Leafs in Game Two.

The Bruins defencemen adjusted to accommodate the Leafs speed

In general, the Bruins defencemen love playing aggressively. They aren’t scared to hold the blue line or pinch if it means they get to keep the puck in the offensive zone. In Game One, the Leafs were able to create foot races by placing the puck in behind the Bruins aggressively-positioned defencemen, as seen below.

Last night the Bruins defencemen adjusted and positioned themselves deeper than they did in Game One. In this clip, the Leafs are going to hit the high-winger Zach Hyman and the Bruins are ready for it. The defencemen are well-behind Hyman and the F3 Backes closes-in to knock him off the puck.

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Below, both Kadri and Nylander are looking to receive a stretch pass. The Bruins defencemen back up and keep both Kadri and Nylander in front of them. Nylander gains the zone and tries to stall for time as his teammates catch up but the pressure is too much to handle. This leads to a plethora of chances for the Bruins.

Rather than being over-eager, the Bruins were letting the Leafs come to them and were forcing dump-ins all night. To add to the problem, the Leafs forecheck was slow and nonchalant.

Again, the Bruins are backed-up and are happy to concede the dump-in. Here, the Leafs actually get a good initial forecheck, but the F3, Auston Matthews, is slow to support the puck.

Below, the Bruins defencemen allow their forwards to pressure the puck then they pick up the pieces. This leads to an odd-man rush.

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The Leafs breakout was far from beautiful 

In my last piece Game One Thoughts, I highlighted some key areas the Leafs needed to improve if they wanted to continue being successful in this series. One of those areas is exiting the defensive-zone when the breakout starts with Nikita Zaitsev or Ron Hainsey. Spoiler: It didn’t improve, and it cost them.

One minute into the game, the Bruins were generating chances off of consecutive turnovers by Ron Hainsey.

A few minutes later, the Leafs were in trouble again. Zaitsev fumbles the dump-in and the Bruins forecheck is all over it. The Leafs are slow to react and as a result, Boston takes an early lead.

In this clip, we see two different looking breakouts. The first one is a set-play the Leafs run off of defensive faceoffs on the left side. The Leafs win the faceoff and Zaitsev wheels the puck around the net before firing it along the boards to the high winger. After this fails, we see the second breakout where Zaitsev reverses the puck, Muzzin makes a clever slip-pass and the Leafs comfortably hit the neutral zone with speed. If the Bruins defencemen are going to sit back, I’d like to see the second breakout method used more often as the series goes on.

Keeping the Leafs to the outside 

Even when the Leafs cleanly entered the offensive zone, the Bruins completely smothered them and didn’t allow them into dangerous scoring areas with the puck.

Below, the Leafs work the puck around the perimeter nicely, but as soon as they try to cut to the middle, the Bruins knock the puck away.

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An odd night on the puck for William Nylander

After having a strong opening game to the series, Nylander seemed to be a bit off in Game Two. In my opinion, the effort was there but the puck just wasn’t sitting right for him.

This example might be more memorable. Once again, Nylander fumbles the puck, but this time it turns into a Bruins goal. Usually, I wouldn’t single out a player who fumbled a few pucks but when it directly affects the game, it’s hard not to.

Uncharacteristically, Nylander also had trouble in transition last night. Here, he turns the puck over in the neutral zone and it leads to a Debrusk breakaway.

As said before, Nylander’s effort was there and he was a major contributor to the Kadri goal. This is what the Leafs need more of. Nylander engages in this battle with a clear purpose, keeps his legs moving and is able to generate a good chance out of it.

Within that same shift, the Leafs scored. This was probably the most time they spent in the offensive zone in one sitting and they were able to get a goal out of it.

Final Thoughts

You can blame the refs all you want, but any time a team posts 1.81 expected goals in a game, it’s going to be tough to win. The Leafs weren’t great but at the end of the day, it’s just one game out of seven.

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Looking forward, the Leafs are heading back to Toronto where Babcock controls the matchups. With a potential Kadri suspension looming, the decisions Babcock makes regarding lineups and deployment are going to greatly impact the chances of the Leafs progressing past the first round.

If Tampa and Pittsburgh don’t come back in their respective playoff matchups, the winner of the Boston/Leafs series likely becomes the favourite to win the East. The stakes couldn’t be any higher.

Here are some things I would do: 

  • To start, Nylander should be the third-line center who replaces Kadri. Ideally, you want Matthews and Nylander on the same line but the Leafs are in a tough situation now and can’t afford to lose their depth advantage by having Marleau in that third-line center spot.
  • One player on the current fourth line is going to be promoted into the top-nine and that player has to be Trevor Moore. He brings speed, tenacity and is able to create scoring chances for his linemates when he’s on the ice. Having a third line of Marleau-Nylander-Brown didn’t work before, and it’s not going to work now. Moore deserves to be there.
  • The Leafs need to start spending more time in the offensive zone. In the past, the Leafs are able to do this when Travis Dermott and Jake Gardiner are on the ice. They bounced back after a rough Game One and I hope their role expands as this series goes on. I’d also like to see this pairing out more often when Matthews is on the ice.
  • In terms of matchups, the Leafs should stick to having the Tavares line and the Muzzin-Zaitsev pairing against the Bergeron line as it’s worked well. Cassidy was able to get Bergeron a number of shifts away from Tavares/Muzzin in Game Two, but won’t be able to escape it in Toronto.
  • Babcock needs to do the same with Auston Matthews in Games Three and Four. The more shifts Matthews gets against lower competition the better.

Thanks for reading.