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Photo Credit: © John E. Sokolowski | USA Today

Game Four Thoughts: The Bruins steal one in Toronto

The Boston Bruins have won game four to tie the series up at two. For the Leafs, these are the types of games that could haunt you if you don’t end up advancing to the next round. They could have taken hold of the series but instead, are entering a best-of-three, where the Bruins have home-ice advantage.

At first glance, you could say that the Leafs were unlucky and that would be true to a certain extent. At 5v5, shot attempts were 70 to 43 for the Leafs, and they were clearly the better team for the majority of the game. As we look into this further, there are some ongoing issues that resurfaced last night and it ultimately cost the Leafs. In this article, I will touch upon some of the major talking points of game four along with some ways the Leafs can win two of the remaining three games.

The Bruins kept the Leafs to the outside

Despite having 27 more shot attempts than the Bruins, the Leafs only had two more slot-shots.

The Bruins are one of the best teams in the league at keeping their opponents on the perimeter of the offensive zone, and in game four, they put on quite a performance. Here, the Leafs get some extended offensive zone-time but don’t get many good scoring opportunities to show for it. The Leafs had to settle for a bunch of shots from low-danger areas.

Below, the Bruins have a player shadowing Nylander to start the clip. Marleau and Brown remain stagnant, as Nylander tries to look for a passing lane. The Leafs end up turning the puck over.

Here’s another example of it. The Bruins keep their shape, pressure the puck carrier and only concede weak shots from the outside.

The Bruins weren’t allowing the Leafs anywhere near the net, for the majority of the night. When they would try to get the puck around the net, it would be shut down. As a result, the Leafs were forced to create offense through point shots. When shooting from the point, you are either hoping for a tip or a rebound of some sort. It didn’t happen often, but the Leafs did generate some offense through this method.

Below we see Hyman fight for position before tipping in the Rielly point-shot.

Defensive zone coverage: The Bruins forwards vs the Leafs Forwards

One of the biggest differences between the Bruins and Leafs defensively is how their forwards set up when the opposing team has control of the puck. The Bruins forwards apply a lot of pressure to the puck carrier in order to keep them on the perimeter of the ice. 

On Thursday night, the Bruins forwards were active in their own end. They were applying pressure on the Leafs defencemen forcing them to either force a pass, throw a weak shot on net, or dump the puck into a corner.

Here’s an example of it. The Bruins are constantly applying pressure on the puck carrier as the Leafs work the puck around. The Leafs end up getting some zone time with nothing to show for it.

In this example, Hainsey tries to find Matthews in the slot but the Bruins are all over it. Muzzin retrieves the puck but he pushed towards his own blue line by the pressure from the Bruins forward.

The powerplays were cooking for both teams

In game three, the Leafs powerplay was the difference. In game four, the Leafs couldn’t stop the Bruins powerplay, as they went two-for-two on the night.

Below, McAvoy makes a beautiful read as he slips beneath the pressuring Kapanen, after making the pass. Hyman and Rielly don’t slide over and there’s a mini three-on-one for Muzzin to deal with. As a result, the Bruins score on a beautiful tic-tac-toe play.

This one is tough to watch. The Leafs penalty kill starts puck-watching and Pastrnak comes in the back-door unmarked. Their forwards are so good at finding open ice in the offensive zone.

This isn’t on the powerplay but here’s another example of a Bruins forward going into dangerous areas unmarked. The Bruins enter the zone in, what looks to be, a simple three-on-three. Marchand quickly cuts to the center of the ice and receives a pass with time and space. After getting his shot blocked, he slips to the front of the net and taps in the second goal of the game. Zaitsev was noticeably hurt in this clip but Marchand’s ability to stay unmarked is what creates this goal.

The Leafs also scored on the powerplay in typical fashion. The puck goes to Marner, he opens up his body, then chooses which passing option he wants to pursue. This time, he finds Matthews at the back door for the easy tap-in.

Back and forth hockey worked for, and against the Leafs last night

In my game three thoughts, I talked about how the Leafs need to continue stretching the Bruins out and how playing “back and forth” hockey benefits them. In game four, it not only worked for them, but it also worked against them.

The Leafs are good at creating dangerous scoring chances off the rush, as they use their speed to create odd-man rushes. After some back and forth play, Matthews picks up the puck, creates a two-on-one, and then ties-up the game.

Throughout the series, the Leafs have been done well defending in transition. They haven’t allowed too many odd-man rushes and their forwards have done a good job covering for pinching defenceman. In game four, they made a costly error, which led to a Bruins goal.

Final thoughts 

  • For the most part, the Leafs played well at 5v5 but stretches of poor play ultimately cost them the game.
  • The Leafs have done a pretty good job preventing the Bruins from setting up on the powerplay but once it’s set up, they have been in trouble. The Bruins powerplay have a bunch of weapons and is just too good to completely shut down. Hopefully, the Leafs can limit their penalty minutes over the next two-to-three games.
  • Right now, the Leafs top priority should be to get more offensive output from the Matthews line, at even strength. The Matthews-Kapanen duo has combined for only one even-strength point and doesn’t seem to be clicking. The third and fourth lines have played well but unfortunately, don’t play as much as the Matthews line. I wouldn’t be afraid of changing the third or fourth line, especially if it means you get more production from your best even-strength scorer, Auston Matthews.
  • I’d like to see Moore move to the Matthews’ line, Kapanen down with Nylander and then Connor Brown on the Gauthier line. Moore has been fantastic and could be the spark that Matthews needs. In addition, Nylander needs some help in the offensive zone and Kapanen is a clear upgrade over Brown in that department.
  • The Bruins will get last change in game five, so Cassidy will surely look to get Bergeron away from Tavares and Muzzin. The Leafs need to be aware of when Bergeron is on the ice. If they can keep that line quiet, they will have a much better chance of winning in Boston.

Game five should be awesome. Thanks for reading.

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  • Chroniclesofmarnia

    I like your analysis however I think your pouring it on a bit for the b’s. I agree they kept the leafs on the outside well yet our d were holding the line well and even moving it d to d a lot. The bruins conceded the point shot a bit and was good to see the leafs get some offence from it. The mcavoy goal was much better than the pastrnak goal, I’m sorry but they aren’t that good at finding open space, they haven’t been lol. We essentially gave them that goal and to some degree the mcavoy goal. Honestly if I’m boston I’m absolutely thrilled to pull that one out cause the leafs played well aside from a couple plays where the leafs were asleep. Muzzins pinch which also hit a skate and went right back to Marchand talk about puck luck. Then the complete airball of coverage on pastas pp goal. Zaitsev gets stung and that’s how Marchand gets open lol. I was happy with this game even though it was a loss. The bruins have not dominated at all aside from game 2 which was a constructed environment by the refs. The leafs have been the better team the majority of this series and honestly I hope they can capitalize because aside from kuraly coming back, which helps them immensely down the lineup, they played there last card by switching pasta last game. That’s another thing, that’s not some sort of wizardry lineup magic, the Bergeron line was getting shut down! It was his last option! And I thought the leafs handled it well. Didn’t seem to hinder the game. The leafs simply fell asleep for a few seconds a couple times and also the bruins received puck luck on two of them. This isn’t anything new the leafs are no great at playing defense lol.