Photo Credit: © John E. Sokolowski | USA Today

Game Six Thoughts: The one that got away

Well, here we go again. A first-round series between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Boston Bruins will be decided in seven games. With only a few hours left before an epic game-seven, I am going to cut straight to the meat and potatoes.

Therefore, in this article, I will be demonstrating how the Bruins tied the series and what the Leafs need to do if they want to advance to the second round.

The Leafs penalty kill was an issue, again.

Another game, another two-goal powerplay performance for the Boston Bruins. In my opinion, the Leafs have actually done a decent job holding their blue line and making it difficult for the Bruins to set up their powerplay. Unfortunately, once the powerplay is set up, the Bruins have been lethal.

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It is no secret that the Bruins love looking for one-timers. They usually look to execute them from the slot or from the far-side winger. The Leafs know this but are starting to overcommit defenders to the slot, which is giving the Bruins too much time and space down-low. In game six, we saw some good examples of this.

When the puck goes down-low, Hainsey looks a bit confused on what he should be doing. Zaitsev and Marner are already playing tight on Bergeron, so there’s really no need for Hainsey to watch that area as well. Out of everyone on the ice, Marcus Johansson is the one you want to pressure. He’s the least-skilled player on the powerplay, and the most likely to cause a turnover.

Here’s another example of the Leafs giving the Bruins too much freedom down-low. Marner pressures along the boards, and to regain space, Marchand sends the puck down-low. When this happens, the Leafs collapse and the Bruins gain more time to reconstruct their powerplay.

Later in the same powerplay, the Bruins strike.

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The Bruins took over in the second period

Despite starting the game “on-time”, the Leafs really fell flat in the second period. The Bruins go-ahead goal in the first seemed to really swing the momentum, as the Bruins cleaned up their breakouts, and started to spend a lot of time in the Leafs end.

Here, Pastrnak supports Krug closely into his own end. Kapanen engages in the initial forecheck but Pastrnak is right there to pick the puck up.

Below, the Bruins take a breakout strategy out of the Leafs playbook. Both wingers fly high, Chara flips the puck into the neutral zone, and the Bruins are able to get into the Leafs zone with possession.

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The Leafs were kept to the outside

…This is a recording. Once the Leafs have secured the puck in the offensive zone, they have had trouble generating high-danger scoring chances. Clips of the Leafs on the perimeter of the offensive zone might be getting redundant, especially if you have read some of my other articles during the series, yet here we are.

One way the Leafs can overcome this is by having their defencemen stay mobile when they have the puck. On far too many occasions, we see them standing still and as a result, they become easy targets when the Bruins apply pressure. In the example below, the Leafs are only able to generate shots from the point but I like the mobility that Rielly and Zaitsev show with the puck. Not only does this back off the Bruins forwards but it also creates passing and shooting lanes.

Another way the Leafs can overcome this is by having their forwards active off-the-puck. They need to be looking to get open in between the Bruins players if they want to break them down. Here’s an example of it. Brown goes to the net, opens up his body, and gives Dermott a passing option. The Leafs almost get a good chance out of it.

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Here’s a more memorable example of it. Matthews fills in the pocket, Gardiner finds him with a great pass, and Matthews finds the back of the net.

Final Thoughts

It’s true that “anything can happen” in a game-seven but that doesn’t mean important factors like coaching tactics, ice-time allocation, and player deployment don’t matter. If anything, it matters that much more in a one-game knockout. To add to this, each individual Leafs player should be up for this challenge and will need to be at their best, if they want to move on to the next round. 

With that said, here’s what I would like to see tonight:

  • The Leafs penalty kill needs to be aggresive tonight. The Bruins powerplay are at their best when they have time and space to pick out passes. The Leafs clearly know where the scoring threats are but need to be wary of overcommitting to those areas, as they are forgetting about the puck-carrier.
  • I expect tonight’s game to be similar to game-five. Both teams won’t be eager to aggressively commit on the forecheck and will be more concerned in clogging up the neutral zone. There won’t be many scoring chances so when you get one, you need to convert.
  • With that said, Mike Babcock needs to play his stars. On paper, the Leafs have a better team and they need to take advantage of that tonight.
  • The Leafs need to be active in the offensive zone, with and without the puck. Their forwards should be actively looking to get open and defencemen need to show some mobility with the puck, to open up passing lanes.
  • Frederik Gauthier should not be playing very much. In Boston, Cassidy has done a good job of getting the Bergeron line shifts away from John Tavares. The last thing the Leafs need is to get stuck in their own end, with Bergeron on the ice against Gauthier. The game is going to be really tight, and a mistake like that could cost them.
  • The line of Marleau, Nylander, and Brown has posted good possession-metrics in this series but I question how much Patrick Marleau has contributed to that success. Marleau’s ice time has been the talk of the town recently, and if it isn’t decreased tonight, we might be talking about it for the next few months, as well.
  • Trevor Moore brings a unique skill-set to the table. He’s fast, can create scoring chances for his teammates and is one of the best forecheckers on the team. The Leafs could really benefit from giving him shifts on William Nylander’s line tonight.
  • The Leafs have outplayed the Bruins for the majority of this series at 5v5. If they can stay out of the box, play with speed and if they don’t shy away from the Bruins physicality, they will have a got a good chance at winning this.

Thanks for reading. Leafs in Seven.