Well, the Leafs got a point…on the back of Freddy Andersen. In a game that some would argue he shouldn’t have played, he gave up two early ones, could’ve been pulled, but ended up being the reason the Leafs got a point tonight. The Leafs, to no one’s surprise, didn’t start on time – and it cost them, again. Poor puck management led to costly errors, which ultimately cost the Leafs the game.
Luckily, Matthews and Andersen were good enough to drive the Leafs to a point, with a trip to Boston looming. If I wrote with the same nonchalance as some Leafs exhibited tonight, it would be a 100 word, 1 paragraph postgame.
However, I’ll try to put in an Andersen level effort, so here are 5 thoughts:
1) The Leafs Started on Ti — No They Didn’t. They Absolutely Did Not
Well, it happened…again. The Leafs had a good first few shifts, and even drew a penalty. Then, in what was one of the most nonchalant plays I’ve seen in quite a while, Mitch Marner got his stick lifted and the Blue Jackets scored…shorthanded.
That is the type of effort level that would get someone like Petan or Spezza sat in the press box the next game — it was that bad. The Leafs just cannot get their engine going for 7:07 pm, and in the game, it was outright effort. Sometimes, they are mental mistakes, which is a focus issue. Against Columbus, it was effort. It’s Riley Nash, not Mark Stone, stripping the puck clean off Marner’s stick. Not to mention, he was there in the first place because he skated himself into bad ice. You just cannot be that nonchalant with the puck, it’s going to cost you every time.
Not 3 minutes later, the Leafs unnecessarily iced the puck, and both Matthews and Marincin got outplayed by their men to the net front. Matthews getting spun around by Dubois and Marincin getting outmuscled by Cam Atkinson were not good looks, but Andersen has got to have that. In a situation where your team clearly hasn’t started on time, has already given up a goal on a nonchalant play, you need to make a save there.
Suffice to say, it was an abhorrent start from everybody wearing a blue uniform tonight. The Leafs looked marginally better after the second goal, but save for the late power play, turned in an unacceptable performance for the entire first period. If this continues, it will cost the Leafs – likely in April. Goals are hard to come by in the playoffs — and Auston Matthews will probably not be left wide open at the net-front (like he was on the 2nd goal), so you can’t be handing out freebies off the hop.
2) Why Is Freddy Playing?
I’ll preface my thoughts with this: in my time behind the scenes, the “bank two points” notion on night one of a back to back, no matter who the opponent on night two is, VERY MUCH, A THING.
Okay, you play 82 games in the regular season. You should try and win all of them. On night two of a back to back, your chances of winning against a rested team are significantly less. Playing your goalie in both, there’s a drop in SV%, and an even bigger drop in games won. You also risk injury — overworking your goalie is a recipe for a muscle strain, which the Leafs cannot afford with Andersen.
So let’s assume each of your goalies plays one game.
The argument for Andersen playing the first game is that the team is rested and therefore, has the best chance to win. That’s before we get to the fact that Columbus is an inferior opponent to Boston, and the Leafs are playing at home. That is a game the Leafs should win. The coaching staff would see that as, “this is our best chance to get the win and Andersen gives us the best chance to win”. You focus on getting two, instead of four, because when teams tried that…they often ended up with 1 or 0 points (I had to do a study on it). It is important to point out that, it’s not often that playing your starter on night two after your backup plays night one increases your chances of success.
Now, given the Leafs’ situation, I’d argue you start Hutchison against an inferior opponent, at home.
Had the Leafs been playing a stronger opponent, like Tampa, you give Freddy the nod. However, given that Boston is waiting at home — odds are, the Leafs would need to lean heavily on him to have success. In the first six minutes, when he gave up two goals, I probably would’ve pulled him – save him for Boston. You’re not surrendering the game, but you’re saying, “we’re going to a big game from you tomorrow, so let’s hope Hutchison shuts the door and the offence wakes up.” It might come off that I’m sitting on the fence here, but from what I concluded looking into it — your chances weren’t that much greater on night two, so playing Anderson is not as outrageous of a decision as people are making it out to be.
More on this subject is coming…in a deep dive.
3. The Forechecking of the 4th Line
The effectiveness of the Leafs 4th line in this game when it came to making life difficult for the Jackets in their end was excellent. I will also include Trevor Moore in this, because he is the Leafs best forechecker (without Hyman). On numerous occasions, the Leafs players got in on pucks first, won 50/50 battles and took away options for Columbus to break out.
I would’ve liked to see chances generated from this forecheck because Gauthier in particular, did a terrific job of winning battles along the boards and getting to the net. This is the natural progression for this line, who scored against Boston on Saturday night. Whoever plays there, the Leafs have the talent to ice a fourth line that can get in on the forecheck and create scoring chances.
The reason the Leafs bottom end forwards were effective on the forecheck is because of their approach. The first part is they go in with the objective of being first. There was no waiting for the defender to get back and pinning them. This forced the defenders to go in at the forechecker’s pace, as opposed to allowing the defender to control the pace.
The second thing is they don’t go on with their stick first, they go in to get body position. By getting in a strong position, it allows them to gain leverage and minimize the ability of the defender to manoeuvre and manipulate position. This is an effective ‘hunter.’ That’s when the stick on puck becomes important for the second man in — also known as the ‘fisher’. When the Leafs were successful on the forecheck, the first player largely eliminated the Columbus player and allowed the support player to come in as the fisher and retrieve the puck. From there, they cycled the puck effectively and forced Columbus to play in their own end.
This is what you want from your fourth line.
4. Marner Cost the Leafs the Game
He’s immensely talented, but I said it when he signed…the expectations are much higher when you cash that kind of paycheque. If that had been William Nylander’s turnover in the first period and not Mitch Marner’s, there would’ve been darts fired all over the place saying he’s lazy, lacks compete and whatever other nonsense. So, let’s consider that.
Tonight, Mitch Marner made two critical errors and both ended up in the back of the net. The first one was a level of nonchalance on the power play that is difficult to comprehend. He had two passing options, for a full second, one behind the net, and another cross-ice. To just let Nash strip him clean of the puck without a fight is completely unacceptable. It would be different if he didn’t have support, but he had options. Not only that, his effort to take Nash to the net after he was stripped of the puck was virtually non-existent.
Now, we get to overtime. Matthews had a *shift* in overtime, where he could’ve ended the game on a few occasions. Once the puck was cleared, both he and Marner needed to change. They did not. Once Matthews attacked the net again, Marner cheated to the net. Generally, I wouldn’t take issue with this – except, when you’re at the end of your shift, you need to make sure you’re in a strong defensive position. He wasn’t, and got beat up the ice by his man. That forced him to get the hook in the hands of Nyqvist — which is where he earned the penalty shot. In the ensuing scramble, he also appeared to cover the puck in the crease. Whether he did or not, the fact he laid down in the crease as an instinctive reaction to the play, shows me he was tired — because that’s when mental mistakes occur.
Marner made three game changing plays tonight. Unfortunately, two of them resulted in goals against, and only one resulted in a goal for. When you’re getting paid double digits and depended upon to make a positive difference, you can’t be responsible for two pucks going in the back of your net. Or as Mike Singletary said, “We are not a charity…we cannot GIVE them the game.”
5. Martin Marincin – the Good and the Bad
This is exactly the type of game that would have Martin Marincin detractors loading up on ammo. Here’s the thing about Marincin, he does a lot of things well, and he’s looked better this season. A few times tonight, he used his length to break up zone entries and prevent shot attempts. His puck skills have improved and he looks calmer with the puck, especially on puck retrievals transitioning to the breakout. These types of plays are what make him an effective defensemen.
If you watch him on the second goal, he gets hooked and dragged into his crease, legitimately impeding Andersen from challenging forward. To my eyes, it was deserving of an interference penalty, especially because it led to a scoring chance (resulting in a goal). However, Martin Marincin is 6’5, 213 lbs and got yanked around by 5’8, 175 lbs, Cam Atkinson, and that’s not a great look. As a defenseman, you need to be strongest at your net front. That means gaining body position, stick position and maintaining balance. Losing a battle to someone 9 inches shorter and nearly 40 lbs lighter is not going to endear you to the coaches or the fans.
1. Matthews with the hard work
2. Johnsson continuing his strong play in front of the net
3. William Nylander with the finish. pic.twitter.com/PDAMPpchAk
— The Leafs Nation (@TLNdc) October 22, 2019
The Leafs didn’t start on time and there was more bad than good on the night. It was a wasted effort from Andersen, who was terrific after letting in two early goals. I probably would’ve pulled him after the second goal to preserve him for Boston, but he earned this point for the Leafs and therefore, has earned a night off.
This is the second one of these reports I’ve written where the Leafs have failed to play a full 60 minutes. That’s just not going to cut it as the season wears on. Neither is the lackadaisical, nonchalant puck management of the star players. They’ve all been guilty of unacceptable puck management at some point this year, and that needs to change if they are going to lead this team deep into the playoffs.