Another day, another loss to the Bruins. The difference? You could make a legitimate argument that the Leafs were the best team on the night.
The Maple Leafs dominated for long stretches against the Bruins and were undone by mental lapses. There are a ton of positives in the Leafs play, but that’s just not good enough when you aren’t getting points. Here are my five thoughts from the night:
1) Matthews Line Dominates
The Matthews line finished nearly 60% CF, a positive xGF, and a positive high danger chance differential. From the drop of the puck, the trio of Matthews, Nylander and Johnsson were all over the ice. They created offensive zone time by recovering pucks and forcing the Bruins to chase them around the zone. Nylander was impactful on the forecheck, Johnsson won puck races Matthews was dominant.
One of the key differences in Matthews and Nylander’s dominant vs. invisible games is how much time they spend in the middle of the ice. From the outset, both Matthews and Nylander found themselves in the thick of things. Both players were consistently at the net front, getting the puck to the middle and creating chances in the danger areas. In particular, Matthews was in the process of getting crosschecked, when he directed a shot going seven feet wide, down through the pads of Rask.
Much has been made about his ability to tip pucks, but to do it in the slot, while off balance is an elite skill. When both of those players are in the middle of the ice, they are significantly more dangerous and impactful for the Leafs. This is exactly the type of game the Leafs need on a consistent basis from their young stars.
2) One Moore Down
At the halfway point of the first period, Trevor Moore and Chris Wagner collided at the Bruins line. Moore’s helmet got knocked off and both players looked a little worse for wear. Moore went to the Leafs dressing room and it was announced that he would not return with a shoulder injury.
After losing Marner and Kerfoot this week, the Leafs can ill afford to lose another top-nine forward.
While the severity of the injury is unknown, Moore has been great for the Leafs this season. He’s a consistent forechecker, tenacious on the puck and provides a physical presence that lacks throughout the lineup. He’s earned the trust of the coaching staff, not an insignificant feat considering who stands behind the bench. An innocent-looking play cost the Leafs another forward against the Bruins, and maybe beyond that. The organizational depth is certainly going to be tested in the coming days.
3) Zach Attack is BACK!
Zach Hyman is back and he is back with authority.
Hyman went 1v3 on a forecheck that included Bergeron and Chara, came up with the puck, and got it to Tavares. That led to a cross-ice pass to Kapanen for the 2-2 goal. When Babcock talks about why Hyman is so important, THAT is what he’s talking about. There is no one on the Leafs who even comes close to Hyman when it comes to forechecking. The guy wins more battles and forces more turnovers than the rest of the Leafs top-six, combined.
In the second period, Hyman beat the Bruins down the ice to negate an icing, won the ensuing puck battle and the Leafs retained possession. His presence in the lineup has been a welcome addition, and if the Leafs are going to get things back on the rails, he will be a huge part of that. He creates space for his teammates and allows his team to possess the puck when he’s on the ice. He’s a good penalty killer and it is no secret the Leafs need all the help they can get in that department.
At the bare minimum, Hyman’s insertion into the lineup an injection of speed, tenacity and grit that they’ve really needed.
4) Mental Lapses, The Difference
The second and third goals, both scored by Brad Marchand, both products of mental mistakes by the Leafs. The Leafs didn’t start the third period on time, and 11 seconds in, Marchand made them pay. Marchand entered in a 1v3 scenario, and there was no reason for Rielly and Ceci to back in as far as they did. Marchand got a red carpet to the net, Andersen left a rebound there, and in the back of the net it went. The D had support, and there was no reason for Rielly and Ceci to not step up at the blue line.
The Leafs dominated for most of the game, and in the middle of the third period, came up with another mental lapse. Marchand comes unmarked off the bench and skates unnoticed into the slot. The puck comes to him and he scores off the rebound on his original shot. You have to be defensively aware of who is on the ice and not knowing when Brad Marchand comes onto the ice, is unacceptable.
Someone has to be in the slot to protect the middle of the ice, even if no one from the other team is there. Those are the types of mental mistakes that are costing the Leafs points, and at some point, they need to be better.
5) Can Sundin Play…or Lidstrom?
I am very obviously kidding…or am I?
The Leafs have a hole at centre right now and someone of Sundin’s mould would be of tremendous help right now. A big centre who can win draws, is defensively responsible and oozes leadership. Check, check, check.
Or how about one of the greatest defensemen of this generation and a Mike Babcock favourite? Surely the Leafs could use some of Lidstrom’s prowess in all aspects of the game. Maybe the Leafs should have him out for development sessions with their defensemen, because I’m starting to run out of ideas.
In all seriousness, a hearty congratulations to every single individual inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame this year. Each one is so richly deserving of the honour, for their own distinct reasons. Hall of Fame Night is always a terrific evening to showcase the very best of hockey, and with one of the game’s greatest in Hayley Wickenheiser, this is a class to remember.
There was a ton to like about how the Leafs played against the Bruins. Matthews was dominant all night, the penalty kill didn’t get scored on, and the Leafs generated a lot of scoring chances. The Leafs are process-oriented, but at some point with injuries piling up, the Leafs need to start getting results. With 11 of the next 13 games on the road, the Leafs have an uphill battle until Christmas, and this is where everyone is going to find out what they’re made of.