This Sheldon Keefe guy is alright, eh?
Sheldon Keefe on starting 3-0-0: “It’s better than the alternative.”
— Jonas Siegel (@jonassiegel) November 28, 2019
I’ve never seen so many gifs on twitter of smiling players, either. The Maple Leafs came flying out of the gate and potted 3 goals in the first 10 minutes on Jimmy Howard, who started the game after Jonathan Bernier became ill in warmup. Unfortunately for Detroit, Howard seemed to have some discomfort on the play where Tavares scored, and the emergency backup alarm was raised:
Tyson Barrie, on what the Leafs were thinking when Jimmy Howard went down with injury: "We heard (Jonathan Bernier) had the flu or something and we thought we might be seeing a (Scott) Foster or one of those guys come in. We were getting a little excited."
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) November 28, 2019
Much to the displeasure of chaos enthusiasts, Bernier knocked back a Pepto Bismol and went to work. Whether or not Bernier was experiencing Luongo-like symptoms, he had a great performance, stopping 37 of 40 shots in relief. Detroit only managed to hit Frederik Andersen 25 times, securing the shutout in full, unadulterated “f*ck you” Freddy mode.
Frederik Andersen. Sprawling but still makes the glove save. pic.twitter.com/UJYtt5OmqM
— Flintor (@TheFlintor) November 28, 2019
1) How Swede it is
Four Swedish players suited up for the Leafs against Detroit, a pair of wingers on the first and fourth lines. William Nylander juggled a puck to slam it out of the air and into the net. Andreas Johnsson didn’t want to feel left out, so he bounced a puck off the ice and slammed it out of the air, into the net.
They wanted to score again, but they weren’t sure who deserved the next one. To keep things fair, Johnsson stopped the puck on the goal line and fended off Detroit players until Nylander could torpedo the puck into the net. It didn’t quite work as planned, Johnsson got credit for the goal, but it was a great play by Johnsson to keep his foot beside the puck until he had a legal way to put it in the net. He says he didn’t know the puck was there, but it’s more fun to believe he did it on purpose.
As for the Giraffe – Armadillo combo of Pierre Engvall and Dmytro Timashov, their line looked great and earned ~12:30 of ice time against whoever Detroit wanted to put out there. They collectively put 7 shots on net, including a couple of good chances from Engvall.
Timashov walked away with an assist on the Barrie goal.
2) Barrie, Barrie, Barrie
That’s 7 points in the last 5 games for Barrie, including 3 straight games with a goal. He’s got more freedom, and he’s making the most of it. He was pencilled in on the third pairing with Dermott, but after potting one each to put the Leafs up 2-0 the pair had more even-strength ice time than any other Leaf. He was also tied for the team lead with 6 shots on goal.
This looks a lot more like the 50 point defenceman the Leafs had hoped for.
3) Offensive Zone Time
There were multiple sequences where the puck stayed in the Detroit zone for over a minute. After Johnsson’s 2nd goal was confirmed, the Detroit commentator said he wasn’t even upset about the goal, but that Detroit couldn’t get the puck out of their zone for a whole shift. More than once the Leafs pinned the puck in deep and completed a line change before they lost possession.
Perhaps this has more to do with Detroit’s defence, but the Leafs absolutely dominated at retrieving the puck in the offensive zone. That’s one concrete shift in philosophy from the coaching change, putting the puck on net whenever they have a chance and letting the league’s best puck retrievers go to work.
Where the Leafs would have traditionally kept a man down low and worked the cycle, they’re giving the puck to their best handler and getting to the high slot. While this is less likely to sustain offensive zone time, it’s more likely to achieve the purpose of offensive zone time, scoring goals. Another thing about this setup that I found particularly interesting was how effectively it prevented odd-man rushes. When the cycle got broken under Babcock, there was a man stuck below the goal line who has to race 200 feet to make a play. With the extra man on the far side or in the high slot, many more breakouts were thwarted. What used to be a fast break for opponents is more often turning into a neutral zone regroup.
4) Spezza in Little Caesars Arena
With Alexander Kerfoot suspended, Jason Spezza jumped up to the 3rd line, where he continued to produce. Spezza made a strong zone entry in the centre of the ice before slowing up and threading a pass to a streaking Johnsson, eventually earning him a primary assist. This brings Spezza’s season total to 9 points in 16 games, including 5 in his last 5 games. I must admit that I expected him to be placed on waivers at some point before Mitch Marner’s injury, but at this point, the team is much better with him on the roster. He broke even in the faceoff dot against Detroit, and sits at a respectable 52.52% on the season
5) Faceoffs and Special Teams
In the grand scheme of things, the importance of faceoffs is often overestimated. Still, you’d prefer to win more than you lose, and the Leafs did just that. The Leafs won 55% of their draws, only John Tavares sunk below 50%, but at nearly 55% on the year I wouldn’t be too concerned about him in a 6-0 win in November. Using Nylander and Matthews to take strong side draws has continued to garnish positive results. They combined to win over 70% of their line’s draws, it will be interesting to see if Keefe tries to assemble a 4th line that has the same utility once Kerfoot returns.
It was a dull night for special teams, but you can’t argue with the results. 1/1 on the Powerplay with no penalties taken seems like an October dream, but everything just clicked for the Leafs. It was the aforementioned Spezza to Johnsson goal scored on the powerplay, with Kasperi Kapanen picking up the extra assist. I’m not sure if staying out of the box came as a result of a disciplined game or simply breaking the will of the Red Wings, but either way you would like to see more of the same.
The last time I watched Toronto play a game that dominant was probably Game 7 of the 2018 Calder Cup Finals. Toronto scored 6 goals, Johnsson had 2 goals and an assist, Sheldon Keefe was behind the bench, and Kyle Dubas was the GM. The more things change, the more they stay the same.