Tonight’s game against the Blue Jackets might have been the Leafs first or second best playoff game in the Shanaplan era. The Leafs thoroughly outplayed the Blue Jackets from start to finish, outshooting the Blue Jackets 39-20. Joonas Korpisalo was stellar once again, but the Leafs stuck to their game plan and were finally rewarded.
Link to the post-game highlight package can be found here.
Maple Leafs 1st Goal – Auston Matthews (Assist Hyman)
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) August 4, 2020
The Leafs gather up the puck in their own end after a scoring chance by the Blue Jackets and Matthews leads the three-on-two fast break the other way. As Matthews approaches the blueline, he sends the puck over to Hyman and then books it towards the front of the net. Hyman makes a hard pass back over to Matthews, who redirects the puck past Korpisalo’s blocker.
This was one of the rare times where Seth Jones was not on the ice against the Matthews line. The Blue Jackets instead had Murray-Werenski out, but on this goal, Oliver Bjorkstrand (#28) ends up having to play defense after Werenski pinched into the Leafs zone to try and create some offense.
On this goal the Leafs execute the classic three-on-two Attack Triangle. Zach Hyman is F1 and his job is to bait the closest defender into engaging with him (Murray #27). Matthews is F2 and his job is both to head to the net to be a passing option, and to also draw in the second defenseman (Bjorkstrand in this case). Justin Holl is F3 and his only job is to fill in the empty space and get open for Hyman.
The Blue Jackets do a good job of backchecking, as both Werenski and Texier (#42) get back to negate the three-on-two rush. Texier ends up covering the trailing man Holl which is good, but Werenski picks up no one (more on him in a sec). The breakdowns occur once Murray starts to head towards Hyman. Once Murray does this, a passing lane opens up to Matthews. In this scenario, if Murray’s partner is actually a defenseman, his partner would (hopefully) recognize this and bolt over to Matthews and try to box him out/tie up his stick.
As the play progresses and Hyman makes a pass over to Matthews, Bjorkstrand is late engaging with Matthews, forcing him to have to slash Matthews’ stick. Matthews recognizes that he has a tiny bit of space and is able to make a beautiful redirect on net.
Watch this goal again and focus on Werenski (#8). Notice how he backchecks hard but once he’s close to the play he coasts? If he keeps his feet moving he could have 100% caught Matthews and provided back-pressure against him, making it harder for Matthews to redirect the Hyman pass. On this goal, Werenski was probably gassed and also put his faith in Bjorkstrand to play defense perfectly, hence why he eased up on the skating.
Maple Leafs 2nd Goal – John Tavares (Assist Dermott, Nylander)
The ol' hockey cliche.
Save at one end. Goal at the other. pic.twitter.com/ULneWlIi8U
— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) August 4, 2020
Boone Jenner (#38) breaks into the Leafs zone and draws in two Leafs players (Mikheyev and Ceci). This allows Jenner to drop the puck to the trailer Werenski, who walks around Dermott with ease but then flubs his shot attempt. Dermott recovers the puck and clears it to Tavares who went from backchecking to now having a breakaway. Tavares walks in and tucks the puck right under Korpisalo’s armpit to give the Leafs a 2-0 lead.
First off, can we just say the Leafs dodged a huge bullet here.
Dermott played this mini two-on-one horribly, leaving Werenski and Foudy (#19) with a partial two-on-zero break with Jones (#3) in the back as the trailer. Thankfully Werenski ran out of room and also lost the puck as he tried to shoot (Not sure why he didn’t tee up Foudy for the one-timer). Dermott does recover the puck and clear it as the Blue Jackets are caught deep in the Leafs zone.
On the clearing attempt, watch Mikheyev throw an accidental pick on Jones, causing him to fall down and be unable to get back into the play. Foudy ends up being the closest man to Tavares but apparently Tavares still has some speed to him as he pulled away from Foudy.
As Tavares skates in on Korpisalo, he doesn’t really do much to try and throw off Korpisalo. Instead, Korpisalo gets in his own head a little bit and makes the first move. If you watch Korpisalo’s movement, it looks like he’s anticipating Tavares to go west-to-east and try a forehand, backhand move on him. Right before Tavares pulls the puck back on his forehand, Korpisalo’s left side flinches as he prepares for a shot or a deke to that side. Because of this, the seventh-hole on Korpisalo’s blocker side opens up and Tavares is able to squeak one through there.
Maple Leafs 3rd Goal – Morgan Rielly (Assist Matthews, Kerfoot)
Morgan Rielly puts it into the empty-net all the way from his own end pic.twitter.com/OHJ6qZkHLD
— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) August 4, 2020
Leafs wrap up the penalty kill with a scrum in the corner. Kerfoot and Ceci win the puck battle along the boards and get the puck to Matthews. Matthews sends the puck over to a wide-open Rielly who hits the empty net from the slot in his own end to seal the victory for the Leafs.
Ceci and Kerfoot do a good job winning the puck battle in the corner. Matthews provides good puck support for his teammates here and he is also in good defensive positioning here as well. When everyone is on the same page in regards to team systems, you’re able to make plays like that.
Kudos to Rielly for scoring his first legitimate goal since late October as well.
The big boys showed up tonight. Matthews and Tavares led the way offensively and shoutout to Kyle Clifford for decimating Dean Kukan in the first period. If the Leafs can continue to play like this for the remainder of the series, they should be in good shape.
Also very refreshing to see Andersen put together two straight solid performances. He’s looked dialed in and hungry to win so far.
Lastly, thoughts and prayers go out to Jake Muzzin. That was a scary incident and at the time of writing this, the extent of his injury is unknown. Godspeed to him and hopefully we can see him back on the blueline for the Leafs here soon.