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A glass half empty approach for the Maple Leafs heading into Game 2 in Boston

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Photo credit:Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Alex Hobson
1 month ago
If you’re here after reading the glass half full approach article I put up this morning, welcome! If this is the first thing you click on as you wake up on the morning of Game 2, good morning! Get a cup of coffee, sit back, and let’s tackle some of the negatives from Game 1 that will leave some feeling less-than-optimistic about the impending game against Boston.

Special teams still leave lots to be desired

The Toronto Maple Leafs are one of the most talented offensive teams in the league matching up against arguably the best defensive team in the league. On paper, this should be a battle for the ages. Unfortunately for the Leafs, they spent the better part of the 2023-24 season trying to figure out what should be their biggest strength. While their power play looks good on said paper, finishing at seventh in the league by the end of the season, they struggled mightily in almost every month besides February, when they were off-the-charts good.
These same concerning trends continued on Saturday night, going 0-for-3 on the power play and running into many of the same issues that have plagued them in the past. They were held to the perimeters for most of the penalty kill and often opted for quick, one-touch passes to find the perfect shot rather than doing what helped them so much in the first round last season, which is throwing pucks at the net. Head coach Sheldon Keefe also put Calle Jarnkrok on the top power play unit, a puzzling move considering the success Max Domi and Tyler Bertuzzi have brought while Jarnkrok was out with an injury. The power play has suffered enough just trying to figure out how to get out of their own way, they certainly don’t need their head coach setting them back even further with puzzling lineup decisions.
The Leafs’ penalty kill, which has struggled for most of the season and played into the acquisitions of Joel Edmundson and Ilya Lyubushkin at the deadline, actually did alright considering the circumstances. They kept Boston off of the scoresheet for their first two power plays of the game, and the power plays they did concede a goal on were thanks to penalties that never should have been taken in the first place – a careless O-zone high-stick from Matthews and a careless slash on Brad Marchand by Domi. The flip side to this is that Marchand and David Pastrnak were both held off of the scoresheet, which is not something that should be counted on going forward. It’s only going to get harder as the series continues, and both special teams need to be better.

Ilya Samsonov wasn’t good enough

While the game likely would have panned out in Boston’s favour regardless of whether Samsonov allowed two goals or four, he didn’t make the saves he needed to. You’re going to hear that term thrown around a bunch in the playoffs. Samsonov’s series save percentage in the first round last year was .900 on the nose, which isn’t going to turn any heads on paper, but the Leafs advanced past the first round. In 2020-21 against the Montreal Canadiens, Jack Campbell had a stunning .934 SV% in the first round, but a weak five-hole goal to Brendan Gallagher in Game 7 iced the game for Toronto. There’s a trend here – putting up Vezina numbers is great, but otherwise meaningless if you allow goals in back-breaking moments. On the other hand, Samsonov made a number of saves that kept the Leafs in a tight, low-scoring game against Tampa Bay. He did neither of these things on Saturday night.
Whether the Leafs go back to Samsonov or pivot to Joseph Woll for Game 2 is unknown right now, but if they run it back with Samsonov, they need more from him. There will be instances where the Leafs have to score their way out of trouble and vice versa, with their goaltender bailing them out, but in the end, this team can’t take any shortcuts when it comes to beating a team like Boston in a playoff series. Their best chance at beating them will come if everybody is holding up their end of the bargain, and it starts with whoever is in net for the Maple Leafs on Monday night.

The stars didn’t show up…again

It gets tiring talking about it, but in that same breath, it gets even more tiring watching it. It seems like a lazy narrative to say “the core players didn’t show up when it matters” at this point, but it’s not. Matthews was held without a goal in the entire second-round series against Florida, while Mitch Marner and William Nylander were both held to one. They were once again held without a point on Saturday night, but hey, if they want to take Games 1-3 off, by all means they can feel free to do so as long as they show up and produce when they have an opportunity to either win the series or get eliminated. The problem is, that hasn’t really been the case in the past.
I’ll exclude Nylander from this part because he’s still sidelined with whatever this mystery injury is, but Marner, Matthews, and Tavares were kept off the scoresheet, and considering the amount of money they’re being paid, the microscope is rightfully going to be on them for the rest of the series. They did enough to get out of the first round last season, but it’s not going to play out that way every year, and they can’t bank on Marchand and Pastrnak being silenced two games in a row. Unless the Leafs get a Sergei Bobrovsky-style performance from Samsonov or Woll for the rest of the series, they’re not going to go anywhere if their core players are struggling to keep pace with Boston’s. If you’re going to build your team’s entire identity around fast-paced, high-octane hockey, your star forwards need to carry the mail in times like this. They should have a better chance of doing so with Marner and Matthews split up, but it’s going to take more than that. They need to learn to adapt to what Boston is doing instead of sticking to the exact same game plan. It’s easy to stick to what’s worked in the past, but the Leafs have historically been a team that dominates when they have time and space. When you take away that time and space, it’s easy to silence them. If they can’t figure out how to adapt to the Bruins, they should start packing their bags now.
The Leafs will be at it again tonight against Boston for Game 2, and the vibes will be night and day depending on how this game goes.

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