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The Maple Leafs kids star and the fourth line does fourth line things: Game 5 +/-

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Photo credit:Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
1 month ago
It’s nice to see the Leafs prove that they have enough fight in them to make it a series. Toronto going home for Game 6 was a huge positive when the team was in the process of getting written off even before it was known that Auston Matthews was out of the lineup. Here are the pluses and minuses of some much-needed serotonin for Toronto.

+plus

  • We’ll start with the fact that Maple Leafs took control of the game early and held control of it for most of the night. Maybe health played a factor and as good as Auston Matthews is, having a healthy lineup that relied on the top nine more than a balance through all four lines gave the Maple Leafs an edge. As is the Leafs habit when they are on the road, they are far more comfortable dictating the pace and have better results when they are forced to play Leafs hockey.
  • Joseph Woll’s stat line was .966 Sv%, 0.96 GAA, and a .909 HDSV%. This is by no means a criticism of Ilya Samsonov but playoff Joseph Woll hits differently and as long as the Leafs are around this spring it should be his net.
  • Speaking of impressive stat lines, along with Knies’ game winning goal he had 4 shots on net, 3 hits, and played over 17 minutes. He’s another player that was hiding in plan sight on the Leafs and was having numerous quality shifts that weren’t being talked about enough. With the goal and getting under the skin of David Pastrnak, Knies looks like he has arrived. Knies had a 69 xGF% and a 64 CF%.
  • The Leafs had 54 hits but only gave up one powerplay (which they weren’t scored on.) The fact that the Leafs seemed to find that sweet spot of practical toughness is encouraging if they can replicate it.

-minus

  • The Leafs fourth line is a mess. Kampf, Reaves, and Dewar generated nothing offensively and even when Robertson was brought into the mix he fizzled with Kampf and Dewar. This will wind up being the oddest stat of the night in all likelihood but Reaves had a 0.85 xGF% and 15.38 CF%. Dewar and Kampf weren’t much better but the fact that the Leafs were disciplined at least kept Dewar and Kampf off the penalty kill and all their icetime was limited. Now that the series is approaching the 6th game maybe there is some hope that Bobby McMann can make an appearance and the Leafs can swap out Reaves and Robertson, but with the Marlies season over I wouldn’t mind the Leafs taking a look at Alex Steeves or now considering a 11F/7D option.
  • The powerplay going 0 for 3 needs to be mentioned. It’s still doing the same old strategy and obviously without Auston Matthews it looks far worse.
  • Simon Benoit’s -1. Benoit hasn’t had a great series and the one Leafs goal against in Game 5 is largely hung on him (somewhat on Nick Robertson, but if the play has led to Nick Robertson as the net front presence, the blame has already been decided.) Both Lyubushkin and Edmundson remain worse when it comes to chances against than Benoit, but that trio has generally struggled since Game 1.
  • Mitch Marner had zero hits taken. It’s not like Marner was bad, in fact he was pretty decent, but Marner’s unwillingness to take a hit or go into tougher areas to make a play will remain a playoff narrative.

Oddest stat of the night

As mentioned above Ryan Reaves’ 0.85 xGF% is mind bogglingly low. Offence died with him on the ice and with the Leafs needing 62 minutes to find their second goal of the night really points at Reaves as a strong option to come out in favour of a multidimension player.

What’s next?

  • Max Domi at centre winning faceoffs and generally creating opportunities feels like it opens up a world of opportunities for the Maple Leafs as they go through the playoffs. It seems likely that Auston Matthews still won’t be ready for Game 6 and the Leafs will need to plan for that, but even if Matthews returns maybe there is an opportunity for Domi to remain at centre. And if Matthews isn’t ready to go there needs to be some consideration given to finding someone who can be a bit more of a finisher for Domi on his line.
  • I’m strongly in favour of going with the 11F/7D approach next game. The Leafs have 5 question mark defencemen and when Liljegren is out the Leafs miss his puck moving. The Leafs can also still benefit from Brodie on the PK, and there are certainly times the Leafs might want to use him on the LD instead of Benoit with McCabe or Edmundson with Liljegren. Having more versatility with defence seems more valuable than whatever Ryan Reaves is bringing this series.
  • Continue to look for shorter bench options. That idea changes when/if Matthews and McMann return, but right now leaning on the top three lines seems to be keeping the Bruins on their heels.
  • Keep doing what the Leafs are doing against David Pastrnak. As much as the narrative is about the Leafs stars not being on the scoresheet, the Leafs have controlled Pastrnak really well this round.
Data from NHL.com and Natural Stat Trick

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