Samsonov was solid 5v5, but the Leafs top pairing struggled in the shootout loss to the St. Louis Blues

Photo credit:Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
1 year ago
It’s a new year so we are going to try out something new over here at TLN and that is a bit of a day after the game stats dump in addition to the postgame musings provided by Nick Alberga the night of the game. In some ways, it seems fitting that we are rolling this out on a game that in many ways is an outlier, as 5-5 games in regulation aren’t typical of what we see in the NHL and with the game being decided by a shootout the conclusion was basically a coin flip anyway.
Nevertheless, there is also something to learn by looking at the numbers, so here is a brief collection rundown of what happened in the Leafs 6-5 shootout loss to the Blues.
One of the narratives that was established by Sportsnet last night was that the Leafs are a second period team that thrives with the long change. This is more or less true, but last night didn’t really demonstrate that, at least at 5v5. Toronto was far sloppier in the second period and handed the Blues control for much of that period. The great equalizer for Toronto was that Jordan Binnington very much was playing like he has most of the season and the chances they were getting were going in.
Overall at 5v5, the Leafs were capitalizing and when you look at the first and third, they generally out-chanced the Blues. The game was lost more on special teams as a shorthanded goal and two powerplay goals by the Blues make up for the fact that Toronto had the 4-2 advantage at even strength.

.923 vs. .600 vs. .727

The above three numbers reflect Ilya Samsonov’s save percentage at even strength vs. the penalty kill vs. his overall high danger save percentage. Again this wasn’t a game lost at even strength, and while Samsonov has to be better on the penalty kill (and power play for that matter) he didn’t put in the troubling performance that most people want to prescribe to him. He wasn’t good and there are some real warning signs here, but as far as a .844 overall save percentage night goes, this was on the better side of things and likely why Sheldon Keefe had no interest in pulling him.
That doesn’t mean that there are some warning signs here. The first wheels that came off when Jack Campbell started declining were the steep drop in the ability to stop high danger chances and this is really the thing that separates getting elite goaltending from just okay goaltending. It was also the fact that with previous goaltending declines, the holes in their goaltender’s game started showing up on special teams as well and the Leafs were slow to address what was wrong with Campbell and Andersen before him.
There is also the fact that save percentage in many ways is just as much a team stat as it is a goaltender one, and the Leafs weren’t playing optimal defense in front of Samsonov. There were goals that went through him, but Rielly and Brodie were giving up far too many chances for a top pairing going up against a Blues lineup that lacked Tarasenko and O’Reilly. It will be interesting to see if Sheldon Keefe pulls the plug on the Rielly and Brodie reunion in favour of what had been working better before, but Keefe is generally quite attached to his lines and pairings and this has been his standard for as long as Brodie has been a Leaf.
When it comes to what happens in net, Thursday was always going to be Matt Murray’s game and with the next four games that follow being back-to-backs, Samsonov is going to continue splitting the net despite his declining numbers over his past four outings.

Sandin and Liljegren are too good to go up against depth Blues

Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren had the lowest 5v5 time on ice amongst the Leafs defensemen last night. That’s not really a surprise given that they were listed as the 3rd pairing. What is interesting here is how much better their numbers were compared to the other Leafs defensemen albeit in that more sheltered role.
Rasmus Sandin14.7373.9123.9166.670.720.3170.1426.2480
Timothy Liljegren15.0863.649.7966.670.710.558.611.9260
Mark Giordano19.1758.544.19500.880.852.664.4550
Justin Holl16.4052.94-5.55500.560.6446.76-4.2133.33
Morgan Rielly20.2348.39-12.331000.991.2344.79-9.8733.33
TJ Brodie18.3543.48-17.461000.661.0937.68-19.7825
With Tarasenko and O’Reilly out and the Leafs having the last change, the Leafs had the opportunity to give Sandin and Liljegren an expanded role to see if they could handle additional responsibility. We’ve already seen that they can, but together as a pairing, it would have been nice to see if they could elevate their game, especially when the top pairing was struggling.
The utilization shows that Keefe is still looking to protect his young defensemen when they play together, and it seems like we’re past that. With the Leafs all but certain to be either in second or third in their division, as per tradition, and are all but certain to be facing the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the playoffs, it seems that Toronto has been gifted some time to explore what they have and to also better understand what their needs will be heading into the trade deadline.

Numbers vs. the eye test on the Leafs bottom six

There was a lot of praise for the Leafs bottom six last night. Pierre Engvall picked up a nice goal, Dryden Hunt was getting breakaway chances, and Alex Kerfoot seemed to escape the night without every Leaf fan on Twitter trying to sell him to the first interested team. There was absolutely a good collection of moments in the game last night. On paper, the bottom six looked far worse…
David Kampf14.7340.0025.44-28.9350.007.14
Alexander Kerfoot13.8547.0649.65-0.2650.007.14
Pierre Engvall12.8850.0052.953.9550.007.14
Dryden Hunt10.7259.0920.96-43.0025.00-35.00
Pontus Holmberg9.3260.0016.88-46.2416.67-41.67
Zach Aston-Reese9.1057.8919.96-42.6728.57-25.97
Now this isn’t trying to be alarmist or anything as it’s generally expected that your bottom six forwards will be your bottom six forwards, but the fourth line especially was outmatched by the Blues bottom six last night and that could warrant at least a little change in the direction despite the appeal of what looks like traditional energy line.
There is also something to be said for having a line that plays very differently than how the rest of the Leafs lines play and accepting that it will occasionally result in some lopsided differentials. As someone who is a big fan of Pontus Holmberg and wants to fully explore what he can do, I am curious if this is the best fit for him or if he might deserve a look up higher in the lineup while playing wing.
All statistics were sourced from Natural Stat Trick

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