Three celebrations and three concerns for the Maple Leafs coming out of round one
Photo credit:Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
By Jon Steitzer24 days ago
It’s been a nice little weekend for Leafs fans. The round one monkey is off the back of the Leafs. The Panthers have upset the Bruins and given the Leafs a path forward that doesn’t involve going through the President’s Trophy winners. Now it’s time to get ready for round two and one of the best ways of doing that is to look back at what went right and what went wrong in round one.
Ilya Samsonov can steal games
Considering the playoffs started with Samsonov posting a sub .800 outing and getting yanked for the third period, everything that came after was a huge positive. There were mortal moments for Samsonov throughout the series, but ultimately Samsonov stood on his head providing the Leafs with a .969 game six and giving them four games above .900. Game Six was the most exceptional game and really that is what has been missing the most as Campbell, Andersen, and Reimer have all been serviceable but then gone sideways when it matters most. Samsonov held up under pressure and that’s likely to continue in round two based on his dominance over the Panthers in the regular season.
The differentials weren’t in Toronto’s favour
At 5v5 the Leafs were behind the Lightning in Corsi, with expected goals, and interestingly enough in goals as well. The same is true in all situations with the exception of goals as the Leafs did outscore the Lightning as one often does when they win the series.
Still, while finding a way to win while being outplayed is encouraging, it’s not the most sustainable path to the Stanley Cup, and given that the Leafs are the ones usually driving the play and out-chancing their opposition the drop off wasn’t ideal.
The Panthers also found themselves in a similar boat, as in all situations the Bruins had the upper hand, but the thing the Leafs will need to watch for is that the Panthers did outplay the Bruins at 5v5.
The big dogs showed up
Matthews, Marner, Nylander, Tavares, Rielly, and O’Reilly all were over a point per game in the first round of the playoffs. Matthews had 5 goals, and Marner is tied for the lead in playoff assists, and only one point behind Roope Hintz for the playoff points lead.
No longer having to suffer through the many narratives surrounding Matthews and Marner in the playoffs, the washed up Tavares narrative, the Nylander doesn’t care narrative, or the heavy criticism of Rielly that came during the regular season is great. If the Leafs are going to reach their potential all of these players will need to stay at the top of their game.
Holl could continue to be a problem
By the numbers, it looks like Timothy Liljegren is once again the better option to be in the Leafs lineup against the Panthers than Justin Holl. The numbers supported Liljegren over Holl against the Lightning as well, but Sheldon Keefe didn’t see it that way and a historically bad performance from Holl ensued.
Holl is not as bad as the first round led us to believe, but Timothy Liljegren wasn’t as bad as the last 20 games of the Leafs season led us to believe either. With Holl fighting it and Liljegren being a perfectly good option and also the future of the Leafs defense, it seems like sticking with the young Swede makes the most sense. It might also make sense to go with Gustafsson over Giordano or stick with the 7D format.
The Rielly/Schenn pairing shut a lot of people up
I’m not sure many people expected Rielly to be one of the top scoring defensemen of the playoffs and think even fewer people expected Luke Schenn to be a statistical darling. They’ve done both of those things while Rielly has also quarterbacked a strong powerplay and Luke Schenn has made things go boom. After an underwhelming tryout together in the regular season we’ve been pleasantly reminded about how situations change in the playoffs and this pairing was the right fit to go up against the Lightning.
It seems likely this pairing will work well against Florida as well given that Rielly should be able to exploit a team with a high GAA and Schenn is the type of player who could make Matthew Tkachuk have a bad time.
Mixing it up a little
It’s been a pretty common experience over the past few playoffs that by the time you get to game three or so the Leafs opposition has players stationed ready for the arrival of the Leafs rush and they swiftly breakup the attack. It’s also been a staple that at a certain point of the series the opposition just clogs the entirety of the slot area and is prepared for shots from the Leafs favourite spots. Scoring dried up in the elimination games and that’s not the first time it’s happened.
What is encouraging is the Leafs stopped trying to use the high slot and point shots against the Lightning when they were taking away the Leafs best chances, and Toronto did adapt in Game Six to going with low side of the net attacks that created some chaos in front of the net and opened space up for the Leafs stars. It would be nice to see more of this and perhaps include a few different zone entry strategies as well.
Finally, since it’s not fun ending this on a negative note, an honourable mention of Matthew Knies is required. Not only has he been a maximum effort player throughout the playoffs, but he’s also forced Michael Bunting to up his game and fight to keep his spot in the lineup as well. A fun fact is that Matthew Knies currently leads all NHL rookies in playoff scoring. Maybe the hype was warranted after all.
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