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Uhh…Joseph Woll looked good and a whole lot of Leafs minuses: Game 4 +/-

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Photo credit:Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY
Jon Steitzer
1 month ago
When starting to write this series I think there was either optimism or naivety involved. I didn’t account for how difficult it would be to come up with positive takeaways as the Leafs neared elimination, especially when there wasn’t a sense of urgency in the performance to get there. (Sheldon Keefe is happy with the effort, so I’ll blame the lack of urgency.)
Here are the positive and negative numbers from a Saturday to forget:

+plus

  • Joseph Woll stopped the five shots he faced. That certainly doesn’t sound like much but three of those were high-danger shots on the Bruins’ power play, so that’s something. The saying is that goaltenders need to be your best penalty killer so maybe starting Woll in Game 5 fixes the penalty kill. I’m not sure Samsonov’s night was as bad as his .824 save percentage shows, but a big save was sorely needed and didn’t occur on a night with a low workload
  • The game was low-event and to some extent, I am going to credit the Leafs with playing better team defence with that. The Leafs allowed only 16 even-strength shots and 34 shot attempts against and a lot of that was on the backs of players like Pontus Holmberg, Matthew Knies, and Calle Jarnkrok stepping up. The Bruins got a lot of credit for keeping the Leafs out of the middle of the ice, at the very least we can acknowledge the Leafs for doing the same.
  • The hit differential. The Leafs outhit the Bruins 65 to 37. That does mean the Leafs had the puck a lot less if there was an imbalance like that, but they were hitting and the pluses here are all about grasping for straws. One of the biggest miscalculations by the Leafs heading into the playoffs was that teams like the Bruins, Panthers, and generally, anyone who goes far in the playoffs has a lineup full of players comfortable taking a hit to make the play. The Leafs might hit now but they still have too many players timid about being hit.
  • Numbers lie and I’m not sure the 1 Goal, 80.85 xgF%, and 65.52 CF% that Mitch Marner put up fit with the performance put forth on the ice. If we are going to keep this as a +, Marner scoring a highlight reel goal at the peak of the criticism against him was certainly something.

-minus

  • It’s not that fourth line is a huge factor and the series isn’t going to be won or lost by what happens with roster depth changes, but keeping Ryan Reaves in over Connor Dewar at least looks a little silly. Reaves had a near-impossible 1.89 xGF%, a team-low 27 CF%, and was on for a goal against despite playing under seven minutes.
  • Morgan Rielly was the only defenceman who played over 20 minutes (25:48). The fact that the Leafs don’t have a second defenceman (McCabe was close to 20 minutes) that they feel comfortable giving extra icetime to is a big problem. And for all the issues that Liljegren has had, Toronto missed his puck-moving abilities and it shows in the lack of shot attempts.
  • Pastrnak was allowed the space to do Pastrnak things:
  • O for 3 on the powerplay, a 66.67% penalty kill. I’m not sure what more can be said about how ineffective the Leafs special teams have been and the fact that this has been a known problem for over a month is embarrassing. The Leafs seem to believe the issue was personnel based, first waiting for Marner to return to lineup in hopes that he would magically fix the special teams, and then refusing to make adjustments against the Bruins instead believing that Nylander’s return would address the powerplay and bringing Brodie in could fix the penalty kill. Nope. The issues are far deeper than that and the predictability of the powerplay and lack of movement on the penalty kill look to be two simple interpretations of what ails them.

Oddest stat of the night

For all the fuss about Reaves and Robertson playing together, they spent less than 3 minutes on the ice together in Game 4. The most amount of time was in the final three minutes of the following the Leafs powerplay which seems like a questionable decision.

What’s next?

The Leafs are 1-16 in series where they are down 3-1, I’m not sure a lot of what comes next matters in the short term and it’s a bit too soon to have the discussions about firing everyone, blowing the team up, and getting Darcy Tucker into a cloning lab. The odds are not in the favour but the Leafs still need to make a show of it and here are a few ways of doing that.
  • Give Woll his start in Game 5. No one should be blaming Samsonov for losing the series, he’s part of the team that is losing it and he owns his share, but he is not “THE” reason. That being said, Woll is still the goaltender who is guaranteed to be back with the Leafs next season and getting him his opportunities in the playoffs is important.
  • Call me crazy but sitting Ryan Reaves seems like an option. With Auston Matthews not coming out for the third it was a reminder that keeping Reaves in means that the Leafs are essentially operating with 10 forwards when something goes wrong.
  • Focus on special teams. Get Auston Matthews and John Tavares to stand at centre and lineup the rest of the Leafs on the blueline and let the two centres pick their powerplay lines. Then with those two groups figure out what approach will work best with each other them. It can’t be any worse than what is going on.
    When it comes to the penalty kill, presumably Dewar will be back in and that helps, but I also wouldn’t mind seeing more of Matthew Knies on the PK. Knies is very much still learning but he’s demonstrated a willingness to work his ass off whenever he gets a new or different assignment and while he hasn’t been perfect, the effort has been there the entire time and the Leafs should reward it. I’d also say the Leafs shouldn’t have Joel Edmundson in their lineup on Tuesday, so maybe that brings about a positive change.
Game 5 is Tuesday night at 7pm ET.
Stats from NHL.com and Natural Stat Trick

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