Combating Collapsing Coaches - Leafs: 4, Rangers: 3

Phil. Kessel. Game. Winner. - John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Maple Leafs narrowly avoid dropping two points to the Rangers, as the Leafs outscore their problems.

The Story

JVR opened the scoring on a beautiful job of crashing the net and a great centering pass by Liles. Kadri fed a great cross-rink pass to Ryan O'Byrne, who scored the 5th goal of his career to put the Leafs up 2-0. Rick Nash stopped the Leafs' run, beating Cody Franson with the prototypical power forward move and making Reimer's save selection look awful. Kessel lays a sick wrister through a great screen by JVR to make it 3-1, but rick Nash answered with his second of the night. Stepan tied the game 3-all on a 2-on-1 that's basically a 1-on-0. Who would score the game winner? None other than Phil Kessel, on his own rebound.

The Game in Six

I think there's something to be learned when two coaches with similar styles play each other. SkinnyPPPhish has been talking (complaining) a lot about Carlyle collapsing the wingers, and it was extremely evident in this game, as Tortorella's team did the same. The Leafs' defensemen did a great job of keeping the puck in the zone because they were never really pressured. Everyone was free to pinch, including Fraser and O'Byrne. The defense were given tons of opportunities to control the flow of the offensive zone, which for the Leafs is quite helpful. The defensive advantages, to my eye, do not look to outweigh the risks/liabilities of leaving no one to pressure the point. It seems like a lot could be done by moving the strong side winger higher up and a little off the boards to pressure the strong side d-man, rather than provide close support on the half boards, which the center and strong-side D man can do.

JVR and Kessel lit this game up. JVR drove hard to the net, a role Carlyle has been talking about coaching him into, and played a key role in two of the Leafs' goals (despite only showing up on the score sheet for one). Kessel's sick wrister is still a thing of beauty to watch. Oh, and speaking of the Leafs' forwards: Grabovski had a rough game, failing to pull the trigger on several good scoring chances, and got benched - a move I don't really agree with, but can completely understand. What I dont understand was Carlyle's decision to bench Colborne and switch Kulemin to the McClement-Komarov line in favor of Orr on Kadri's line again. Presumably there's no way he thought Colborne was the drag on his line, right? Or that Orr could help improve Kadri's line, right? RIGHT??

Anyways, Ryan O'Byrne scored a goal in his Leafs debut, and while he did a great job of pinching in and getting open, Kadri's pass is what made it happen. His defensive coverage could be described as "hopeful," in that he doesn't cover so much as hope there's no shot. He left a lot of space, didn't seem to tie players up, and was fairly slow to react. I don't think he got burned last night, but I think that speaks more of the Rangers than of ROB's performance. He and Liles were a -8 in Corsi, and I think it's fair to say that ROB did not help the Leafs regain possession of the puck in the defensive zone (which, regardless of your stance on possession metrics, is pretty much the definition of a defenseman).

Rick Nash is an excellent hockey player, but both of his goals come from glaring mistakes by Leafs defensemen. Tortorella would later admit that he was working to keep Nash away from Phaneuf (because Phaneuf is a great defenseman), and both Franson and Fraser looked like pylons on the Nash goals. Rather than being content to force him to the outside with positioning, they attempt to take the body, Nash picks up a second gear, drops the shoulder, and bounces right around them for a tiny 1-on-0. The Fraser-Franson pairing has become an obvious issue for this team - or rather, they stopped getting bailed out by Reimer for their mistakes, and Carlyle should probably stop giving them so many defensive zone faceoffs. Warning: Carlyle Compliment Coming - Despite Torts' efforts to get Nash away from Phaneuf, Carlyle did a good job of getting Dion out there, as Nash saw almost the whole game against the great Gunnar-Dion pairing. This is important, given that the Leafs had last change, but given that he put up two goals in less than 3 minutes of TOI against Fraser-Franson, the Leafs are going to need to try something tricky when they visit MSG on Thursday.

Reimer had a strong game. He stopped 27 of 30 at ES, but there were some clear defensive breakdowns on the goals against. The only goal that I think he might want back was Nash-on-Franson, as a noncommittal VHS left the gap open for Nash to get the puck in. There's not much more Reimer could've done on the Stepan goal - he comes out to challenge, while being close enough to play a pass - but Komarov never gets back to cover Stepan, who rips a very nice shot. This is another one of those "high glove side is everyone's weak side" moments.

Oh, and enjoy the hell out of Stralman's blatant dive:

Stralman_medium

In short: The Leafs win. The Leafs are almost certainly heading to the playoffs. It's going to be freaking awesome.

Zone Starts - Shift Chart - Head to Head - Corsi/Fenwick

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