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Leafs Open Horachek Era 1-1: Fall to Caps 6-2, Top Blue Jackets 5-2

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

I was going to write about Horachek's first game, but it got away from the Leafs so quickly that it felt like one game wasn't enough to see or say much at all. The Leafs started off in a whole new era of line-blending for Wednesday's loss against the Caps, but for game two Bozak and Kessel were paired and they were effective. Here's your game in six for Columbus, with the Washington GI6 at the bottom of the page:

Two things that have caught my eye over these two games:

  • The Leafs have more frequently been leaving someone around the hash marks of the slot in both the offensive and defensive zone. It's pretty noticeable simply because I'm used to everyone collapsing into a quarter of the defensive zone to chase the puck behind the goal line.
  • Possibly because of this, the Leafs' forwards seemed more willing and able to challenge the opposition defensemen when the puck was in the offensive zone. It definitely limited some of Columbus' options in the zone on more than one occasion.
  • The Leafs have more frequently been breaking out of the zone with short passes between three to four guys, rather than relying entirely on the stretch pass. There were a couple times in the Columbus game where the Leafs opted for the stretch pass, but it seems to be less of a plan A.
  • I think lots of players have looked good over the past two games - JVR, Kadri, and Rielly, especially, but Winnik and Santorelli in their roles as well.
  • Referee Dean Morton deserves a special shout out for last night's game: as he attempted to avoid the play, he went head-over-heels and fell to the ice. He broke a rib, reportedly, and it's just a reminder that the guys in stripes do a hell of a job staying out of the way when they make calls, and that they agree to much of the same risk that the players do.

It's obviously way, way too early to draw sweeping conclusions away from the Leafs' play, especially since they're anecdotal, but I'll be interested to see if these continue in the future (except the Dean Morton thing, obviously). It was nice to hear Phaneuf talking about "the process" in a post-Columbus interview, in addition to "looking at shots." Lip service maybe, but it beats "competitude" or whatever the buzz-word-du-jour would have been.

The Leafs are still in the middle of a long and difficult stretch of games - their next four will be visiting the Kings, Ducks, Sharks, and Blues between Monday and Saturday night. Against tougher opponents and with the new systems, it'll be tough to separate process from results, changes from failures, and luck from earned wins, and I'll be interested to see how much slack the media is willing to give the Interim Head Coach Horachek. But on the bright side: these last two games have been really fun to watch. Go Leafs Go!