Welcome to the first iteration of what we hope will be a continuing series at PPP, where we look at a goal for and goal against from the most recent game, and break down how it happened, who was responsible, and what we can learn from it. We’ll start with Kyle Turris’ tying goal in the 2nd period, and move on to Nazem Kadri’s 3-2 tiebreaker early in the third.
This play starts in the Leafs offensive zone, as the Komarov-Kadri-Nylander line had established a cycle and generated a few chances. Kadri finds the puck along the boards near the blueline, and we start with this setup:
We can see Kadri has already tried to backhand a pass to Polak, who is about to creep backdoor as the Sens overload the strong side. This is a risky pass, but if it works, the Leafs essentially have a 3-on-2 below the circles. The safer play would be for Kadri to work it back to Hunwick at the left point, who could either shoot it in deep, try and get a shot on net, or retreat but maintain control of the puck.
Kadri’s pass gets tipped and picked off, and the Sens transition the other way. No Leaf is in position to pressure the puck carrier, so Dzingel is free to skate it out of his own zone with numbers supporting him.
Dzingel skates to his blueline unobstructed and fires a pass to the far boards to Ryan. Obviously, this eventually resulted in a goal for the Sens, but I think this was a poor choice by Dzingel. He has Karlsson jetting up the middle - he can poke it ahead to him. With Karlsson’s skating ability vastly exceeding Polak’s (understatement), that’s a free, central zone entry for the Swede, especially since the threat of the two Sens on the far side of the ice would prevent Hunwick or Kadri from leaving them.
Nonetheless, they get the zone, as Ryan pokes the puck up to Turris. The Leafs have gotten back pretty well. All Leafs are goal-side of their Sens counterparts, and the puck is along the wall - not exactly the most dangerous area of the ice.
Hunwick does well here. He keeps Turris to the outside, and forces him wide. Turris makes it easy on him by not making any sort of power move to get around him, but at the moment, this looks like it will be a routine shot and save. Again, all the Leafs are in a good position here.
Of course, we know what happens. Turris fires a perfect shot above McElhinney’s shoulder. And you know what? Sometimes it happens. The other guys are pros too, and they just beat you sometimes. I don’t really mind this goal against.
The biggest error the Leafs made is probably Kadri’s backhand pass to a cutting Polak. It was high risk, high reward. However, I’m a believer in empowering your skilled players to attempt the plays that make them special. That’s something Babcock has been fine with, especially with a young team. Sometimes you get a great play, sometimes you get a turnover. You can’t choose to only accept the former.
And really, the turnover and subsequent rush from Ottawa was pretty innocuous. The Leafs did a good job of getting back, though they were aided by the Sens relatively conservative attack here, as Ottawa chose to force the attack up the wall and not press their advantage in a more central area. Just a good shot from a good player.
This play starts with an offensive zone faceoff for the Leafs. The broadcast (as they are wont to do) was really taking note of how Kadri was getting brutalized in the faceoff circle, and observed that Komarov was taking this draw instead, on his strong side as a left handed shot.
Komarov wins the faceoff with the help of Kadri. The won faceoff is obviously critical to the goal. Now, before the Sportsnet crew starts their celebration, I should also add that no ‘fancystats’ person thinks faceoffs aren’t important. The general argument is that the margin between a ‘good’ faceoff taker and a ‘bad’ one is very, very marginal. On the order of one or two draws a game, on average (if that). To say nothing of the high degree of game to game variance in this, as well as the fact that in many cases, determining which team won the faceoff is murky. Essentially, they’re important, but most NHL players have roughly similar abilities at them, so the differentiation between good, average, and bad isn’t that notable.
Anyways, back to the goal. Kadri pushes the puck back to Hunwick, and the Leafs look to break down a set defense - one of the hardest things in hockey to do.
Kadri immediately goes to the front of the net, while Nylander makes himself available to receive the puck along the wall. This is a very threatening spot for him, especially as a right shot, since his body will be open to the rest of the play. He can throw the puck on net, centre it, or cycle it very easily from here. Hunwick smartly gets it to him.
Kadri is still in front of the net, while Komarov has made himself an option for a one-timer. The Leafs spacing isn’t ideal here - Ryan is both covering the left point (Hunwick) but is still in position to challenge a Komarov shot should he anticipate it.
One thing I’ve noticed about Nylander is that he is very patient with the puck. He doesn’t want to make a play, he wants to make THE play. He has confidence that he can hold on to the puck, protect it, and make the best pass when it presents himself. So he doesn’t take the easy pass to Komarov. This goes back to what I was saying earlier - it’s clear the Leafs players feel empowered to use their creativity and vision in the offensive zone. They’re not making the simple pass as soon as it presents itself. I think it’s a real credit to Babcock that he’s apparently created a culture where these rookies feel comfortable doing that - it doesn’t hurt that they’re all phenomenal offensive players. But I can’t help but think some coaches would be reticent to let 19 and 20 year olds freewheel in the offensive zone the way the Leafs star rookies do.
Nylander has now made a much more difficult pass to Kadri, who is in a more dangerous position than Komarov, but obviously, has two Senators hanging off him. Nylander whipped the pass in there with speed - I think he was hoping for a quick one-timer?
It’s not evident in this screencap, but Nylander’s pass was RIGHT on Kadri’s stick. Pinpoint stuff. Kadri tries to tip it on net, but it hits his own skate. Even if it didn’t the odds of it beating Condon are low. However, it bounces fortuitously right in front of him, a perfect position to whack at it. The Senators defenders never get a great chance to play the puck to this point - Kadri’s body was perfectly in between the defender and the puck as he received the pass from Nylander. They have a chance on the ricochet, but Kadri simply reacts quicker than Karlsson here.
A quick release from Kadri finds the top corner here. Like the Leafs in the last goal, I don’t think the Sens did a lot wrong here. It’s a great shot off a fortunate bounce, and in today’s NHL, that’s kind of what you need to break down a set defense. Nylander made a nice pass to Kadri, exhibiting the patience that makes him such a dangerous offensive player, and Kadri did great work getting good body position on two Senators. But ultimately, this was just getting in a good position and getting it on net. It happens a lot during games, without much reward. This time, it ended up with a goal.