In today’s installment of 1 For, 1 Against, we turn our attention to the Leafs’ Saturday night game against Ottawa. Frankly, this game was kind of ugly. The nicest goal happened in a shootout, and really, no goalie was beaten clean at even strength. The goals I’ll be breaking down mostly amount to ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. So without further ado, let’s get to it. We’ll be looking at Bobby Ryan’s opening tally to make it 1-0, and Matt Martin’s go-ahead goal to make it 2-1 for the Leafs
We start this play as Chris Neil finds some room on a rush — this came off the back of a Leafs shift in the Sens zone. Gardiner isn’t really respecting Neil’s ability to go outside of him on a power move and create a chance. That’s fine. It’s Chris Neil.
Neil predictably tries to cut inside, but Gardiner foils it and the puck is poked to the corner. Support for both teams is arriving, but just out of frame.
As the puck goes into the corner, we can see the Leafs have arrived in the defensive zone, as have most of the Sens (Mark Methot is still coming off the bench, as is Erik Karlsson). Mitch Marner covers the front of the net as he was the next man back, which is probably an unfamiliar situation for Marner, as a winger.
As Neil works the puck back to the point, Marner hasn’t noticed Kyle Turris slip in behind him here. Meanwhile Connor Carrick looks to tie up Ryan.
This is what Freddy Andersen sees as the shot comes. The Sens only have four players in the offensive zone, but still manage to outnumber the Leafs down low, as Marner kind of spaces out. Carrick is goal-side of his man, but Ryan gets a beautiful tip on the puck, which goes in off the post.
Oddly, Marner’s error here (leaving Turris alone) doesn’t really bite them. In general, these types of point shots with moderate traffic in front don’t go in often. But they do go in sometimes, and that’s what happened here.
As both teams change, Gardiner shoots it in. This was immediately preceding a strong fourth line shift, and they’re in the midst of coming off for Nazem Kadri’s group. Matt Martin will be the last one off, and goes to apply pressure on the forecheck here.
The puck rings its way around to Karlsson, who instead of controlling it on his stick, tips it up the boards. I’m not sure if it was intentional or not. He doesn’t have much pressure on him, to be honest, so I’m not sure why he would’ve chosen to tip it unless he felt the puck was coming too fast to caress. Maybe he thought he had more support on the boards than he did. The Sens never get it out of the zone after this point. This is one of those small hidden moments that can prevent a goal. Certainly, Karlsson is one of the most skilled defenders in the league, but his not controlling the puck here eventually became very costly.
Kadri comes off the bench and stops the puck nicely on the boards. Much like Ottawa in the breakdown above, the Leafs are on a change and don’t have a lot of reinforcements in the offensive zone. They’re just starting to arrive now.
Kadri finds a little space here, though the Sens’ forward in the top right is closing in on him. It should be clear that he’s not in a particularly dangerous position, given how close he is to the goal line and that the Sens greatly outnumber the Leafs near the puck. Karlsson is battling with Martin, in front of the net, while William Nylander is looking for a soft spot in the slot.
Kadri eventually just tosses it to the net, seeing no better option. Again, this is a very low-percentage shot, but Martin tips it, and it finds a hole in Mike Condon. And just like that, the Leafs have the lead. This entire play was pretty subdued and run of the mill. The only identifiable mistake the Sens made was Karlsson not controlling the dump-in. But that happens many times every game, and most of the time, it just ends up with a harmless shot and save.
To expand the scope of this a bit, it seems like 99% of even-strength NHL goals are scored like this nowadays — on a very slight defensive error, and a low-percentage shot that gets a lucky bounce or finds a nice tip. Mike Hoffman scored a goal in the dying seconds that belonged to the same family. Of course, we all know that NHL scoring is down, and goalies have become so good that it’s become nearly impossible to beat them clean without a lot of puck movement or a shot from a very dangerous position, like the slot.
All of this means that in today’s NHL, winning the shot-attempt battle is even more crucial. With teams being so good at reducing clear cut scoring chances, shot quantity becomes your next best friend. Just keep throwing it at the goalie until something works. That’s more or less what happened in this game, which in a lot of ways, was a microcosm of the NHL in recent years. Slow at times, relatively low scoring, and ended in a shootout. Let’s hope there’s not many more like this.