Here we are again another December night, another Leafs game. Tonight’s is in Minnesota, where we have a very, very tepid offence to go up against the Leafs defence which hasn’t exactly been on fire lately. I recommend the Leafs spend a lot of time getting pucks on the net of Wild backup Alex Stalock instead of boring us with the play in the other end.
There is no Auston Matthews in this game, and the lines in warmup are:
Tweaked #mnwild lines at least in warmups: Niederreiter-Koivu-Granlund; Zucker-Staal-Mitchell; Eriksson Ek-Cullen-Coyle; Ennis-Winnik-Stewart— Michael Russo (@RussoHockey) December 15, 2017
Not a surprise, the matchup is Nazem Kadri vs Mikko Koivu, and the K vs K line is what we should expect to see whenever Babcock can achieve it. I’m looking forward to seeing Marner with Marleau, who shoots a lot.
Nice quick anthems, no crowd shouting anything in the middle, and we’re playing hockey. Gosh, did you know Jake Gardiner was from Minnesota?
The addition of William Nylander to Kadri’s line is immediately apparent as they have some speed into the zone after winning entry.
Zach Hyman draws a tripping penalty on his first shift, and it’s to the power play very early. (If you need to trip Hyman, you should rethink your life choices.)
Mitch Marner drives the net and James van Riemsdyk tries to give him a pass to tip, but Marner needs a few more years of practice on that trick.
Good puck control on the powerplay, and the Wild basically just spun around watching.
Kadri’s line has a zone entry man! I like this. Why Kadri/Nylander hasn’t worked in the past is an area of much consternation. But they were hemmed in by the Wild and also broke free in the post power play shift. The biggest problem with the Leafs lately has been the Kadri line being hemmed in hard.
More Kadri offensive zone time leads to a weak chance, but hey, zone time.
There’s a penalty called, which might be for just being boring. Nope, Koivu elbowed Hyman. Huh. That’s two penalties drawn for him.
Morgan Rielly back on the first power play unit. He and Gardiner had been swapped the first time, which might have been just to get fresh legs out there, I shall check the shift chart later. (Shiftchart.com confirms that Rielly had played a full shift prior to the first power play, so no need to read anything into the swap.)
Minnesota’s penalty kill is not very good, but the Leafs bollix up the puck control quite a bit. This one was a draw for who was worse, not a competition for who was better, and I fear the whole game might be like this.
[Insert joke about Canadians and Minnesotans apologizing to each other so much, nothing else happens.]
Kadri shoots the puck after a whistle, and there’s some growling from the guys in green. You know who is skating fast out here tonight? Nylander. Not really anyone else to speak of. I keep not noticing Marner doing anything.
The Wild finally get a good shot off. Rielly is on the ice with Roman Polak, which is, er, not advisable. But Frederik Andersen has it.
Connor Brown is out with the fourth line, and I’m not sure what that’s about. Maybe just a weird bit of line changing.
Kadri’s line gets the zone again, and Nylander has the puck at the blueline and he dances, dances, looks for a partner, dances, dances, and ....
He passes the puck off to the point, but no one is doing anything to really get it near the net, and well, maybe he should try driving a little deeper, just a thought.
Ah, finally an almost productive offensive shift by Marleau’s line.
The broadcast gives an extensive dissertation on how Minnesota is boring on purpose and how that totally works.
The Wild continue to execute defensively, as advertised, while the Leafs continue to get to the faceoff dots and not much farther in the offensive zone.
The puck gets rung right around the boards and out by the Wild and it ends up deep in the Leafs zone, and that means the Leafs have to transition to defence rapidly. Are they good at that? No, they are not. They actually get the puck, but, er, Rielly dumps it back for a surprised Brown who loses it quickly.
One pass from the Wild player Bozak is trying to check to Tyler Ennis alone behind the net, and all he has to do is sneak out on the glove side of Andersen and boom, 1-0 Wild.
And that’s that for the first period.
What Stood Out
- William Nylander making Kadri’s line have some jump
- One really bad defensive zone cock-up that was worthy of the 2016 November Leafs
- And this:
Like, that’s nice and all, you’re winning the Corsi Olympics, but all you’re doing is dumping it in from the blueline.
I have a hard heart. I don’t feel even a little sorry for Alex Stalock not knocking anyone off the roster of the Marlies two years ago.
Wild can’t handle a simple passing play at their offensive blueline, and then the Leafs...ice the puck.
Leafs bring the puck back into their zone for the Wild. Marner fails to receive an Andersen pass. I check the calendar again.
Nylander gains the offensive zone, and there’s a deeply weird line on the ice that is him, Bozak and Marner and as they backcheck, there is a bit of a hook by Bozak so the Wild get a power play. (Never let that line be on the ice. Never.)
The Leafs penalty kill is super disruptive, but eventually the Wild get Andersen down, but not quite out. The problem with disruptive penalty kill is that the transition back to the box formation can be very ragged. I’m still on the fence on the utility of aggressive kills, but it’s entertaining, and lord knows this game needs some of that.
Andersen balls up a clearing pass and has to make a great save, and I’m checking the calendar again.
I rag on Brown sometimes for being not up to Matthews’ line play, but in this game, after Nylander, he’s the guy working hard. Okay, Hyman is too, but Hyman always works hard. Brown draws a penalty by working hard.
Marleau gets a nice shot on the power play as Nylander creates action.
Daniel Winnik gets the puck and goes deep on the penalty kill, and, er, thinks he still plays for the Leafs, as he essentially passes it to Gardiner right in front of Andersen.
The Leafs definitely don’t have the puck control going like they did in the first power play.
The post-power-play shift is the fourth line with Brown in for Leivo again, and this is the only time the fourth line doesn’t look hopelessly outclassed. They end up facing the Koivu line and survive, which is all you can expect.
The Wild get some zone time and it’s the defender who gets a shot. This is a Wild trait. Defenders shoot a lot, and it might just be part of why the Wild are struggling.
Leafs with zone time, shoot three times, but twice from just inside the blueline. They simply cannot penetrate the Wild defence.
Marner to Marleau, after about an hour of forechecking by Hyman, and one heck of a save by Stalock. Damn, that was nice. I’m seeing Marleau talking to Marner on the bench a lot, which I like.
I like Hyman. Unequivocally, unironically, without qualification. He is a top line player, and exactly who the Leafs need to play with Matthews or any other top scoring forwards.
Leivo gets a chance, proving the fourth line can function without Brown.
Matt Martin gets the next good zone entry, and Leivo gets another chance. He’s definitely on in the latter half of this period.
Bozak finally gets a bit of a chance to centre the puck for van Riemsdyk, but the element missing from their line is obvious. This is the dilemma faced by Babcock: Without Marner, Bozak’s line is just a shadow of itself.
What Stood Out
- Gin and It is a good drink. Seriously look it up.
- Toronto dominated the zone time that period, and did manage to get into their preferred shooting area, which is good. They need to keep doing that, preferably not just with the fourth line.
- The Marleau line is getting crushed by Matt Cullen’s line, and that right there is why I don’t like Marleau at centre. You know who has too many centres? The Wild. Charlie Coyle is playing wing for Cullen, and he’s a two-way centre of note, so no wonder that line is tough. (The Wild are also about to be very cap-strapped when Parise comes back. Just sayin’.)
- Also, Boston lost, that’s just such a shame.
Okay, Leafs, you are behind. It’s time to take it to the other team in the third. Let’s flip the script.
Oh, very droll. Look, we need to talk about the people who didn’t know what shinny was. I mean, really.
Okay, so far, there have been point shots, and hacking at the puck and then Paul Romanuk is yelling that Polak is trying to stuff it in. And...no. That’s not going to do it.
Bozak and Brown team up for a chance, and then another, and is this line finally working?
Borgman takes the puck for a spin, looking like Nylander if Nylander ever got that deep to the net, but alas, nothing comes of it.
Oh, Nylander is back doing things! Nice offensive shift for Kadri’s line, driven by number 29.
Stalock keeps the Wild ahead on a great play by van Riemsdyk to keep the play alive and get the puck to Bozak.
The Leafs do Leafy things in the defensive zone and Andersen stops Ennis stone cold.
The Leafs are finally moving fast now, so that’s something.
Marleau tries the big ole stretch pass to Marner, and honey, this ain’t the Flyers, you can’t do that. The Wild grab the puck right out from in front of Marner, take it into the Leafs zone and this is the Wild’s good players on the ice. It develops how you’d expect and it’s 2-0 Wild.
Blech. What a crap game.
The Leafs continued to work, and when they ended up with a power play, they were at their last chance to make something of this game with five minutes to go.
The Wild disrupt the power play easily, and it’s very weak looking with only one sort of meaningful shot.
A post-power-play scrum sees two minors awarded, so the Leafs pull Andersen to make it five-on-four. The Leafs don’t do any better job of keeping control of the puck than they did on the power play.
Stalock bobbles the puck and gets away with it.
Zucker misses the empty net. Whoo!
Last minute, and this game will be mercifully done.
Things that Stood Out
- It’s a cliché, but the Leafs were outworked when it mattered, and that for me is more meaningful than lines, tactics or anything else.
- The Corsi imbalance is a big lie, the Leafs mostly failed to get any good players in tight to the net.
- Bozak’s line in particular had a great overall CF%, but Polak, Borgman and Brown led the team in individual Corsi For. So not the right guys were shooting.
- Yuck! That’s what stood out. Better luck tomorrow, guys. Try not to give anyone a shutout.