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Recap: Leafs bore Vegas (and us) in a dull but effective win

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Sometimes hockey looks like ballet. This was not one of those times.

NHL: Vegas Golden Knights at Toronto Maple Leafs
This was the graceful and smooth feel of this game between two hard-skating teams.
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Vegas is here! I like Vegas, but I haven’t seen them much this year. All I know is they’ve been playing really well, and have been getting iffy goaltending whilethey score as often as a slot machine pays out big.

The Leafs need to get out from under their terrible record on even-numbered days tonight. On odd-numbered days, they’re 8-1, but only 2-3 when the date is even. Obviously they play totally different on even-numbered days, so Babcock needs to stop that! Let’s hope tonight is the start of the turnaround, because I’m getting just a tiny bit tired of hearing about this.

First Period

[20:00 - 15:00]

Always good to do a stress test on Frederik Andersen right off the drop. He has to make two saves as the Leafs look a little Leafy defensively.

Nikita Zaitsev with the first good shot for the Leafs, as expected. And then they cycle through the lines putting on heavy pressure. This is a good start, barring that first few seconds.

Travis Dermott is really, really tough on the puck vs Ryan Reaves, who is huge, and seems to have pulled something on the play. I like Dermott, and I’m glad he’s feeling better.

[15:00 - 10:00]

People complain a lot about Zaitsev’s passing, likely because they’re looking for it, but does Jake Gardiner do some weird shit in the d-zone with the puck. He passes it across to Zaitsev and misses by about three feet. It doesn’t matter, but he does that a lot.

In the offensive zone, now, and Brown sets up a centering pass that doesn’t amount to anything, but the new third line regroups and comes back and Brown rescues a kind of weak Par Lindholm pass that gets stuck in some feet, and he whirls and ... no he does not pass to the point, he puts that baby in the net.

1-0 Leafs on Brown’s first real goal of the year.

Andreas Johnsson draws a penalty on the third line’s next shift. To the PP we go, and third line rules so far in this game.

The newly formed PP1 unit finally looks nearly as good as the Matthews version. PP2 unit is also dangerous, but PP1 induces anxiety-like symptoms, they’re so good and you anticipate a goal at every microsecond.

[10:00 - 05:00]

The Leafs seem too fast for Vegas. Which shouldn’t be possible. They look smooth and sure of their passing choices too. No hacking at sticks trying to get the puck back all night.

Lovely setup from a fellow named Mitch Marner on a good John Tavares chance. They’re okay, those two.

[5:00 - 00:00]

Vegas on the PP is as uneventful as I expected. Their one area of actual underlying weakness, not percentages, is their terrible power play.

The Leafs look like they want to run out the period at 34 speed, which is a bad idea, but there are 82 games in the season, and when you’re playing on an even-numbered day, maybe you should slack back a little here and there.

They play board battle for a while and run the clock right down.

Numbers

The Corsi numbers favour Vegas because the Leafs sort of lost focus there at the end, but if you include the power plays, the good guys are ahead on Expected Goals (Moneypuck.com), and they also have decently talented people shooting, which helps.

Thoughts

  • The fourth line is uncharacteristically getting shelled on shots, with zero for. The Vegas fourth line is tough and good, so I’m not surprised.
  • The Lindholm line is having their best game so far.
  • Babcock very carefully said “ask me after 20 games” when talking about the players. Usually he says 10 games, so maybe he knew all these roster changes would take time to settle.

Second Period

[20:00 - 15:00]

Okay, that’s a quick comeback after a really dull finish to the first.

Wild Bill bobbles the puck and JT and Mitch make their magic.

2-0 Leafs.

Johnsson with another of his weirdly bad plays on the puck and an offensive chance is wasted.

Vegas gets a post! That’s enough of that.

[15:00 - 10:00]

Vegas is pressing hard offensively, and Marner takes a hooking call trying to defend. The same victim as Gardiner was called on earlier.

The Leafs come very close to another penalty when the haul down Brad Hunt on a breakaway as a PP setup. This Vegas power play, they all take so long to do something with the puck when they get it. It’s so very different from the Leafs pinball wizardry.

Andersen has to make a good stop finally, but the power play limps to a close.

Leafs seem content to let Vegas enjoy some score effects here, reversing a trend from past games where they led in the second period. They need something to shake them awake.

[10:00 - 05:00]

A nice forecheck-heavy Tavares shift ensues in the Vegas end, and that’s a good way to stay in the game.

Brown gets a breakaway but never has control of the puck. Fun, though.

Johnsson nearly gets one right after.

Vegas comes in fast against the Lindholm line and one hard shot high has everyone in blue deep and puck watching, and not really aware of where the Vegas forwards are setting up. All Vegas has to do is pass out the the D, a classic Leafs move, and the first shot, meant to just get the puck on net is tipped in, in another classic Leafs move.

2-1 Leafs, and are you awake now? Spoiler: no, no they aren’t.

This game needs more Kadri. Some feisty stuff in the offensive zone.

Ai, yi, yi. Andersen down, Zaitsev with a move to block a shooter and then he gets Freddie his stick back. That could have been very bad.

[5:00 - 00:00]

Johnsson gets a good breakaway, but Fleury is up to it.

Oh, wow. A good chance by Kappy, courtesy of Kadri. I love them together. I want that for the rest of the season, one way or another.

Zaitsev with some hideous defensive play against the tough Vegas fourth line. Andersen pays him back by bailing him out.

Ennis with a behind the net and centering move, but he doesn’t have linemates who have driven the slot expecting to actually engage in offence. They are standing and watching. Okay, I’m going to ask. What is Dom Moore doing right now? Anyway, Leivo comes back with a rush that’s nice.

The Tavares line closes out the period with a good scoring chance.

Numbers

Well. They aren’t great. The Corsi is 12-19 and 14-31, Score and Venue Adjusted Leafs over Vegas. The Leafs played the same slightly dull pace and Vegas picked it up a bit.

Thoughts

  • I’m not very fond of saying about a game: The Corsi is bad, therefore the team was bad and the other team dominated, and so on.
  • This game is nothing at all like the game against Calgary where the Leafs were totally stymied by Calgary’s sticks in lanes, takeaways and total disruption of the Leafs’ offence. The Leafs look like they’re just a half-beat off. Some speed, some better positioning and it will just click. It did click here and there in a terrible second period.

Third Period

[20:00 - 15:00]

The Lindholm line with Johnsson and Brown might well be the dullest line in hockey. And yet, like the Lindholm, Brown, Kadri line, they spend a lot of time in the offensive zone checking away, which in a game like this is a necessary dull but good thing.

Ennis gets a rush chance. Arvind called him a guy with a million dollar setup and ten cent finish, which so far this season is very valid.

Kapanen and Marleau get a break, and Kappy telegraphs the pass to the man in the moon, and Marleau can’t convert.

[15:00 - 10:00]

No? What? Ray is upset, so I’m upset. Erik Haula is very much in pain. I haven’t seen it yet. Ahhhh. Totally normal hip check from Marleau into the boards, but he fell weird. The stretcher is coming out. Aw, I hate this. I didn’t actually look, by the way. Ray’s tone of voice said I shouldn’t.

Leafs come back from that delay still tending to get hemmed in, but they are also still tending to get some rush chances, and I’m tending to have flashbacks to the bad days of Patrick Roy in Colorado. Or the Leafs in 2013, same thing. But this is not a permanent state, so it’ll be fine.

[10:00 - 05:00]

At the half, the Kadri line is trying to play a little more physically, but they aren’t really making magic out there. The Leafs ice the puck. Again.

The broadcast says no shots in the last 5:30. They mean shots on goal, but still, that’s an indictment of Vegas’s ability to pressure. They’ve never looked dangerous anywhere but on a line graph.

Gardiner takes a high-sticking penalty, and then there’s an argument for an hour and a half about if it’s two minutes or four. It’s two.

Kappy is single-handedly killing a quarter of this penalty on a long looping rush. Great PK all around by the Leafs there. They should quit icing the puck, and just take penalties to run out the clock.

OMG! A shot on goal from the Leafs.

[5:00 - 00:00]

Ray is showing another clip of Dermott battling Reaves. Ray, and me, like the small guy who plays big and strong.

Wow, Marner with a cross the crease chance on a pass from Tavares. The crowd came alive in time to wait out the last three minutes.

Andersen has to make a good save, and he gets the Freddie chant. Not sure that was really that exciting, but relative to the rest of the game...

Vegas pulls the goalie way later than the Leafs would have, but there’s an empty cage with two minutes left.

Kadri fills the empty net, to cap off this very uninspiring win.

3-1 Leafs.

Numbers

This is one of those times when “the only numbers that count are the goals” is true. But this shows a very weak offensive effort from Vegas, despite their zone time, while the Leafs basically didn’t try to score for half the game:

Thoughts

  • Frederik Andersen never looked stressed in that game except when he lost his stick.
  • John Tavares ain’t bad as the solo 1C.
  • The Leafs played as well as they needed to, and not one ounce more.
  • This win firmly disproves everyone’s silly odd-numbered and even-numbered days theories.