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Maple Leafs start on time (sort of), hold on late for win against Avalanche

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2/2 in the Keefe era

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Colorado Avalanche Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

First Period

  • [19:29] The Avs get control off the opening draw, and cycle the puck in the Leafs zone. The Leafs actually keep them to the outside entirely, but a point shot from Nathan MacKinnon gets by Frederik Andersen. 1-0 Avalanche. Goes without saying, but that goal is entirely on Freddie.
  • [17:33] The Leafs haven’t really gotten control of the puck for any meaningful amount of time yet. It’s not as if the Avs are generating oodles of chances, but it’s not ideal, nonetheless.
  • [15:15] The Matthews line (who started the game) spend another shift in their own zone.
  • [13:58] Early on, this is a sloppy game (in both directions, but primarily the Leafs). Tons of turnovers and fumbled pucks.
  • [13:35] The Leafs finally get a chance, as Zach Hyman emerges from the corner and fires it on net. As the play goes the other way, Nathan MacKinnon sets up Joonas Donskoi on a 2-on-1, but the latter misses the net.
  • [12:43] After Ian Cole blows a tire at the offensive blueline, William Nylander gets a breakaway. His backhand five-hole attempt is well saved by Phillip Grubauer.
  • [11:48] There’s been about three instances where the Leafs have the puck under control in their own zone, and then barf it up somehow under very little pressure, allowing Colorado to maintain pressure.
  • [10:11] Leafs score! Nick Shore gets a goal, as the Leafs fourth line ties the game. A strong shift by the fourth line sees them cycle in the Avalanche zone (with the help of Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl). Pierre Engvall circles the perimeter and fires on net, with Shore on the doorstep to tip it home. Great goal, 1-1 tie.
  • [9:04] Matthews scores immediately after! The Matthews line comes on the ice and is able to prevent the Avalanche from leaving the zone. After some cycling, Barrie finds Matthews near the top of the zone, and his wrist shot eludes Grubauer. Not the best goaltending on display, but we take those. 2-1 Leafs.
  • [9:04] Matthews had a brilliant takeaway earlier in this shift as well. You watch him pursue the puck in the offensive zone and you wonder why he can’t be a Selke threat.
  • [8:58] Immediately after, Kadri feeds MacKinnon on a rush, whose short range shot is nicely saved by Andersen to maintain the lead.
  • [7:51] The Tavares line has one too many people carrying the piano and one too few people playing it.
  • [7:00] Ian Cole high-sticks Jason Spezza. Leafs to the power play, their first of the Keefe era.
  • [7:00] Notably, Barrie is on the top unit power play. I’m skeptical of the rumoured setup, but lets see how it works in practice.
  • [6:38] Well, that was resounding! Tyson Barrie scores! The Leafs gain the zone with speed (something we didn’t see often enough), and as the Avalanche overload the strong side to pursue the puck, William Nylander slides a perfect pass to an aggressive Barrie, who moved up to the slot to slam it home. 3-1 Leafs.
  • [4:26] The Leafs have done far better after the first five minutes of disrupting the Avalanche as they enter the Toronto zone. Leading to more offence, and less defending. They also seem more patient with the puck in the offensive zone - forwards are providing a safety valve for the defensemen by coming up high when the puck is at the point. Thus far, it’s preventing shots from defencemen, though it often replaces them with similar quality shots from forwards, which is not all that much better.
  • [3:42] The Matthews line is generating zone time seemingly at will. Another solid shift from them ends with a Matthews shot from distance with traffic in front.
  • [3:42] After a TV timeout, Matthews and Nylander are joined by Kapanen for an offensive zone draw. Before the penalty that Spezza drew, Engvall was on the third. Unclear if this is just experimentation.
  • [2:24] Kapanen reprises his role on the third line, and gets sprung for a breakaway by Jason Spezza. He makes no mistake, and its 4-1 Leafs! It’s dreamland right now!
  • [2:06] Now Johnsson is on the Tavares line (replacing Mikheyev), which I’m a fan of. A more offensively skilled player will help Tavares.
  • [1:47] Tavares takes a penalty for interference, though he completely unintentionally ran into Donskoi. Regardless, Colorado heads to the PP.
  • [0:42] Vladislav Kamenev nearly goes end to end, firing a backhand on Andersen. He makes a solid save there, and a better save with the glove on Tyson Jost on the ensuing rebound.
  • [0:00] Well, that was the worst possible start, but my word, you couldn’t have asked for a better response from the Leafs, all in all. The Avs had the territorial advantage in the first part of the season, but didn’t get great shots in tight, and after the Leafs settled down and stopped committing turnovers when trying to break out the puck, they were able to gain the zone offensively and begin a cycle of their own. Offensively, the Leafs haven’t used point shots much, but have passed it off to forwards in the (very) high slot area - they’ve also benefited from two breakaways which were taken from high-value areas of the ice. Against a structured defense, it still hasn’t been easy to get to the very front of the net (though the Shore goal was an excellent example of the value of doing so). Then again, that’s not supposed to be easy, and Toronto has done a reasonable job of it thus far.
  • Also, on the Kapanen / Johnsson swap, it looks like Keefe is playing Matthews/Nylander a lot, and splitting the time of the other winger in half, with Kapanen and Johnsson getting a part each. Will keep an eye on that going forward.
  • Final note: The 4th line didn’t get a single defensive zone faceoff in that period. In the Coyotes game, their usage was similar to how it was all year, and my suspicion has been that this strategy was a suggestion from above, rather than something Babcock wanted specifically (as it was quite different to how he used his 4th line in years past).

Second Period

  • [20:00] The Avalanche still have 13 seconds left of a power play to start the 2nd.
  • [20:00] Pavel Francouz replaces Grubauer.
  • [18:59] The Matthews line picks up where they left off, absolutely dummying the Avalanche.
  • [18:03] The Avs are resorting to counterattacking. A 2-on-2 with Kadri and MacKinnon ensues. Kadri dances Dermott (who leaves his feet to block an expected shot), and is all alone in the slot. His backhand goes off the post, and the Leafs survive the best chance they’e surrendered in the game.
  • [16:09] Burakovsky absolutely undresses Ceci (low degree of difficulty on that, I suppose), but Andersen saves his sharp angle shot well.
  • [15:35] Holl goes for a walk in the offensive zone and nearly sets up Tavares in front for a high quality chance.
  • [14:15] Colorado is getting into the offensive zone more this period, though I think the Leafs are defending competently.
  • [13:39] Well, until then! Nathan MacKinnon nearly capitalises on a great play by Burakovsky which finds the Canadian alone in front of Andersen. Great save by Freddie.
  • [12:25] Spezza takes another defensive zone draw. As the commentary crew mentions, the 4th line continues to not take on that role in this game.
  • [11:05] Justin Holl takes a penalty infringing Valeri Nichushkin on a 2-on-1. Colorado to the power play.
  • [9:39] Burakovsky scores! Good puck movement from the Avalanche sees them get a few great chances, including one they finally bury. 4-2 Leafs.
  • [8:04] Toronto really hasn’t generated much offense in this period. Score effects explain some of it, but you’d like to see a little more.
  • [7:15] Tavares gets a great chance in front, but can’t bury it. Good response from the Leafs on that shift.
  • [6:06] Donskoi goes end-to-end and nearly scores! Great stop by Andersen to keep the lead at 2.
  • [4:21] I think most Leafs have been pretty good tonight, but Rielly and Ceci have struggled to me. We know neither are good in their own zone, but offensively, they seem like they’re a half-step late.
  • [2:41] Kerfoot boards Erik Johnson. That was not a good hit, at all. Rightfully penalized. That’s a really, really bad hit. You can’t do that. Right in the numbers, in a really dangerous area of the ice. Very lucky that Johnson isn’t hurt.
  • [0:00] The power play ends without major incident - a couple dangerous chances, but nothing mind-blowing.
  • That wasn’t as good a period as the first from a Toronto perspective, but it was far from awful. They weren’t able to generate consistent cycling pressure, so the offense they applied to Colorado was more sporadic - that said, they still got to reasonably good areas of the ice. On the other end, Colorado was pushing, given the score, which you expect to see. The usage notes I made at the end of the first have persisted through to the second, and I assume that’s how the rest of the game will roll as well.

Third Period

  • [18:49] Johnsson makes a great pass to Nylander in the slot. His shot is saved nicely by Francouz. This came off the back of a change where the Leafs deliberately kept the puck instead of dumping and changing.
  • [18:21] On the next shift, Nylander gets another shot off from the slot, this time a backhand.
  • [16:23] Bit of a Keystone Cops routine in the Leafs zone as the Matthews line and Rielly/Ceci make some unforced errors in breaking the puck out, forcing them to stay in their own zone longer than they would like. As they’ve done for most of the game, Colorado stays to the outside and doesn’t generate too much.
  • [14:57] MacKinnon’s speed causes all sorts of problems. He gains the zone with ease and fires a backhand that Andersen saves. Makar follows up on the rebound and bangs it off the post. Bit of a break for the Leafs there.
  • [14:13] The Leafs are just barely holding on now.
  • [13:06] And that Colorado goal is not surprising as a result. You can change the coach, but the Leafs are still not talented defenders. A point shot after a long cycle goes off the post, but the tired Leafs are unable to react to the scramble as fast as Nichushkin, who rips it home. 4-3 Leafs, and we’re in for a frantic finish.
  • [12:41] The Leafs draw a penalty and kill some time on the extended 6 on 5. Kadri grabs Rielly’s sweater away from the play.
  • [11:52] One thing I like about how this power play looks in the early going; they’re using Tavares as more than just window dressing.
  • [11:25] Barrie gets another shot off a Nylander pass, but Francouz saves.
  • [11:25] Keefe takes a time out to rest the PP1 unit and keep them on for the majority of the power play.
  • [9:33] Kadri and MacKinnon have been really hard to stopped when played together (especially with Makar). Kadri gets a nice backhand from the slot that Andersen saves. Freddie also makes another strong stop on a point shot, avoiding giving up a rebound in the process.
  • [8:40] At this point, from shift to shift, the Matthews line is holding their own (and then some), and everyone else is kinda getting filled in.
  • [7:30] So close! Dermott and Mikheyev forces a turnover and gets a chance for Tavares in tight. Mikheyev follows up on the rebound, but Francouz keeps the Avs alive.
  • [7:03] MacKinnon wins a draw against Nylander. Girard does a lap in the offensive zone and feeds Donskoi in front, whose shot is saved. Great work from Andersen.
  • [5:40] As a side note, there’s been a bit of a line blender throughout the game. Engvall got some time with Kapanen and Kerfoot. Looks like he’s replacing Spezza on that line, more generally.
  • [5:25] Also, I haven’t checked this, but it feels like the fourth line hasn’t played in a while. Steady does of Matthews - Tavares - Kerfoot. Haven’t noticed any particular patterns in the D usage thus far.
  • [4:04] The Leafs ice the puck, but some good cycle defense means they don’t get punished for it, even though they lose the draw.
  • [3:36] Looooots of icings right now.
  • [2:46] Avs pull the goalie pretty early, and this is looking to be a nervy finish.
  • [1:43] As we would expect, Colorado gets some chances. The Leafs have not magically gotten to be as good as the Bruins in their own zone. There are frankly, too many chances to recap. Suffice to say that Andersen is heroic right now, and Cody Ceci prevented a goal with his positioning.
  • [0:21] Good lord, I need to catch my breath.
  • [0:00] Leafs win! Hyman scores an empty net goal just as the clock expires. This was an interesting game. To an extent, the Leafs really caved as the game progressed. Nonetheless, a win is a win is a win. We can’t be picky at this point.