The Toronto Maple Leafs didn’t win Game 2 as much as the Montreal Canadiens lost it, with perhaps a little help.
After a feel-good goal by the re-inserted Jasperi Kotkaniemi into the HABS line-up for the missing Jake Evans, giving them the early lead, the choppy first period continued to deteriorate for the Canadiens as the Leafs controlled the offensive zone with a cycle that made the HABS look confused. The Canadiens weren’t delivering hits like they did in Game 1 (20-15 for the Leafs in the 1st) and at times they were barely finishing basic checks. The Leafs only had 26 hits in all of Game 1, so let that sink in. The HABS failed to capitalize on a Leafs team that looked a bit timid at times in the early going, fearing the earlier physicality of the HABS. With less contact in this game, they had more time and space and once that happens, Toronto’s skill is going to make you pay.
The HABS picked up the hits in the 2nd (a cumulative 32-27 for Montreal) but were challenged with questionable consecutive penalties that seemed to suck the confidence out of them. While no team in the league ever wants to call out the refs for well, questionable officiating, it was at least inconsistent as the Leafs were gifted 3 consecutive powerplays for infractions that were equally punishable yet went uncalled against the Leafs and that trend seemed to continue into the third period. Although it had no consequence, there was a gift powerplay form the Canadiens to the Leafs that came in the form of “why would you challenge that goal” penalty against the HABS as a panicking Marc Bergevin seemed to influence a failed coach’s challenge that the collective watching world knew was a poor decision. The second period ended with the Leafs having been on the powerplay approximately 40% of the frame.
Since the HABS weren’t getting any breaks with the Stripes, with 6 minutes or so left in the third period, Head coach Ducharme decided to make his own powerplay, calling Carey Price to the bench for the extra attacker. While Twitter was burning up with jokes from Leaf fans and anger by HABS fans, it was at that point a fair idea given they were down 4-1 and there’s no points on the line, just wins and losses. It didn’t produce a goal, but it also took the Leafs five minutes to pot an empty net after repeated icings and several opportunities for the Canadiens.
The Toronto goals largely came from between the offensive circles as they penetrated the HABS defense, causing confusion and forcing their box to collapse and leaving Price vulnerable. The HABS best chances also came down low and, on the transition, but they were few as Toronto did a decent job boxing them out with low-risk perimeter shots and quality ones never reaching Campbell. While the HABS came back and overtook the hits 42-34, they were largely ineffective and ill-timed. I said in my last post that Mathews and Marner would factor in on the score sheet if they were given time and space and they were certainly given that, if not on the multiple powerplays, but also during the Canadiens collapse between them.
Did the Leafs win this game or did the Canadiens lose a winnable game? Arguable. On the perimeter a score like 5-1 suggests a dominant win, or that’s what the pendulum-fans will have you believe on social media. When you pick this game apart though, the score wasn’t reflective of all the micro moments that contributed to it.
It will be interesting to see if Ducharme panics and tweaks the team, calling on speedy and energetic youngsters for Game 3, or sticks with a proven Game 1 formula and the GMs line-up of experience, with a tenacious forecheck, hard-hits, discipline, and fast transition. Either way, the HABS will need to find a way to stay out of the box, especially the calls they can control. For the Leafs to continue with a win (without any special privileges), they’ll need to keep their speed and continue cycling the puck down-low, creating confusion, and getting in close.
This has the makings of a long series, and the next game will give everyone an even better indication if that’s where it is heading.
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