MAPLE LEAFS at CAPITALS
WASHINGTON LEADS SERIES 1-0
7:00 pm (CBC)
Even the most skeptical amongst us would have to admit that there are now 3 periods of evidence that this series may not be as lopsided as so many have claimed.
After a disappointing overtime loss at the hands of offensive juggernaut Tom Wilson, there is a feeling of optimism. For much of game one, the Leafs not only dictated the pace of play, but also matched the physicality of the Capitals. They were able to get traffic in front of the net and get under the the skin of the more experienced opposition.
Furthermore, there is a clear contrast in the way each team scored respectively. The Leafs got on the board after a bit of a tic-tac-toe play resulting in Mitch Marner’s first playoff goal, then after creating traffic in front of the net, a shot by Jake Gardiner finds the back of the net. Conversely, all three Capitals goals seemed almost incidental.
Their first goal came off of what was essentially still a five on three power play, their second goal of the night was a weak shot that Anderson saved easily but somehow lost in his pads. The overtime winner would be a fluky goal from a weird angle. Not exactly a convincing display from the Capitals in game one but an effective one nonetheless. As they say in sports, “they don’t ask you how, only how many.”
Although we cannot call game one a success, there is much to be learned and we can follow the clues to identify the game plan going forward. As I see it, there are 5 keys to game two and likely the rest of the series.
1. Stay out of the box:
The Leafs do a reasonably competent job on the penalty kill but that is no reason to tempt fate. How different could game one had been if the Leafs did not take a unnecessary tripping penalty leading to a five on three?
2. Get traffic in front of Holtby:
One thing is abundantly clear, Holtby is bothered when the Leafs put bodies in front of the crease. Continue to create havoc in front of him. Make him guess and get some sticks down low.
3. Continue the physicality:
Like with any bully, the best defense is to initiate. The Leafs did a great job of finishing their checks and got under the skin of the Capitals, creating some retaliation that drew penalties. This will be more and more important as the series wears on and bad blood simmers. Believe me, it will erupt and we need to make sure we’re on the power play when the dust settles.
4. Controlled zone entries
I was very impressed with how the Capitals stood on the blue line and denied Controlled Zone Entries, especially on the penalty kill. This resulted in a rare double drop pass by the Leafs with the man advantage. We will need to utilize our craftier players like James Van Riemsdyk and Mitch Marner more in gaining the zone.
5. Shoot the damned puck
If any inexperience did show, I thought it was in one too many passes on a few occasions. Look, the Leafs will hurt you by finding corners with precision but as is often pointed out and was fairly obvious in game one, there is less time and space in the playoffs. The Leafs need to use better discretion and lean towards directing more pucks on net. The other 4 keys to the game are force multipliers of key number 5.
Babcock started the head games early with his comments to the media. After pouncing on the Capitals early with speed and demonstrating the Leafs are not as outmatched as so many had believed, he had this to say:
“I didn’t think we were near as good as we’re capable of being, not near as quick. I didn’t think we skated as good as we could’ve in the second half of the game. I think a number of our guys can elevate their game for sure. We’re going to see that tomorrow. We’re going to be way better tomorrow.”
That’s some expert level psychological warfare aimed at the Capitals bench. The seeds of doubt have been planted. A win tonight would be the perfect fertilizer.
Projected Line Combinations
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Hyman — Matthews — Nylander
Komarov — Kadri — Brown
van Riemsdyk — Bozak — Marner
Martin — Boyle — Kapanen
Rielly — Hunwick
Gardiner — Polak
Marincin — Carrick
Ovechkin — Backstrom — Oshie
Johansson — Kunetsov — Williams
Connolly — Eller — Burakovsky
Winnick — Beagle — Wilson
Alzner — Carlson
Orlov — Niskanen
Orpik — Shattenkirk