“Never in doubt” – Toronto hang on for 5-4 win vs. Ottawa

Photo via Abelimages/NHLInteractive via Getty

First the good news.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have won enough games during this percentage-driven run that they can go .500 from here on out and probably make the playoffs. The beauty of getting red-hot goaltenders at the start of a short season.

Now for the bad news.

Toronto got out-shot, out-played and out-chanced pretty bad against the Ottawa Senators, and even for fans who are watching this team without the blanket of a spreadsheet to form good and bad opinions about the hockey game, this is one they probably shouldn’t have won. Ben Bishop looked out of sorts in the first period and didn’t come up with any big stops. Opposite number James Reimer was excellent, with only Colin Greening’s snack goal in the final two minutes marring his statistics in an otherwise fantastic performance.

More numbers and analysis below from the Leafs 5-4 win over the Sens…

-I should qualify most of this by mentioning score effects: teams that are losing tend to control the play. This is either psychological or strategic, but generally a team that’s losing by one with out-score the team that’s leading by one. Most of what happened in the third period wasn’t necessarily a disaster, but the Leafs had some porous defensive coverage and allowed three goals and nine scoring chances.

-Overall, the chances were 19-11 for the Senators, though they were just 10-8 through two periods. I thought Toronto earned their early lead: after a slow start for the first few shifts with the puck hemmed a lot in the Leafs’ end, they did push the puck forward thanks to the excellent work of Mikhail Grabovski and Phil Kessel and had a run of five consecutive chances after going down 2-0. That run included the Jay McClement goal which came on a particularly dominant shift by Toronto’s third line against Ottawa’s first, who were quickly broken up.

-Paul MacLean really did have to stretch his bench. 26 seconds in, of course, Frazer McLaren broke Dave Dziurzynski. Dziurzynski, other than being a 100 PIMs guy in the AHL, is also the left winger on Ottawa’s primary checking unit. MacLean likes to get Zack Smith his minutes (you’ll see why later) and ended up putting Smith in the end with Daniel Alfredsson and Erik Condra. Kyle Turris had a bad, bad game and was relegated to a line with Colin Greening and Jakob Silfverberg, which left Mika Zibanejad with Peter Regin and Mark Stone. Chris Neil didn’t see a lot of minutes, but after a quick Toronto start, the Sens did have to juggle their bench a bit, and it’s happened a fair bit with Leafs opponents this year.

-As an analyst, Randy Carlyle makes it easy on me because he’ll so rarely deviate from a combination that he started with. Wednesday, though, Phil Kessel somehow got out with Nazem Kadri and Clarke MacArthur, which should be the Leafs’ first unit, although they got beaten for a scoring chance against. There was that hiccup and another fire drill after a penalty kill, but if you check the scoring chances chart, the Leafs generally keep together by line.

-When a coach does juggle lines though, it means Carlyle can’t get his unit-on-unit matches. Tyler Bozak’s line and Mikhail Grabovski’s line split the time covering Alfredsson and Turris after they had been split up. Nazem Kadri got to see a lot of shifts against Mika Zibanejad, and it was mostly the Senators who got scoring chances with that matchup on the ice.

-Carlyle also likes his hard match to get his top pairing out against the other teams’ best forward. That tonight was Alfredsson, which meant Dion Phaneuf and Korbinian Holzer were going to see lots of minutes against various juggled lines. They did pretty poorly on defence against all of them. Holzer was on the ice for 10 Senators scoring chances against the Leafs. To put that in perspective, consider that in the first two games against Ottawa, Toronto had surrendered 14 chances total at even strength.

-And there we get to Zack Smith. Smith is a subject frequently brought up on Coach’s Corner. Don Cherry loves him, stat wonks love him, and other than the occasional Senators fan I would say nobody in between thinks twice about Zack Smith. He was on the ice for 8 Senators chances for and just 1 Leaf chance against him. He took ten attempts at net, five of them within the scoring chance area, and scored a goal. Aside from being beaten in the face-off circle—primarily Tyler Bozak’s handiwork—Smith had one of the best two-way games by a Leaf opponent this season.

-Should get to the positive things the Leafs did other than the start. They did capitalize on their opportunities, as noted, and put some pucks on the net during their two power plays against an Ottawa PK group that’s due for a regression. I thought the Grabovski line did well, minus the firedrill on the second Ottawa goal. Kulemin completely missed his mark on Chris Phillips and Grabovski and Holzer combined to ignore Smith in front of the net. Other than that, that line did a pretty good job at driving play considering they had to play a lot of shifts against naturally-tilted ice in the third period. It could have been worse, surprisingly.

-Mark Fraser goes +2 again. His scoring chance advantage has slowed in recent days, and I think this game is his third or fourth straight as an overall minus. Still, he’s fortunate-enough to keep being on the ice for goals for despite never being involved in offensive plays.

-The best Leaf offensively was somehow Jay McClement. He took only three shot attempts but all were within scoring area, and he set up Nik Kulemin midway through the third on a good chance. He stuffed Turris on that face-off at the end of the game as well, making sure the puck didn’t get loose.

-And that’s the thing. There are the pieces for a really good Leafs foundation here. McClement, Clarke MacArthur, Kadri, Grabovski, Kulemin, Kessel and James van Riemsdyk could be key players on any contending team. The support cast wears a little thin, they don’t have a fourth line that is trusted to play behind them and the defence has three guys nobody thought we be on the team in August. Despite this, the Leafs are scoring more goals than the other team most nights, and while I don’t think it will last, they’ve banked a good amount of points during this run that there’s room for some growing pains as we move into the third quarter of the season.

-Should mention this tweet:

Toronto fans can’t win. Either they’re too busy checking their Blackberries, or they’re not on their Blackberries, watching an exciting hockey game and not getting the memo that a 77-year-old singer died mid-game. It’s not like they were watching the Score Ticker all night on the ice. Also not cool from Mr. Campbell to turn a sad thing to fit some silly narrative.

-Individual scoring chance differentials:

TARANNA Chances For Chances Vs. Chances +/-
Tyler Bozak 2 3 -1
James van Riemsdyk 3 3 0
Phil Kessel 2 6 -4
Nazem Kadri 3 4 -1
Clarke MacArthur 3 5 -2
Leo Komarov 3 3 0
Mikhail Grabovski 4 7 -3
Nik Kulemin 4 6 -2
Jay McClement 4 7 -3
David Steckel 1 2 -1
Colton Orr 1 1 0
Frazer McLaren 0 0 0
Dion Phaneuf 6 9 -3
Korbinian Holzer 5 10 -5
Carl Gunnarsson 1 3 -2
Mike Kostka 2 4 -2
Cody Franson 3 3 0
Mark Fraser 3 4 -1
KANATA Chances For Chances Vs. Chances +/-
Kyle Turris 3 8 -5
Daniel Alfredsson 5 5 0
Milan Michalek 5 5 0
Mika Zibanejad 3 1 2
Colin Greening 4 4 0
Erik Condra 2 0 2
Peter Regina 3 0 3
Mark Stone 5 1 4
Jakob Silfverberg 5 3 2
Zack Smith 8 1 7
Chris Neil 3 2 1
Dave Dziurzynski 0 0 0
Marc Methot 4 6 -2
Eric Gryba 6 7 -1
Chris Phillips 8 1 7
Andre Benoit 4 0 4
Patrick Wiercioch 4 3 1
Sergei Gonchar 8 3 5

-Team totals:

  1st 2nd 3rd Total
Toronto (EV) 5 (5) 3 (3) 3 (2) 11 (10)
Ottawa (EV) 5 (4) 5 (5) 9 (7) 19 (16)

LeafsNation Three Stars:

  1. Zack Smith
  2. Jay McClement
  3. Chris Phillips
  • Just to further build on your comment on this teams foundation. At the start of the year I believed with all my heart that the only players who would be top contributors on a cup winning team were Grabbo, Phaneuf, Kesse and maybe Lupul. However, the emergence of Van Riemsdyk and Kadri have really got me more excited for this teams future prospects as those are two holes filled on the top two lines. Also, I agree about Kulemin and McClement and MacArthur. All solid players who can contribute. I don’t know why we have these notions Kulemin is a 30 goal scorer. He just caught lightning in a bottle and insane chemistry with his linemates one year. He is a very hard worker and solid defensive forward however, same with McClement. MacArthur has really impressed me this season as well. Getting to my point if we assume the core of this current edition of the Leafs are McClement, MacArthur, Kadri, Grabovski, Kulemin, Kessel, Van Riemsdyk, Phaneuf, Reimer, and Gardiner who should be up, I think we realistically have a shot of building something up. The way I see the lines for the future would be:

    Van Riemsdyk – ? – Kessel
    Lupul – Kadri – ? (Grabovski or Frattin?)
    MacArthur – ?(Grabovski?) – Kulemin
    Komarov – McClement – ?

    Phaneuf – ? (Reilly?)
    Gunnarsson – Gardiner
    Franson – Fraser or whoever

    Scrivens or whoever.

    I mean, with that I wouldn’t know where to slot Grabovski – on the 2nd line wing or Centre, or as a third line centre. He is definitely a 2nd line player and gets paid as such but having him on the third line, with linemates he has had success with, I can that line as a dynamo two way line. Also, I am stuck on Matt Frattin. I have been impressed but I expect his astronomical shooting percentage to come down eventually. But I would have him beside Kadri or on the third line and Grabbo on the second, which is my personal preference. Finally, just find a REAL partner for Phaneuf whether a FA, trade, or Rielly and bring Gardiner back up, and I really think our back end has potential especially with Finn, Blacker, and Percy coming up. We do all that, and find a true #1 centre, and I think this is a team that can actually compete. However, this is just me playing mock GM and I don’t get paid for it and probably don’t know as well as Nonis, but hey, that’s what the hell.

  • The leafs shouldn’t have won this game nor the NJ game. The reason they won was because of Carlyle’s coaching. I thought his line matching was brilliant during the game. And also putting out Mclaren and Orr at the right times helped the leafs set the tone early in the game and put the senators back on their heals. And in this game, the leaf forward responded (at least for the first two periods).

    Also, I’ve been reading up these stats and I think Carlyle’s in game line matching and coaching tactics is what is making the difference and allowing the leafs to win even though they are being outplayed (fenwick or your scoring chances). In effect, Carlyle’s smart coaching is what is driving the leafs luck (PDO).

  • Quasijr

    I don’t know if I agree with Carlyles coaching style, but I think the players have faith in him & have bought into his system. The turn overs, bad passes & plain poor puck management (do you have a any stats to back this up Cam) that they have committed this year have only been negated by stellar goaltending & forwards back checking.
    If they reach the playoffs they will be first round fodder for who ever they meet unless they stop this.

  • Mason from NC

    The Leafs move ahead of Pittsburgh and are now behind only Chicago in Regulation/Overtime wins with 15. Being that those are a key tiebreaker stat in determining standings, one must feel some sense of optimism for May hockey in Toronto.