Combo Breakers – Depleted Leafs snap skid against Bruins with 3-2 win

Photo: Abelimages/NHL Interactive via Getty

In his 378 games with the Boston Bruins, Tim Thomas played a game by stopping fewer than 75% of the shots against him just 10 times. The Bruins have been a team in construction for some time, culminating with the 2011 Stanley Cup. They had the goaltending since the dawn of the post-lockout era. They signed Zdeno Chara to shore up the defence and gradually added pieces. The scoring didn’t show until the Stanley Cup year, when Milan Lucic blossomed, the team added Nathan Horton, had a healthy Patrice Bergeron and junior stud Brad Marchand broke out.

But the team was always excellent in goal. Where “toughness” is used as reasoning for why teams without obvious talent win games, “goaltending” is usually the cure. Thomas played just six seasons in Boston as the starter, but was without doubt the best of his era. No matter what the team was in front of him, as they rebuilt the defence around Chara and the forwards around Bergeron, Thomas was there to provide them great goaltending.

Anton Khudobin is not Tim Thomas, and the Toronto Maple Leafs ate him up. The Bruins held the Leafs to 13 shots, but when you’ve lost 8 straight times to a dominant divisional opponent, a Rembrandt isn’t always required. Sometimes you just need a Picasso, and the Leafs painted one Saturday. They may not have deserved a 3-2 result, but they jumped up to a 3-0 lead and held on, and that’s all that counts in a playoff drive.

-In the preview I said that the key to this game would be whether the Leafs could neutralize Patrice Bergeron. They did, and it was a bit of a team effort. The way Carlyle has worked his bench this season is to play specific line-on-line player match-ups, but common sense prevailed here. There was no good way to play against Bergeron single-handedly: Tyler Bozak’s line has been eaten alive by Bergeron, Mikhail Grabovski was playing alongside two AHLers tonight, and Nazem Kadri has limited experience against the good two-way players in the league, let alone the best one there is.

-But it was a team effort and they did get him. Bergeron played 16.5 minutes (info is gathered from the links below at 6.5 of those were against Bozak, 4.5 against Kadri, and 3.6 against Grabovski. All-in-all, that line was held to just two scoring chances, although they did get eight shots. Pucks were hopping over Brad Marchand’s stick all night, which helped, but I didn’t get the sense that Bergeron dominated the Leafs in this one, even as the Bruins out-shot Toronto something big and had the territorial advantage.

-Much of Bergeron’s possession was in the “blocked shots” category. With him on the ice, the Bruins out-shot Toronto 8-3 at even strength, 7-3 in missed shots, and 9-2 in blocked shots. I normally don’t use “blocked shots” as a positive because it’s an indication you played the shift in your end, but the Leafs were blocking pucks at the top of the perimeter and not letting the Bruins jump on too many rebound opportunities or caroms off the back wall. Again, it wasn’t pretty, and it was real hectic and not at all conducive to turning defence into offence, but I will pay the style a compliment tonight: “somewhat effective”.

-When you do try to clog up shooting lanes, you do put your goaltender at a disadvantage if you don’t block a shot. Two distance shots beat James Reimer tonight, both from defencemen, both from well outside the scoring chance zone. Neither goal was counted as a chance.

-You know who did get a scoring chance on his goal, though? Frazer McLaren. The Leafs fourth line had one shift where they worked the puck down low, albeit against the Bruins fourth line, but Chara was also out there on the ice, and the puck came in front to McLaren. I think he panicked a bit with the puck, because the idea that Frazer McLaren had the presence of mind to bank the puck in off his skate blade between his legs is hilarious. It was a very big insurance goal at that point and I appreciate the hard work that went into that shift, but I’m not willing to call McLaren the Leafs’ missing link in the shootout.

-I don’t even Jeffler could pull off that move, and Jeffler is pretty good at stick handling tricks:

-The best Leaf on the night was James Reimer. He stopped every chance from in tight he faced, didn’t spill any rebounds and stopped 31 of 33 shots at even strength. I think he’s a very good goaltender and while Boston was having some trouble getting good shots away, Reimer was excellent in what he faced.

-The second best Leaf on the night was Mikhail Grabovski. There was a shift in the third period where he was forechecking, dropped his stick, continued to forecheck and forced the puck-carrier Dennis Seidenberg behind the net in the process of recovering his stick, a sequence that killed a bunch of time off the clock. Grabovski had some great zone entries, seemed more confident with the puck when gaining the zone and set up a couple of two-on-ones on his lonesome. One of those completely fell apart and turned into a two-on-five, but it worked out because he can shoot:

-The Leafs in positive chance territory on the night: Grabovski, Colton Orr. Frazer McLaren. Ryan Hamilton. John-Michael Liles.

-Surprisingly, when Liles went down and the Leafs rotated through five defencemen, Phaneuf spent time primarily with Jake Gardiner and Mark Fraser, with Randy Carlyle keeping him on the right side. He has been comfortable in the past on Cody Franson’s left side but that pairing rarely saw action. Gardiner didn’t have a particularly good night, very quiet offensively, but had to spend half of it with Mark Fraser, who really didn’t have a good night.

-Even Phaneuf wasn’t overly physical, with the most memorable hits of the night coming from Phil Kessel on Tyler Seguin and Nazem Kadri on Nathan Horton. Of the makeshift pairings after the Liles injury, the worst one Toronto had was Phaneuf-Gardiner, out for two of the four scoring chances Toronto gave up in the second half of the game.

-Related GIF! (via Rob)

-That doesn’t seem like a lot of chances, and for a reason: it wasn’t a lot of chances. Boston still held a slim advantage, 11-7. All of them were at even strength.

-Ryan Hamilton has limited mobility, but you can see where he could be useful on an NHL team. When he makes contact with a player, it’s with a purpose, to tie up the puck or to force a turnover. That line played about 10 minutes together and got caught in their own end once, but caught Boston in the other end three times.

-Toronto honoured Mats Sundin before the game and took 13 shots. I like that.

-Individual scoring chance differential. Forgot to write that David Krejci’s line was real good.

TARANNA Chances For Chances Vs. Chances +/-
Tyler Bozak 1 2 -1
James van Riemsdyk 1 2 -1
Phil Kessel 1 1 0
Nazem Kadri 2 5 -3
Clarke MacArthur 2 5 -3
Nik Kulemin 1 6 -5
Mikhail Grabovski 3 2 1
Matt Frattin 4 6 -2
Ryan Hamilton 3 2 1
Jay McClement 1 2 -1
Colton Orr 1 0 1
Frazer McLaren 1 0 1
Dion Phaneuf 2 8 -6
Carl Gunnarsson 1 3 -2
John-Michael Liles 2 0 2
Jake Gardiner 4 5 -1
Cody Franson 2 2 0
Mark Fraser 3 4 -1
NOTSOB Chances For Chances Vs. Chances +/-
Patrice Bergeron 2 3 -1
Tyler Seguin 2 2 0
Brad Marchand 2 2 0
David Krejci 6 1 5
Milan Lucic 6 2 4
Nathan Horton 6 2 4
Ryan Spooner 1 2 -1
Jay Pandolfo 1 2 -1
Rich Peverley 1 1 0
Gregory Campbell 2 1 1
Danny Paille 2 1 1
Shawn Thornton 2 2 0
Andrew Ference 6 1 5
Zdeno Chara 5 3 2
Dougie Hamilton 2 3 -1
Aaron Johnson 4 2 2
Matt Bartkowski 2 2 0
Dennis Seidenberg 3 3 0

-Team totals:

  1st 2nd 3rd Total
Toronto (EV) 3 (3) 2 (2) 2 (2) 7 (7)
Boston (EV) 6 (6) 3 (3) 2 (2) 11 (11)


LeafsNation Three Stars

  1. James Reimer
  2. David Krejci
  3. Mikhail Grabovski
  • Hey Cam,

    Great post-game report. I like the commentary and insights backed up by stats rather than straight up advanced stats reports.

    1) It tells the story of the game much, much better.

    2) It lets your writing breath a bit more, too—and you’re a really good writer.

    This format is really good.



  • Quasijr

    What won the game for us was great goaltending from Riemer & players who are willing to do the little things like back check. Would Phil back check like this 2 yrs ago I doubt it. Even though the shots were lopsided in favour of the Bruins the game felt & looked very even.

  • Quasijr

    Frattin’s puck was cleared off the goal line and Kulemin hit a post. Leafs may have had a very few chances but they were very good ones. Indeed a very even game, like the previous two against Boston. Huge win.
    Is there a a way of accounting for the quality of scoring chances in your world of advanced stats Cam? Do you count the posts?

    • This is an interesting question.

      We track on-ice shot differentials for players because those are indicative of which team had possession of the puck when a player was on the ice.

      But then “quality shots” became a topic of discussion so a few guys started counting scoring chances to isolate the quality shots.

      We found that there was no real difference in shot differential to chance differential over a long stretch. You can look at the scoring chances that I count and stack it up against the data available at BehindtheNet and hardly differentiate that it’s from two different sources.

      So breaking it down further for “quality of chances” would almost certainly yield fewer numbers to work with, restricting our sample size again. Now you’re just working with plus/minus, which is in no way predictable.

      So there are some “A” chances and more “B” chances, but the number of “A” chances any team gets in a game is restricted to 2 or 3. It wouldn’t tell you anything extra.

      As for missed shots, I count closer range missed shots as scoring chances. Posts count as misses. I record them as “posts” in the notebook as well, but counting posts doesn’t tell you anything. Most of this stuff is random.