Photo via Abelimages and NHLInteractive
The officiating was bad in Thursday’s loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. The Leafs were cost at least three powerplays in that game. Jay McClement was taken down midway through the second period at the top of the circle after a turnover. Nazem Kadri was tripped up on a zone entry late in the third. The winning goal was clear goaltender interference on the part of Adam Hall. Joffrey Lupul was also hit in the head and left the game.
BUT! One thing I want to stress, one thing that I’m quite sure none of the afternoon radio shows will discuss, was a coaching decision by Randy Carlyle late in the third period. Down 4 to 3 with 4:45 to go, the Flyers sent out their fourth line of Sean Couturier, Adam Hall and Jay Rosehill for a defensive zone draw. Carlyle pondered the matchup. After a TV timeout, he had a fairly rested lineup. The players he throws over the boards?
Jay McClement, Colton Orr, Mikhail Grabovski, John-Michael Liles and Mike Kostka.
The Maple Leafs lost 5-3.
-It’s not a terrifically important point. The odds of a line with McClement, Grabovski and Orr scoring in that situation are about 2% slimmer than the odds of a scoring line over a 45-second shift. It’s not a big difference, but it’s those small, marginal coaching errors that have cost the Leafs a lot of points and a lot of separation in the standings. They are getting the best goaltending they’ve had since the Curtis Joseph years, fantastic penalty-killing, a career year from a young player and a fantastic season from Phil Kessel, designated playmaker.
-But they’re pissing away points in these small, meaningless bits of game. Maybe it was 2% late in the third down by a goal. Maybe there was a 1% mistake earlier in the game. Or a 3% mistake. Over the long haul, those marginal errors add up to legitimate points. You never know just how important the mistakes are, because you unfortunately don’t get to read the boxscores from a parallel dimension when a man other than Randy Carlyle is coaching the Toronto Maple Leafs.
-So what does the narrative become? The top guys couldn’t get it done. It’s true. Phil Kessel had three long shifts in the end game. Nazem Kadri had two. The captain Dion Phaneuf couldn’t get it done (despite playing on the left side during the last shift with Cody Franson on the right). James Reimer looked shaky, coughing up a couple of rebounds and one led to a goal. The veterans couldn’t pull through.
-None of that is true, of course. Phil Kessel played a fine hockey game, involved on six scoring chances for the Leafs, taking four shots from good areas and setting up two. James van Riemsdyk finally scored a goal and got some excellent shots away. The first line was again dominant and they’ve strung together three excellent hockey games. Kadri didn’t record a point, but other than the top line, he was the only Leaf able to generate multiple scoring chances in this one.
-No, the Leafs lost simply because they aren’t deep enough, and they aren’t deep enough because they aren’t smart enough to manage the depth they have and get real players into actual lineup positions. Frazer McLaren and Colton Orr ain’t winning any team Stanley Cups anytime soon. Ryan Hamilton isn’t going to show enough to stick in the NHL if he has to play with a couple of thugs. That one decision, that one bleak decision by Carlyle is going to come away as the major tipping point in this one. He somehow managed to tip the scales in a game against an opponent so debilitated by injuries that Mike Knuble is centering the third line and Luke Schenn is playing top defensive minutes.
-The Aristocrats. So, so many Aristocrats jokes.
-One thing I won’t fault the man on is that he seems fine playing John-Michael Liles lately. I think Liles is a fine hockey player that takes some un-due heat because his contract isn’t pretty. Behind that contract is a pretty decent defenceman with lots of speed and smarts. He’d look better if he were paired with Jake Gardiner, but Liles is the least of Toronto’s worries on defence.
-The Leafs actually did out-chance the Flyers at even strength. Some of that was score effects as Toronto pressed late, but they kept Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek and Matt Read, Philly’s most dangerous players, stuck in their own ends while giving up very little. Dion Phaneuf and Carl Gunnarsson had a damn fine game on the top pairing, each landing in the positives in scoring chances and Corsi playing primarily against the only actual line that the Flyers have available to play.
-Nazem Kadri was in on that too. Kadri played 9.1 minutes against Voracek, for instance, and Voracek and the Flyers recorded just one scoring chance in that time (and to be fair, it was a goal, and a pretty ugly-looking one, but it was the only one recorded).
-Here is why I don’t necessarily sweat faceoffs:
-What matters between the draws is so, so much more important than winning or losing a draw. Even Greg Millen on the broadcast piped up about it. Unless you can turn a faceoff win into meaningful puck-possession, you’re better off being on the bench while a player who knows how to position himself on defence handles duties in the defensive zone. Straight up, the Leafs first line was good-enough offensively to cover its defensive misgivings, but they really shouldn’t be starting any faceoffs in the defensive zone unless there’s an icing call.
-Anyway, not all bad. Leafs have still won three out of their last four, they managed to out-chance and out-shoot the Flyers in this one and if not for a couple of bad calls or a misplayed puck by James Reimer, this is a tie game. James van Riemsdyk’s goal was excellent…
…and Dion Phaneuf nearly slicing Kimmo Timonen’s leg off while celebrating is a good bit of video.
-Joffrey Lupul’s injury is not a good thing. He’s been playing excellent lately but that looked like another concussion. Team is calling it an “upper-body injury”.
-Individual scoring chance differentials. Please note Luke Schenn played his best game in Toronto since… well, probably ever, given what I’ve seen out of him in his career.
UPDATE: The first version of this chart mixed up Flyers and Leafs skaters. It has now been corrected (1:15 AM EDT on April 5)
|Chances For||Chances Vs.||Chances +/-|
|James van Riemsdyk||7||2||5|
|Chances For||Chances Vs.||Chances +/-|
|Toronto (EV)||3 (1)||6 (6)||3 (3)||12 (10)|
|Philadelphia (EV)||7 (1)||4 (4)||2 (2)||13 (7)|
LeafsNation Three Stars
- Dion Phaneuf
- Phil Kessel
- Luke Schenn