Playoffs!!!1 gameday: Game 6 Bruins @ Leafs

It’s the second consecutive do-or-die game for the Toronto Maple Leafs, or their second “must win” of the season. One of the things that’s interesting to note about the Boston Bruins is that their playoff record is not real good in recent years.

They won a Stanley Cup, but it took them three Game 7s (and a Game 7 OT) to do it. They’re just 3-4 in Game 7s since the beginning of the Claude Julien era, and I think something like 3-7 in potential clinching games not counting Game 7s. The Bruins, in Tuukka Rask’s first season as a starting goalie, bled out after gaining a 3-0 series lead on the Philadelphia Flyers and went down 2-0 to Montreal the year after.

I think this season’s Bruins, when healthy, are the best Bruins team they’ve had in those years, but their late-season record is awful. That comes with the territory when you employ two goaltenders considered absolutely insane even when factoring in the positional standards.

I’m going to start running out of boat pictures to place above soon, so I’ll need to latch onto a motif other than “Burn The Boats” for Round 2 if we get to that point. I don’t even think I’d be shocked if the Maple Leafs came back to take this series. Boston’s defence, less Chara, can be best described as “awful” all series long.

While some people see Chara as an “X-factor”, he’s more of a guy that you know exactly what you’re getting. He’ll shut down a top forward line most days. A thing closer to an “X-factor” would be Andrew Ference, who is probably the Bruins’ second-best defenceman this series. The problem was he had an easily preventable breakdown leading to the shorthanded goal in Game 5, and was suspended in Game 2. (And it appears he’ll be out of Game 6.)

Eventually the Leafs’ depth scoring is bound to pick up. They’ve been playing well. Nik Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski are getting excellent chances, we now see what happens when Clarke MacArthur gets into the lineup, and the Bruins’ D is unable to defend against Kessel and Joffrey Lupul when anybody other than Chara is on the ice. 

So, call me “surprised” but not “shocked” if Toronto pulls this off. James Reimer may have to steal another game, but the Maple Leafs have, in contrast to their regular season, controlled the flow of puck-possession in extended tied-game state spurts against a real good puck-possession team in the Boston Bruins. We’re looking at the sixth best Corsi team all season up against No. 29. At the outset, the series should of been a no-brainer. Should of.

Centremen and stuff

Naturally the obvious responses to the above statement is “well it shows stats don’t mean anything” or “yeah but the playoffs are a different story” and I will proceed to ignore both sentences, because in a macro sense:

1 – Teams with good puck-possession in the regular season tend to make the playoffs, and tend to do very well in the playoffs 

2 – The playoffs are just a small sample of games, the dubious results of which can lead managers to do outrageous things in response

If the playoffs have shown anything, it’s what Toronto can do with an optimized lineup. Grabovski is averaging about three minutes more per contest at even strength and starting more shifts on the ice. Everybody is noting how much better he looks in the post-season, but I think it has more to do with getting back onto that second line and being Grabo. In 2011 and 2012 he was an excellent second-line centre and was on third-line minutes this season.

If the playoffs have shown another thing, it’s that Phil Kessel doesn’t really need his chemistry with Tyler Bozak to score goals. Bozak has played about half his shifts dropped onto a third line with Lupul and Matt Frattin. That’s a pretty speedy line and one that would be fun to roll with for a full-season, so long as Bozak doesn’t take every single faceoff.

And we’ve seen it in the scoring chance data for weeks, if you’ve played close attention to the numbers I post at the bottom of every game recap: Nazem Kadri needs to play better. I think Randy Carlyle really wants Kadri on that first line, but has no excuse to do so right now.

On Bozak and his faceoffs, I charted each of Bozak’s 5-on-5 faceoffs from Game 5, just to pick apart trace bits of data.

1 2000 Neu L Bergeron   2    
1 1814 Off L Bergeron 1      
1 1244 Off L Kelly        
1 1239 Off L Kelly 4      
1 1022 Off L Peverley        
1 455 Off L Bergeron   2    
2 2000 Neu W Bergeron 1      
2 1936 Def W Krejci        
2 1513 Def W Bergeron 2      
2 532 Def L Bergeron   1    
2 528 Def L Bergeron   2   1
2 306 Off W Campbell 1 1   1
3 1605 Neu L Krejci   4    
3 1204 Def L Peverley        
3 1155 Def L Kelly   1    
3 1143 Def W Kelly        
3 1011 Def L Krejci   3   1
3 751 Def L Campbell 1 1    
3 713 Def L Krejci   1    
3 710 Def W Krejci        

The general mantra of the analysts at The Nations Network is that the game is won and lost in the neutral zone. You’ll note that the Bruins generated six shot attempts after faceoffs starting in the neutral zone, to just one for the Leafs. 

Interestingly, the odds of the Leafs getting a shot are about the same when Bozak wins a faceoff, and when Bozak takes the faceoff in the offensive zone, regardless of who wins it. We’ve taken up an editorial position here somewhat against obsessive evaluation of faceoff stats (editorial position = Jeff and I have both recently written about it) and it shouldn’t be too surprising that there isn’t a decided Toronto advantage when Bozak wins a draw as opposed to losing it. 

No Leaf scoring chances, at any point in the game, came when Bozak started a shift with a faceoff. He was third in faceoff losses in the regular season and is being dominated in the circle by Patrice Bergeron in this series. There exists no real reason why Bozak should get those important draws as opposed to, say, Mikhail Grabovski at this point.

What are the keys for the Leafs? Well, we don’t know how the game will shake down. Reimer has to be good, and the Leafs have to convert on their chances, but neither of those things is something you can really prepare for. I wouldn’t dwell on the Leafs being 0-2 in home games so far this series: minus two turnovers and Ryan O’Byrne’s expert 2-on-1 ability, the Leafs could have won either of those games. They weren’t badly outplayed in either of ’em.

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