Hockey is said to be a game of mistakes. In each game, the team that makes the fewest mistakes usually wins the game. On Thursday night, the Toronto Maple Leafs lost by a score of 5-2 to the Calgary Flames. Two good teams went at each other, and this time the Maple Leafs came out on the bottom of the scoresheet.
While that hasn’t happened that much this season, it happens to even the best teams in NHL history. Things happen; and, teams make mistakes.
In fact, it is the nature of the Maple Leafs’ mistakes that is the topic of this post. Clearly, to anyone who watched the game, the Maple Leafs carried much of the play. They fired 48 shots at Flames’ goalie Jacob Markstrom. Markstrom stopped 46 of them.
Maple Leafs Head Coach Sheldon Keefe Liked Lots About the Game, Except the Mistakes
After the game in Calgary, Sheldon Keefe in his post-game comments stated the following:
“I liked a lot about our game today. I liked a lot about our second period. We got the goal. We let up for a bit there. We made mistakes — big mistakes.
The mistake on the back-check on the first goal; the mistake on the face-off play we talked about before the game on the second goal; a bit of a lazy play on the third goal that ends up in our net; and a breakdown in the neutral zone coverage on the fourth.
We made mistakes at a time when we were playing a good game. We really were playing a good game. I thought we played a good game in the third period again. If you make those mistakes against a good team, you give them good looks, and the game gets away from you. Their goalie wasn’t giving us much today.
To give those goals to them took away from what I thought was a good game. I thought our guys played hard. I thought we made plays. I thought we controlled the game. When you make those kinds of mistakes, you can’t win.”
What the Analytics Don’t Reveal
One flaw in analytics and why numbers and statistics don’t tell the complete story is that every number of every statistic is created equal. A shot attempt is a shot attempt, regardless of whether it has a realistic chance of becoming a goal or not.
The same goes for many analytic statistics. They also don’t account for errors – and the degree of errors – by players. They don’t take into account the situation in which the error was made or the result of the error. These things can only be determined by the old “eye test.” Humans must examine the situation, the circumstances around it, and the end result.
Looking at the analytics for the loss to the Flames (thanks to naturalstatrick) shows that the Maple Leafs controlled 60.5 percent of the shot attempts, 64.9 percent of the shots, 58.3 percent of the scoring chances, and 56.4 percent of the Expected Goals. Those numbers would indicate the Maple Leafs dominated the game.
In truth, the Maple Leafs did dominate portions of the game, but not all of it. That was especially true during a two-minute and 51-second span of the second period when Calgary scored three goals. The analytics also make it seem as if the Maple Leafs were either unlucky, which they really weren’t, or they were the victim of a hot goaltender. Markstrom was good but did not steal the game.
Keefe Was Correct, the Maple Leafs Made Too Many Mistakes
This game boiled down to, as Keefe stated, mistakes. More to the point, it boiled down to a series of mistakes that led to each of Calgary’s goals. We’re going to examine each Flames’ goal to outline the mistakes we feel led to each goal.
[Note: We want to emphasize that our intent is in no way to disrespect any players. They’re all extremely skilled professional athletes. Our purpose is merely to analyze how mistakes at key moments of a hockey game can affect the outcome.
We also want to state this is our opinion about what mistakes led up to each goal. We realize someone else looking at the same series of plays might have seen it differently or might have seen things we might have missed.]
Flames’ Goal #1: Maple Leafs’ Mistakes
(Mistake #1) Jake Muzzin pinches but fails to keep the puck in the Calgary zone, leaving Justin Holl as the only defenseman back. Blake Coleman passes the puck to Mikael Backlund, who skates through the center ice and into the Maple Leafs’ zone. Michael Bunting does a great job of hustling back to cover Backlund.
Holl motions to Bunting to stay on Backlund, but (Mistake #2) he doesn’t cover the other Flames’ player entering the zone – Andrew Mangiapane – leaving him open. Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews (mistake #3) do not hustle back but just glide through the neutral zone. Marner, who was not that far from Mangiapane, could have easily covered him with more effort. Backlund passes to an open Mangiapane, and he scores.
Flames’ Goal #2: Maple Leafs’ Mistakes
John Tavares loses a draw in the Maple Leafs’ zone. Matthew Tkachuk skates the puck towards the Maple Leafs’ blueline dropping the puck to the advancing Andersson as he does. (Mistake #1) Timothy Liljegren follows Tkachuck out to the blueline, taking himself out of position. Both Rasmus Sandin and Alex Kerfoot have players covered, and Tavares attempts to cut Rasmus Andersson off at the net.
William Nylander (mistake #2) watches the puck carrier Andersson and not his man, Noah Hanifin. Hanifin sneaks in from the point, is wide open, takes the pass from Andersson, and scores. It’s the right-winger’s job to cover the left point man. Nylander didn’t.
Flames’ Goal #3: Maple Leafs’ Mistakes
Mistakes #1 and #2 happened before this goal but played a key part in it. (Mistake #1) Nylander turns the puck over in the neutral zone and then compounds the problem (Mistake #2) by taking a hooking penalty in an attempt to recover.
Related: Best NHL Goalies of the 1990s
On the goal, David Kampf loses the faceoff clean to Backlund. Backlund drops the puck back to Hanifin, who quickly passes it to Oliver Kylington. Kylington one-times the puck past goalie Jack Campbell.
(Mistake 2) On the play, Muzzin attempts to block but fails, and might have partially screened Campbell on the shot. Mistake #3 could be that this was a goal Campbell could have stopped.
Flames’ Goal #4: Maple Leafs’ Mistakes
(Mistake #1) Kerfoot turns the puck over at the Maple Leafs’ blue line. That gives Johnny Gaudreau a partial breakaway; however, Holl bothers him enough to cause him to miss the net. The Maple Leafs never regain control of the puck. Calgary circles back to the blue line. Chris Tanev passes to Shillington, who gives it back to Tanev. Tanev delivers a stretch pass to the middle of the Maple Leafs’ blue line to Gaudreau.
(Mistake #2) Muzzin and Holl are spread too wide at the blue line leaving Gaudreau open between them.
(Mistake #3) Muzzin and Holl both converge on Gaudreau, leaving Elias Lindholm open.
(Mistake #4) Both Nylander and Kerfoot are too slow coming back. Nylander was the closest to Lindholm but does not try to catch him. Lindholm beats Campbell.
Flames’ Goal #5: Maple Leafs’ Mistakes
(Mistake #1) Kerfoot again turns a puck over in his own zone. The Maple Leafs don’t regain control of the puck. Morgan Rielly attempts to bat the puck out of the zone, but fails.
(Mistake #2) Kerfoot skated towards Tkachuk in the corner leaving Andersson alone at the point. Andersson skates to the middle of the ice and lets a wrist shot go.
(Mistake #3) Nylander makes a soft attempt to deflect the shot, and Tavares attempts to block it, but fails.
(Mistake #4) Holl fails to box out Lindholm in front of the net. In the end, Tavares, Holl, and Lindholm all screen Campbell, who fails to see the shot until it’s too late.
Sixteen Mistakes Turn Into Five Flames’ Goals
These sixteen “events” (mistakes) that we noticed (and there probably were more) among the hundreds of events that happened in the game led to each of the five goals. These are events not covered by any of the analytics, but they profoundly affected the game’s outcome.
Again, the purpose of this post was not to critique any player. It was to look at the mistakes made – among many mistakes – that helped lead to the five goals the Flames scored.
When we began this post, we were interested in coach Keefe’s note that there was so much about the game that was positive but that mistakes led to the loss. Obviously, that was true.
As a fan of hockey, it’s obvious that the game is built around mistakes being made and other players taking advantage of those mistakes. It happens to both teams hundreds of times each game. But that’s the fun of hockey for fans.
[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]