One of the few oddities and negatives of the Leafs’ season thus far has been their inability to match up to the Boston Bruins’ style of play. The common notion among fans and teams around the league is that the Bruins play a physical, hard-nosed game. Nonetheless, I made it a burden on myself to re-watch all three times Boston dominated Toronto, in order to really get an analytical feel on why and how the B’s have scored and won so easily.
Quite simply, the Leafs have been playing horrendous defensive coverage.
Obviously, that’s a pretty generic explanation that can be said to explain any loss for any team. However, to elaborate in a more specific explanation, I came to the conclusion the Leafs have often been caught watching the Bruins’ offense go to work, which has ultimately resulted in two key factors.
The first factor is that Boston has been reaping the rewards of the gaping holes left open by Toronto in the passing lanes. This happened due to a major lack of stick activity by the buds’ defensemen. Toronto too often had been caught staring at the player who had possession of the puck, which started an unfavorable domino effect. It started with the Leafs playing very poor man-to-man coverage in all areas – the point, corners, and in front of the net. This resulted in men being left alone along the sides and in the middle, open for shot opportunities. Of course, like I mentioned, the passing lanes were left empty, an it resulted in an easy pass cross ice, and into the back of the net.
The second factor, that tightly ties with the first, is the physical domination of the Bruins in key areas of the ice. Toronto, again, too often were getting out muscled in the corners and at the Bruins blue-line, which of course led to everything I mentioned above. The best example I can refer you to is to simply go re-watch the Game in Six recaps the Leafs put out after every game (instead of watching the game in 60, which I did..). Whether it be a Bruins player gaining positional leverage in front of the net, getting two of three solid shots in close, or being beat to or for the puck in the corners, the Leafs have just been physically beat.
Are these issues fixable? Absolutely. In fact, they’re closer to being minor issues being badly managed by the Leafs rather than glaring holes in Toronto’s defensive game. It’s simply a matter of Toronto raising their defensive awareness to the next level when playing the Bruins, because after all, they are still the Stanley Cup Champions. If Toronto were to use active sticks in the slot, I can almost guarantee you 75% of Boston’s goals would be negated. This one is a little bit harder, due to Boston’s sometimes overwhelming size on the wings, but if the Leafs were to at least maintain competitiveness in the corners and in front of the net for the puck, then I can almost guarantee you 75% of Boston’s goals would be negated.
To me, the offensive game is completely there against the Bruins, though the statistics may not show it. Toronto’s offense has been most effective against Boston when they’ve used their far superior foot speed and made quick passing decisions. Any scoring opportunity Toronto has had against them has been a result of quick puck movement, whether it be vertically (skating with it) or horizontally (passing).
However, as the saying goes, “a good defense makes a good offense”, and Toronto has certainly not had a good defense against the Bruins. Why Toronto forgets to put in place these defensive staples is – like I mentioned – one of the few oddities this year, because they remember them against other teams. Nothing is for certain, but it could be mentally tough on Toronto when facing the Bruins.
Nonetheless, the issues aren’t of paramount significance, and are most definitely fixable. In fact, they’re quite easily fixed, because this isn’t a learning curve for Toronto, it’s just a matter of implementing some better defensive coverage against the Bruins.