The Toronto Maple Leafs have given up 12 goals in the first two games of their best-of-seven series with the Boston Bruins, and very quickly it’s turning into a potential four-game sweep of the blue and white.
While the Leafs were able to get three behind Tuukka Rask in Game 2 on Saturday, the Leafs still gave up seven to a Bruins team that is far more confident and not showing any signs of giving that up.
Now, headed back to Toronto in a 2-0 hole, what should we take out of the way both teams played Game 2?
Closing Bruins’ Pasta Buffet
If there’s one guy the Leafs need to stop, it’s Bruins’ forward David Pastrnak. Through the first two games of the series he has four goals and nine points and he is absolutely dominating the Leafs in their defensive end.
Now, if there are three guys the Leafs need to stop, well that’s easy. It’s the Bruins’ top line of Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand who have 20 points combined in the first two games – including a six-point performance by Pastrnak in Game 2.
While it’s easy to pinpoint where the majority of the success is coming from for the Bruins, the solution for the Leafs isn’t as easy to come up with. If it was, the Leafs and Mike Babcock would’ve already put a stop to the scoring from the Bruins’ top trio.
There were glimpses of defensive structure for the Leafs in Game 2 – even moments where you’d think they were putting forth a strong effort in their own end. Still, the Bruins scored seven – the top line putting in the majority of the offence. So, what’s next?
Well, theScore’s Josh Wegman makes a good argument when it comes to what the Leafs need to do – more specifically, what Babcock needs to do. While the team already has the line blender out, Wegman offers up another possibility.
He suggests a line of Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner – a line that, while lacking in defensive responsibility, has the ability to possess the puck and put up a lot of offence of their own.
“According to Corsica, Matthews, Marner, and Nylander have only played together for just over 12 minutes at 5-on-5 over the past two seasons,” writes Wegman. “Babcock is a large proponent of spreading the wealth of talent through the lineup, which isn’t necessarily wrong over the course of a full season.”
But playoffs are different.
“Though it’s an awfully small sample size, a Matthews-Marner-Nylander trio has yielded some impeccable results together, accounting for over 70 percent of the expected goals for while on the ice,” Wegman continued.
With Leo Komarov’s status up in the air for Game 3, there could be an opening on the Matthews line and Marner might be the perfect candidate to fill the spot. Either way, the lines that’ve been used through the first two games aren’t working – something needs to change.
Less puck control for the Bruins’ top line means fewer opportunity for them as well. That could be the answer the Leafs are looking for. However, there is more the Leafs need to do if they hope to get a win in Game 3. Part of that is pest control.
To the Bruins, he’s a key cog in their offensive dominance. To the rest of the league, Marchand is one of the game’s best pests. And to this point in the series, he’s mastered his role and has found his way into the heads of the Leafs players.
As it stands through two games, the Leafs are being out hit by just one (71 to 70). The difference, is that the Bruins have found a way to finish their opportunities in the physical department where the Leafs haven’t been as dominant.
Take the Komarov injury in Game 2 as an example. Kevan Miller came flying in and finished his hit on the Leafs forward who was bracing himself for the check. Still, the Bruins came out on top. Time after time, the Bruins have hit the Leafs and hit them hard. Marner, Matthews and the Leafs top forwards haven’t been given the open ice the way they were in the regular season.
But it doesn’t stop there. Marchand, in particular, is in the heads of the Leafs. His antics, while annoying to opposing teams and fans, is a work of art for the Bruins.
While the team has 71 hits, Marchand has just three (all of which were in Game 1). That said, his lack of physical play hasn’t hampered his team. In fact, his antics are exactly what the team needs. It’s forced the Leafs to play his game and, in turn, they’ve taken reckless penalties which has cost them on the scoreboard.
Through the first two games, the Leafs have 33 penalty minutes to Boston’s 16. The Leafs have had seven power plays and only have one goal to show for it, while the Bruins have scored an alarming 50 percent pace on their 10 power plays.
Nearly half of their goals have come on the power play and still the Leafs continue to put themselves a man down.
What needs to happen is the Leafs need to find a way to overcome Marchand’s pest-like behaviour. Engage in the physicality, but do it within the rules of the game. The Bruins have been trying to push the Leafs to the point of straddling the line, but they need to find a way to pull themselves back. And hey, maybe inserting Matt Martin on the fourth line would help.
Leafs Need a Breakout Party
Finally, the Leafs struggles in the defensive end aren’t just coming when they don’t have the puck. The problem also exists after they gain possession in their own end. Too many times in Game 2, the Leafs forwards started up the ice without their defence having a clear-cut option for getting the puck out of the zone.
In turn, the Leafs’ blueliners were forced to make soft backhand passes, half-hearted attempts up the boards or try to carry it out of the zone. Often these options didn’t pan out for them and the play was kept in their zone.
In part, it led to the Bruins first goal when Pastrnak was able to get the backhander over Frederik Andersen after the Leafs could gain full possession in their end.
They were chasing constantly in Game 2 when they found themselves in the defensive end. They looked discombobulated and too many times the Leafs’ forwards were at centre ice before the puck even came out over their blue line.
That said, it’s been an issue for the Leafs all season long. Their defensive woes were no secret, but too often Andersen was there to help them out. Well, in Game 2, he wasn’t. And it showed. If they’re hoping to turn Game 3 into a win, the Leafs will have to find a way to breakout of their zone and it’ll have to happen fast. Otherwise, they could find themselves in a 3-0 series deficit very quickly.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.