In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs’ Commentary, we’ll take a look at some of the insights we gathered from the team’s solid 3-2 win over a very strong Carolina Hurricanes’ team. The team seemed to employ the philosophy it had started the season with; and, it showed that – even with star center Auston Matthews out of the game serving a suspension – it was more than capable of holding its own against the best teams in the NHL.
Should the Maple Leafs be able to continue that kind of play, that bodes well for the playoffs.
Comment One: The Hurricanes Carried the Play, But Did They?
At the start of the game, the Hurricanes showed why a lot of people think they are the best team in the league. They play a complete 200-foot structured game with and without the puck and they do it fast. The Maple Leafs are a fast team as well; however, the Hurricane’s speed seemed to catch them a bit off guard to start the game.
The Maple Leafs didn’t get their second real shot on net until sixteen minutes into the game (their second credited shot came from their own blueline). By that time Carolina had 12 shots.
It is interesting looking at how the team statistics played out. The Maple Leafs showed their game plan was more of a “defense first” plan in support of their goalie Eric Kallgren, who was making his second NHL start. Overall the Hurricanes had the better of the Maple Leafs in every statistic, 61% of the shot attempts, 63% of the shots, 58% of the high-danger chances, and 59% of the expected goals.
If we remove the special teams’ play and empty-net statistics from the end of the game and focus on the five-on-five numbers only, it’s easy to see the “bend but don’t break attitude” the Maple Leafs employed. At five-on-five, Carolina had 58% of the shot attempts and 61% of the shots. However, the scoring chances were even at 26 apiece.
The Hurricanes only had one more high-danger chance (nine to eight) than the Maple Leafs. Naturalstattrick had the expected goals for the game at 1.93 for Carolina and 1.57 for Toronto, a difference of only 0.36 goals. That difference was easily countered by Kallgren’s 0.944 save percentage compared to Frederik Andersen’s 0.857%.
Comment Two: Did the Maple Leafs’ Game Bother Frederik Andersen?
Andersen always seemed to be at his best for the Maple Leafs the team was giving up a ton of shots and scoring chances. It seemed the busier Andersen was the better he played. Last night, it might have worked to the Maple Leafs’ advantage that they didn’t generate much offense early in the game. (from “Maple Leafs Mailbag: What’s Jack Campbell’s next contract worth?” Kevin McGran, Toronto Star, 18/03/22).
Because the Hurricanes started the game by pressing offensively, it didn’t give Andersen much of a chance to get settled into the game. Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe stated in the postgame that the team had “talked about how there are some benefits to not letting the goaltender on the other side get into the game and get comfortable.”
Andersen didn’t look great on either of the first two Maple Leafs’ goals, the backhander by Ilya Mikheyev in the first period or Mitch Marner’s goal in the second period. On Marner’s goal, we have to believe Andersen was sure Marner was going to pass to Bunting on the other side. It appeared by Marner’s nodding of his head after the goal he thought Andersen was expecting it as well.
Comment Three: Ilya Mikheyev Is Playing His Best Hockey – Ever?
Lately, Ilya Mikheyev has been playing his best hockey in a long time – maybe ever. After leading the Maple Leafs in shots on net versus the Dallas Stars with eight, he added five more shots to lead the team against the Hurricanes. He was also very physical in this game with three hits.
The David Kampf, Pierre Engvall, and Mikheyev line has been lights out for the Maple Leafs lately. When asked about their play following the Hurricanes’ game Keefe replied, “We have found something really nice here with Mikheyev and Engvall with Kampf. They have been great. You can slot them in and we can talk about them however you want, but I am playing those guys as much as anybody at even strength. I have that level of confidence in them.”
Looking Forward to the Maple Leafs’ Playoff Future
For the Maple Leafs to go an extended run in the postseason their third line could be the key. If they can play significant minutes against the opposing team’s top players, it would allow the Maple Leafs to give both top two lines better assignments.
As well, this line is a scoring threat because of its speed and the fact that it can transition so quickly. One issue the Maple Leafs have had recently during the playoffs is that they didn’t have depth scoring. That was most obvious against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Stanley Cup bubble when Keefe felt he had to load the team’s top line with scorers just to keep up.
Such desperation isn’t likely to happen again. The Maple Leafs might lose another playoff round, but it won’t be because they didn’t try to attend the team’s obvious problems.
[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.]
The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf