The Toronto Maple Leafs must find a way to win games. Game 4 of the series against the Boston Bruins showed more of what we have seen from them all season.
There is a lack of character, especially now that Nazem Kadri is suspended. Intestinal fortitude must be widespread. Also missing is an attention to detail, finishing checks and playing positional hockey in the defensive zone are two examples.
Review of the Maple Leafs play in Game 4 of the first-round playoff series against the Bruins suggest it’s time to sweat the small stuff. It is time to dig deep and find that extra gear. It is time to expose hockey’s intangibles and win the one-on-one battles being waged all over the ice.
Bruins First Power-Play Goal
On the first power-play goal scored by the Bruins, a shot from the point hit Nikita Zaitsev’s hand or wrist. No doubt it hurt, maybe as much as the pain Mitch Marner felt after he blocked a David Pastrnak blast in the dying seconds of Game 3.
What did Marner do? He quickly realized he needed to block the next one too. Marner said he knew it was going to be a tough shot for Frederik Andersen to save.
What did Zaitsev do after he took a shot that caused some pain? He cringed, removed his glove slightly to take a look, and then realized he better put the glove back on to help Andersen because Brad Marchand was positioned at the top of the crease. Zaitsev was too late, Marchand had a tap in for the first goal of the game.
Skating & Finishing Checks
Two minutes after the Maple Leafs’ scored to tie it at two, Jake Muzzin pinched at the Bruins blue line and lost the battle. He likes to pinch and has some success doing it. On this occasion the timing was ill-advised. The momentum of the game shifted in the Maple Leafs favor when the tying goal was scored.
The missed pinch resulted in a two-on-one rush that started just outside the Bruins blue line. Zaitsev was the lone defenseman and Marner used his speed to chase down one of the Bruins’ forwards, Pastrnak.
As the play approached the Maple Leafs blue line, Zaitsev had Marchand and Marner was a half a stick length or less away from Pastrnak.
What happened next? Marchand attempted a cross-ice pass to Pastrnak, who had Marner right on his tail. Marchand’s pass hit Zaitsev’s skate and the play appeared to be broken up. That’s what Marner must have thought, he eased off on his pursuit of Pastrnak.
Unfortunately, Marchand’s failed pass attempt ricocheted off of the blade of Zaitsev’s skate and onto Marchand’s stick. The second attempt was successful and Pastrnak tipped the puck into the top corner of the net. Had Marner not eased up and stuck with his check he could have prevented the goal that made it 3 -2 Bruins.
Is there value, or a reason, to pick on Marner? No, and that’s not was this is about. It’s about providing an example of the small stuff that becomes the difference between winning and losing hockey games.
Bruins Second Power-Play Goal
The Bruins scored their second power-play goal 95 seconds after Pastrnak scored to make it 3 -2.
The penalty kill started with a faceoff in the Maple Leafs zone, to the right of Andersen. Zach Hyman lost the draw and the puck went to Pastrnak who played the blue line. Andersen saved Pastrnak’s shot and the rebound went to Ron Hainsey.
Hainsey fanned on an attempt to clear the puck. It gave Patrice Bergeron a backhand shot on goal. The rebound ended up on Marchard’s stick and Andersen made a terrific save. Zaitsev cleared the rebound into the corner to the left of Andersen.
The flurry of activity that followed the lost faceoff settled down and the Maple Leafs were able to set up for the next sequence on the penalty kill. Marchard and Hyman were in the corner where Zaitsev had cleared the rebound.
Bergeron positioned himself in the faceoff circle to the left of the net. Marner had him covered. Zaitsev bumped Marcus Johansson at the side of the net and Johansson rolled off the check and stood below the goal line. Zaitsev kept one eye on him and the other on Marchard and Hyman.
Hainsey stood between Zaitsev and Marner and created a very odd I-formation. The entire right side of the ice was unprotected. Hyman lost the loose puck battle to Marchand and Pastrnak made a move off the blue line and down the open space on the right side.
Marchand’s pass found its way past Hainsey and onto Pastrnak’s stick, who scored on Andersen’s blocker side.
There is a lot of small stuff to sweat about on the play: a lost faceoff, a failed clearing attempt, a lost loose puck battle, and a poor set up.
It’s Time for the Maple Leafs to Sweat the Small Stuff
There is an urgency for the Maple Leafs to give more attention to the small stuff. It can be the difference between winning and losing.
Ray Ferraro was quoted by John Fitz-Gerald in the Toronto Star saying, “Hockey is a succession of small battles waged all over the ice, and compete level refers to a player who fights to win more of those battles than they lose,” (from ‘You gotta have heart: Defining hockey’s intangibles’ – Toronto Star – 11/01/15).
The Maple Leafs’ players need to be worried and they need to battle. They must sweat to resolve the small stuff and compete in every aspect of the game, for 60-minutes or more. Whatever it takes.