Okay so you’re Mike Babcock and Games 1 and 2 didn’t quiiiiiite go your way.
You lost two games by a combined score of 12-4 and frankly neither of them felt even that close. On Saturday, it was 7-3 and might as well have been 100-1 for all the life the Bruins looked ready to give your team.
So now you have two days to figure out what you can do here. The problem of course is that there might not be all that much you actually can do. It’s fair to say that the Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak line has fried everyone they’ve faced. Each went at least plus-17 in 5-on-5 shot attempts over these first two games and at least one of them has been in on 10 of Boston’s 12 goals in the series, including all seven on Saturday.
You do not need to be any sort of hockey genius to understand what’s gone sideways here. The opponent’s big line is running riot on a level you basically never see anyone do in any playoff (let alone against the team that finished seventh in the regular season), your best shutdown center got himself suspended for a series of dumb and dangerous hits in Game 1, and the right side of your defense probably couldn’t cut it in the AHL.
You might also have some theories on hand about how conservatively this team, rife with talent, has played all year (very). Or maybe the defensemen that are getting the most run-out against that other team’s top line (Jake Gardiner and Ron Hainsey). Or perhaps who leads your team in PK time (Ron Hainsey and Roman Polak). Or possibly your roster decisions overall (any one of the good young players could be in the lineup instead of the bad old ones).
There is going to be the temptation to change some stuff, and many of the ideas being advanced by the television media, even mid-game on Saturday night, were insane. “Dress Matt Martin in Game 3” was discussed at various points by numerous television personalities, with the idea being that you’re gonna have to send some sort of message and establish a more physical game at home, where you have last change. This is obviously a patently foolish idea advanced by people who remember when King Clancy was freshly retired.
Here’s what I would change about the on-ice approach following a two-game run in which you scored just 25 percent of the 16 combined goals: Very little. The Leafs gave up four goals on their first six shots on Saturday. It happens.
What’s that thing they always say when your goalie gets crushed so bad his head pops like an overinflated beach ball (which by the way is exactly what happened to Freddie Andersen in Game 2)? You just have to put it behind you. Goalie has a bad game and you say his big thing has to be to forget it. If a goalie has a bad night, it wasn’t because he bumped his head and forgot how to be a goalie. It could be because the other team got more scoring chances than usual, or because of funny bounces.
On some level the Leafs’ problems are more endemic than a few bad bounces or whatever, but the reason they tell goalies to forget bad performances is because goalies tend to know pretty well how to stop pucks and well, the Leafs know how to have success on the ice this season, even against good teams. Put another way, if they could get by okay with Auston Matthews missing a bunch of games, the problems now are not strictly related to not having Kadri.
One finds it difficult to imagine that simply juggling the lines and pairings — the latter of which Babcock did mid-game on Saturday — is going to be the move that unlocks this series for Toronto, either. It’s something Nashville has done to great effect this season, putting a boat anchor like Alexei Emelin on P.K. Subban’s pairing and a competent-third-pair guy like Matt Irwin with Roman Josi. The Leafs’ defense frankly isn’t all that deep, and if you gotta try putting Roman Polak with someone who can cover for his total inability to skate, then that’s something worth trying. But if it doesn’t work, well, I mean it’s Roman Polak and people have been saying all year you gotta bench his ass in favor of Connor Carrick or someone like that.
This is the big problem with the Leafs, and with Babcock in particular, is that there are just guys he capital-T trusts which he capital-S shouldn’t. But maybe maybe maybe the fact that Hainsey has been out there for six goals in a little more than 38 minutes, and both Polak and Nikita Zaitsev are at four against each, should tell you something. (And yeah, Morgan Rielly’s been out for five against, but at least he’s “only” a minus-2, because the team also scored three of its four goals when he was on the ice. And plus, I mean, you gotta play somebody.)
Or here’s an idea: Maybe even if you are sticking with the same six defenders (and you shouldn’t!), you make it so that your top pairing plays like 25 minutes a night instead of 20, because when you keep the time differences pretty evenly divided, that means Roman Polak is still playing 19 minutes a night, and that’s, uhh, suboptimal.
I guess the larger idea here is that you might not be able to do much to slow down that top line, right? So instead of trying to slow them down with Polak or Matt Martin or whatever other almost-literal sandbags you can dress, you try to match their speed.
That way, if they’re gonna beat you (which they almost certainly will regardless of what you do), at least you can try to go punch for punch instead of just hoping their arms get tired from punching you really hard in the face repeatedly for 120 more minutes of this series.
Just something to think about. Not trying to tell anyone how to do their jobs.
What We Learned: Playoff edition
Anaheim Ducks: Honestly the takeaway from these first two games, in which the Ducks lost both games and in doing so gave up their home-ice advantage, is that they played real Randy Carlyle-type hockey. Which is obviously to say that y’know, a fast team like the Sharks always seemed likely to beat them. I don’t know how the Ducks, as currently constituted both on the ice and behind the bench, fix that problem. But if anyone can do it … it’s probably not Randy Carlyle.
Boston Bruins: Even as a person who lives in Boston and follows the Bruins pretty closely as a result, we haven’t really heard a lot about what Boston’s done right in this series, and rather more like everything Toronto’s done wrong. Understandable, I guess, because what they’ve done right is “Have David Pastrnak go all the way off” and “Not screw up when the top line is off the ice.”
Colorado Avalanche: I guess the nice thing you can say about this series is the Avs are making it a lot more interesting than anyone probably had any right to expect but that they’re still looking pretty likely to lose in five games, max. One can’t help but think the officiating, especially in Game 2, helped with that because the refs got more screen time than some fourth-line guys in this one. But okay, we’re all getting where we were going anyway, I guess.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Here’s a potentially revolutionary idea: Don’t give the Capitals four power plays in the third period of a one-goal playoff game. And okay, sure, one of them was puck over the glass, and one of them was a goaltender interference call on a net drive where the defender shoved the forward from behind. You can’t coach the former out of a player and you shouldn’t coach the latter out of them. But still, the Caps had long since gone into “push for a goal mode” so it’s like ah, hmm let’s try to avoid that going forward. But then again they won in overtime again, so hey, as long as you can get your goalie to stop 50-something shots every night you’re in great shape.
Los Angeles Kings: B-R-U-T-A-L late meltdown to put this team up against the wall heading into Game 4. They played well but stop me if you’ve heard this before: The Kings are having trouble scoring. I know Marc-Andre Fleury is having a great year but you gotta make him work a little harder than the Kings have to this point. It’s a sad state of affairs that these guys are making Deryk Engelland look like Nik Hjalmarsson but here we are: Three goals in almost 11 periods of hockey. Good lord.
Minnesota Wild: Okay so that was a nice rebound for a team that looked not only dead in the water but also like really bloated after having been exposed to the elements for a good long while. And hey, as long as the Jets keep taking 25 dumb penalties a game, it’s possible (but not probable) that they can score enough for the rest of the series to make this interesting. I’m not holding my breath or anything, but it would be nice for Bruce Boudreau to get everyone off his back for like five minutes.
Nashville Predators: I don’t have a link for this, but Ryan Hartman scored an empty-net goal to put the Preds up 5-3 with like a minute left and the color guy, who I forget who it was now, goes, “That’s not him trying to be selfish and pad his stats,” because god forbid anyone do anything that could even potentially be construed as individualistic in this sport. Imagine feeling you need to explain that. Get a grip. No over 40 should be allowed to say anything about hockey. I don’t care anymore.
New Jersey Devils: This is almost literally a one-man team at this point. The extent to which the Devils are getting run out of the building in this series when Taylor Hall is off the ice has been considerable. When he’s on they’re minus-3.6 in attempts per 60 at 5-on-5. When he’s off? Minus-9.4. The Devils are almost three times worse when Hall’s getting a breather. That’s amazing.
Philadelphia Flyers: Easy to blame Brian Elliott for this one — and you shouldn’t not-blame him here to be honest — but if you put the Penguins on seven power plays in a game, my theory is that they’re going to score approximately five goals against you. Just something to think about.
Pittsburgh Penguins: That Brian Dumoulin goal was the truth, man. That was Sid Crosby torching a legit MVP candidate and very casually throwing a backhand diagonal no-look cross-ice pass to really twist the knife and make a maybe-there’s-some-life-there to haha-of-course-there-isn’t in a real hurry. Four points for Crosby in this one, and it’s truly wild that this isn’t close to the best performance of the weekend.
San Jose Sharks: This is some kinda take. The Sharks might get complacent and lose to the Ducks? I mean, I guess that’s something, but if that’s what you thought after watching these two games, I dunno bud. Are we really saying that this is, historically, why the Sharks have been perceived as “chokers?” Complacency? Alright, sure.
Tampa Bay Lightning: The idea that fans should reject “process” because of the end result in Game 2 is a weird one but there’s a better way to say that than “Don’t worry about it.” Yeah the Lightning started to let the Devils back in a bit in Game 2, but also they were up 5-1 fairly early in the game and score effects are a real thing. And the Devils chipped away at that lead to the point that it was only 5-3 in the end. Oh no!!!!
Toronto Maple Leafs: Auston Matthews’ take on this series so far is a pretty good one: “[Stuff] happens in hockey.” One imagines he did not say “stuff.” Babcock echoed a similar sentiment in his postgame presser and that gives me some hope they won’t put Matt Martin out there across from Marchand in hopes of drawing a penalty from Marchand doing some dumbass Marchand thing. But with Babcock I guess you never know. That guy can galaxy-brain with the best of ’em.
Vegas Golden Knights: James Neal is having some kind of series. Three shots, including the go-ahead goal, in Game 3, to go with eight hits. And in Game 2? Two hits and 11 — ELEVEN — shots. This is a guy who is engaged, gang. Not that I’d want to keep getting by on third-period flurries, but if you’re holding the opponent off the board at the other end of the ice, well, that probably gets you to the divisional final.
Washington Capitals: Safe to say the Caps’ goaltending controversy isn’t anywhere near over because boy oh boy did Philip Grubauer look bad in both Games 1 and 2. He’s conceded 8 on 49 so far in this series and folks, for me, that just isn’t gonna be good enough to win you games. Which I guess is the big risk when your starter craps the bed for the regular season.
Winnipeg Jets: If I’m Paul Maurice, Ben Chiarot doesn’t get a lot of ice time down the stretch here. He took a couple bad penalties that led to goals, and was on the ice for a few more. Of course, if Tyler Myers can’t go for Game 4, Maurice probably doesn’t have a choice, but anyone who watched five Jets games this year could have told you Chiarot is bad and was likely to be a liability if given any kind of opportunity to do so.
Play of the Weekend
This John Gibson save was rrrrrreal good.
Gold Star Award
This Pastrnak kid might have a future in the sport. He tied a cap-era record with six points in Game 2. Six! And also he’s only 21 so he probably still has like three, four, five more years of improving.
Minus of the Weekend
That “you gotta dress Matt Martin for Game 3” take is the dumbest thing I ever heard about this sport. So of course a number of people with six-figure salaries are out here saying it. Any dumbass fan off the street could come up with these takes for the cost of a couple beers. I truly don’t understand.
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User “illpucks” came up with a whopper.
To Edm: Matthews, Marner
To Tor: McDavid
(All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)