Goal Analysis – Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets Play-In Game #4

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This team man.

For 55 minutes, the Leafs had nothing going for them. Then they decided to turn it on in the final five minutes of the game.

That’s what is most frustrating with this team. Far too often this season the Leafs loved to pick and choose when they wanted to show up and play hard.

Post-game highlights can be found here.

John Tavares skates into the Blue Jackets zone and fires a low shot on net. Merzlikins kicks the puck out to Robertson on the right side of the ice. As Robertson goes to corral the loose puck, he blows a tire. Dubois grabs the loose puck instead and is off to the races. He blows by Holl before finding Atkinson in-front of the net for the easy goal.

Tough break for Robertson on this goal as he falls moments before grabbing the rebound. Not really sure what Justin Holl was doing on this goal. He gets caught flat-footed as Dubois picks up the puck.

Dubois and Atkinson come down two-on-one on Marincin and once again, the two-on-one is played poorly. I would have liked to have seen Marincin dive out on his stomach to block the passing lane and force Dubois to shoot.

The Leafs get hemmed in their own end on this goal. Hyman is able to break-up the Blue Jackets cycle, but immediately turns the puck over to Texier. Texier works low to high and sends the puck over to Savard at the right point. Savard goes D-to-D to his partner Gavrikov, who then takes a wrist-shot on net. The shot deflects off of Marner’s stick and past Andersen.

The Blue Jackets took full advantage of the Leafs inability to move the puck out of their own zone. Not sure how long exactly the Tavares line was on the ice but there was not a lot of movement from the forwards at any point on this goal.

Notice how all three forwards are A. up high in the defensive zone and B. all focused on Texier. Marner in particular has wandered too far away from his actual man (Gavrikov). He has to leave Texier for Tavares to grab and Hyman should ideally be a step or two closer to Savard.

As Texier dishes the puck over to Savard, both Marner and Tavares start to follow Texier. Tavares has the right idea, as Texier starts to go down low. Marner on the other hand, forgets to return to his point man Gavrikov. This gives Savard a clear passing lane over to his partner on the left side of the ice.

Marner remembers who his man is at the last second. He tries to hustle over to contest Gavrikov but he’s too late. He gets his stick in-front of Gavrikov’s shot, but doesn’t deflect the puck high enough. If Marner sticks to Gavrikov, he would have been positioned in-front of Gavrikov and therefore in his shooting lane.

Morgan Rielly has the puck in the Leafs zone. He’s waiting for his teammates to get in position but they take too long. As Rielly finally tries to move the puck, he hits the Blue Jackets forechecker Foligno. Foligno grabs the loose puck and sends it to the trailer Jenner, who skates in all alone and roofs it over Andersen’s blocker.

Here’s the overhead angle moments before Rielly turns the puck over to Foligno. It looks like Rielly is trying to pass the puck through Foligno and onto a streaking Marner’s stick. Rielly tried to make a high risk pass and it backfired on him.

Looking at this screenshot again, the only open Leafs player is Ceci, who is off to the right of Rielly. I can understand why Rielly tried to pass to Marner. He is already skating at a decent speed and is also the Leafs best playmaker currently on the ice. On the other hand, Ceci is wide open, but standing still. If Rielly passes to Ceci, it’s probably going to result in him dumping the puck into the Blue Jackets zone.

Sometimes the safe play is the right play.

The Leafs are in desperation mode here. Their season is on the line, there is 4:05 left on the clock, Andersen is pulled and the Leafs are six-on-five with an offensive zone faceoff. Tavares loses the draw, but Hyman is able to retrieve the puck and send it over to Marner. Marner and Rielly play a little catch before Marner sends the puck back down low to Hyman at the side of the net. Hyman spins and makes a no-look behind the back pass to Nylander who jams home the puck past Merzlikins.

God bless Zach Hyman. He’s one-on-two here and yet he still manages to win this puck battle. If he doesn’t, this goal probably doesn’t happen.

When Marner sends the puck back to Rielly at the point, it serves two purposes:

  1. Allow his teammates to get into position
  2. Draw out Foligno away from the play

Once Foligno has been drawn out, Rielly sends the puck back to Marner. With Foligno out of the play, the Jackets only have four players in defensive position.

Everyone knows Marner is passing this puck, but the question is to who. Riley Nash (#20) is blocking the passing lane to Tavares in the slot. Gustav Nyquist (#14) is in position to both stick-lift Tavares if the puck does get to him and also make a clean pass to Matthews difficult for Marner.

The one small mistake the Blue Jackets make is having Gavrikov and Savard on their off-sides. Notice how Gavrikov (#44) is left-handed, yet standing on the right side of the ice. Because of this, Gavrikov’s stick naturally drops down on the left side of his body toward Tavares, leaving the passing lane to Hyman open. If Savard was where Gavrikov is, Savard’s stick would have naturally dropped on his right side, thus blocking the passing lane to Hyman.

Once Hyman gets the puck at the side of the net, chaos ensues. Savard starts to puck watch and forgets to box out Nylander in-front. This allows Nylander to have enough time to whack the puck past Merzlikins.

The Leafs bobble the puck in the neutral zone, but Marner is able to recover it and send it over to a streaking Matthews. Matthews delays and finds Tavares all alone in the slot, who then rifles a shot top-shelf on Merzlikins.

I’ve re-watched this goal countless times and I’m still baffled by Scott Harrington (#4) here. When I first re-watched this goal I thought he was just trying to block the Tavares shot. After watching it a few more times, I noticed Harrington shoulder checks once on this play. He sees Tavares and assumes he’s going to go hard to the net, hence why Harrington is almost lying down in the screenshot. Tavares never heads to the net, he just hovers around the slot.

When Tavares receives the puck in the slot, Harrington has already committed to blocking a passing lane to no one, so he is unable to close the gap on Tavares to contest his shot. Tavares is able to corral the pass, get set and shoot a perfect shot on net for the goal.

Nylander breaks into the Blue Jackets zone with speed and drops the puck off to Hyman who is on his left. Hyman skates down low and turns back, spotting a wide open Auston Matthews on the right point. Matthews fakes a shot and sends the puck back over to Hyman, who shoots five-hole on Merzlikins for the goal.

When Hyman initiates the turn back, Matthews is wide open. This is because Boone Jenner has wandered way too low in his zone and is standing shoulder to shoulder with Savard. If Boone Jenner is higher in the zone, Matthews wouldn’t have the time and space to make the play he did.

When Matthews received the puck from Hyman, everyone thought he was going to shoot. Jenner and Nyquist both collapse on Matthews to block his shooting lane, but Atkinson gets caught puck watching and leaves his man Hyman wide open. Also thank god Marner got out of the way of this pass.

I don’t think Merzlikins saw this puck until the last second. Jones is perfectly in line with Merzlikins vision, with Tavares also in the way. Hyman has a small shooting lane here. Under Jones’ stick and under Merzlikins pad, but just enough to the right that it doesn’t hit Merzlikins’ stick.

Super happy that Zach Hyman scored this goal. He probably scored this goal a million times in his driveway as a kid.

Rielly draws a tripping penalty on Foligno, which sends the Leafs to the powerplay. Leafs lose the draw and Savard tries to clear the puck. Rielly stops it at the blueline and send the puck down to Marner. Marner makes a beautiful no-look pass to Tavares, who find Matthews in the slot for a one-timer that he rifles past Merzlikins.

Off the clearing attempt, Marner does a good job of getting his stick on Savard’s which keeps Savard from shooting the puck off the glass and out. If you re-watch this goal, you can hear Marner’s stick hitting Savard’s as he tries to clear the puck.

As Marner receives the puck from Rielly, he knows where Tavares is. This is why teams have systems in place. They give players a general idea of where their teammates will be on the ice at a given time. The Blue Jackets make the mistake of all three guys collapsing on Marner here. Atkinson in particular leaves his man Tavares to try to support his teammates on Marner. To me it looks like Atkinson might be cheating for a rush chance the other way. Once Marner sends the puck over to Tavares, Atkinson is now caught and chasing the play.

While this is going on, Matthews is lurking about, waiting for Tavares to get the puck. Once again, Tavares knows the general area where Matthews is and sends a perfect saucer-pass over to him. Matthews gets his cleanest look of the series and he doesn’t miss, wiring the puck into the back of the net.

What a wild 24 hours for the Leafs. Leafs blow a 3-0 lead and lose in overtime. The next night, the Blue Jackets blow a 3-0 lead and lose in overtime. This team finally fought back, they didn’t just roll over and die.

The Leafs are still looking for their first series win in the Auston Matthews era. They will look to close out a series for the first time on Sunday night.