1. The super line was great, but still a bad idea.
Towards the end of Game 4, Sheldon Keefe gathered his big guns – call it their Money Line, their All-Star Game line, their Desperation Line, whatever you want – and it just happened. The Leafs came back from three goals and won. So in Game 5 he decided to leave them together, which resulted in a mix of melodies in the wake of this group.
I imagine the thought was this: this group can be so dominant that you have to imagine they will get two, maybe three goals, in 60 minutes. Columbus is struggling to score, so if the rest of the roster can at least hang on, we’ll be in a good position to win.
This logic is good, but unfortunately the group did not score despite a dominant play. This is the biggest factor in any collapse. But going further it stripped the Leafs of what was Assumed be their advantage. The teams were Assumed having to choose between giving the behemoths Auston Matthews or John Tavares their first line / pair, leaving at least one to “feast on”. Again, in theory. This is Assumed be the strength of this team, which is Assumed to include a third line (Kapanen, Kerfoot, and Johnsson or whatever they decided) that Assumed to pack some offensive punch, too.
Combining their bigger offensive players on a line it played into the hands of Columbus as they aren’t as strong throughout their forward lineup but have a great defensive line and a D-pair. He let them down. Leafs with two lines that have played together… not at all this year. Hyman-Nylander-Kapanen has seen six seconds as a group this season, and Johnsson-Kerfoot-Mikheyev has seen none. These six players did not seem familiar together, as one would expect. Maybe you wouldn’t expect them to watch enough so lost, but surely they couldn’t expect too much.
If this was the perfect roster building, you’d think they would have been rolling it out all season. There is a reason they didn’t.
Toronto should have started more typically and, if frustrated, removed the nuclear option from the big money line later in the game. Instead, they started with and then walked away in the third when it was clear the middle six couldn’t keep their heads above water in their first game together. It was an expensive choice.
2. Missing Jake Muzzin for three games hurt and hurt. It was predictable, and maybe the difference between winning and losing for this Leafs team. But if losing a player destroys the team and submerines their chances, that’s not enough.
3. Hot take here, but it’s OK do not to get a take on Freddy Andersen. Liam Foudy’s Game 5 goal was brutal, but overall Andersen was at least average in the series, making a number of saves that surely were quickly forgotten as they didn’t come in.
This is neither a defense of him nor a criticism. Getting an average goalie is never a given, and the Leafs have at least got it from him in this series. He was fine. There is no guarantee that they can find the league average elsewhere. They know he can get hot during stretching. He’s on contract for another year. Unless another good option presents itself, Andersen will likely be there. He is neither the reason for the failure of the team nor blameless.
4. Coming into the series, I thought for sure there would be a time for Kasperi Kapanen where he would open a game. He scored a big goal for the Leafs against Boston in Game 7 last year. He scored an OT winner against Washington in the 2017 qualifiers. He scored the OT winner for world juniors. But it never came to him.
It also didn’t come for Alex Kerfoot, who was flying when the Leafs all came together. It didn’t come for Ilya Mikheyev, who was the team’s MVP during the Phase 3 training camps. It just didn’t come at all for the supporting cast in a series, they were. supposed to be better than the other team’s middle six. The fourth row was great for much of the series – especially Kyle Clifford and Jason Spezza – but expectations were low there. The almost non-existent depth offensive.
5. I can’t believe how often the Leafs have skated past the net, looking for a pass or pass through the crease instead of just throwing a leg, and just driving the puck home during this series. , especially in Game 5.
Yes, they are a skilled team that can make precise plays and they don’t have to get dirty to score. But given the difficulty of scoring in this series and the score in Game 5, I think they could have done worse than bringing the puck to the paint and upset the Columbus goaltender. Do you remember the schoolyard basketball shooter “21?” Sometimes when a guy has found his shot from the free throw line, you have to throw the ball out of the line to get him to move his feet and come out of his groove. Driving the net can do the same against hot goalies.
The games in this video below get a lot more dangerous if the guys try to get the puck through the paint. You are rarely bothered to try this like before.
6. Morgan Rielly was excellent, and Auston Matthews was too. I know Rielly’s numbers weren’t mind blowing, but he was visible, jumping and playing the big minutes the team needed him. Maybe he’s not Victor Hedman, but he’s still a top guy for the Leafs.
In my opinion, Matthews has stepped into the top of the attacking world in the world, with Nathan MacKinnon, Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby and whoever you think is starting to enter the conversation at this point.
7. Mitch Marner’s year was statistically good, albeit disappointing, but it is more than ever under the microscope. The contract grind has not been greeted favorably by the Leafs loyalists, and with the salary cap remaining flat, it looks worse for the team now that they have some tough decisions to make. His presentation from the last two playoffs doesn’t help him in conversations about his future with the club.
My gut feeling is that the Leafs believe he’s an integral part of their vision and that he will settle his game uninspired and be part of why this team will end up overcoming the bump, if they make it one. day. And I think it’s true. When Kyle Dubas said the famous “we can and we will” quote about signing his young goal scorers, it was about letting that core have as many cracks as possible in the playoffs, deeming them too good to fail. not ultimately succeed. The Capitals have floundered in the postseason for years, but kicked the box enough and were ultimately rewarded. I bet Leafs management thinks the same can happen in Toronto.
8. Playing Andreas Johnsson on Nick Robertson was the right choice. Robertson scored in Game 3, but over the first four games of the series he regularly looked like a teenager getting his first NHL games under brutal circumstances.
Johnsson is playing the type of skill / courage combo game that seemed perfectly suited to this series, he had fresh legs and he paid millions to be a big part of the Leafs. Imagine he was available, the Leafs lost and fans discovered they had left him out of the roster for an 18-year-old who was playing 12 minutes per game. The staff would be killed for that.
Now, was Johnsson good? He was not. He had a good chance of not being able to convert, but he looked a little tired at times and generally in bad shape. If he had played consistently, he probably sees Mikheyev here just pulling him into the open net. Another pass!
So the decision was sound, but the results just weren’t there.
9. What comes from all of this now will be fascinating to follow. Are the Leafs adding more little young players next season with Rasmus Sandin, Timothy Liljgren, Nick Robertson, and sticking to the vision Dubas has set as the way forward?
Or do they see how welcome Clifford has been, recognize how bare the closet is on defense when one of their best defenders is injured, and sacrifice some of what makes this work. iteration of the Leafs in order to diversify a bit? With the flat salary cap, a lack of success, and the weaknesses of this Leafs group on display, taking this group from good to big won’t be easy. There are tough decisions to be made in the months to come.