The best Leafs’ Galchenyuk can do to stay in the lineup in the playoffs

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The best Leafs’ Galchenyuk can do to stay in the lineup in the playoffs


Two weeks ago, I opened an article on “Leafs’ needs” as the trade deadline approaches, talking about their need for a top-nine striker (Hello, Nick Foligno), and more precisely Alex Galchenyuk. I explained that it’s not impossible that what the Leafs found in him (quality play) is real and lasting, but that it probably isn’t smart to do it. bet on it as your one and only plan. My reasoning wasn’t too deep, I don’t think, as I mentioned that his commendable NHL credentials (height, production quality seasons, age, high pick) combined with teams worse than the Leafs severing ties with him indicate probable gaps in his game.
With the deadline behind us and with injuries that pushed Galchenyuk into an even bigger role on the Leafs’ lead line, two things seem clear to me. The first is that he can hook his talents and efforts into that roster slot, his goal to open the scoring on Thursday is one example. But second, he won’t have many looks there in the playoffs – if he stays in the lineup at all – if he doesn’t prioritize the defensive obligations that exist… in the offensive zone.

What I mean by ‘defensive obligations in the offensive zone’ is simply not to be attracted to the siren song of the hockey puck and, if necessary, to stay in the safe parts of the ice where the game remains in front of you, at least until your team wins said puck. Sometimes those spins seem complicated, but as a forward you really have to notice one thing (maybe the guy who was F3 is diving after the puck, or a D-man is pinching), and you just have to cover. this place more defensive for a hot second.

On Thursday night, Galchenyuk was pulled from those rotations by offensive temptations, contributing to two goals against the Leafs. Let’s take a look at them, and we’ll end up discussing what this weakness means for the Leafs. Because if they decide they can’t trust him on a good offensive line, will there be a place for him in the playoffs?

The first goal we’ll be looking at is the first from Kyle Connor who puts the Jets 2-1 in the opening frame. Take a look before you talk about what went wrong.

The game started moments before that with a Galchenyuk dump-in and forward control which was pretty standard and uneventful. The puck changed sides from left to right, John Tavares stayed on it and Galchenyuk retreated with a good run in F2.

Marner, as he so often does, takes on the role of high-level forward, staying on top of the play.

If you are Sheldon Keefe, you can’t complain about how the battle is going in terms of early positioning. When the puck is low in a 2v2, it’s mostly a battle of effort, technique and luck to find it, while Marner stays on top.

The next photo (below) is awesome. The Jets’ left winger looks oddly low, but that makes sense considering they’re still adjusting puck possession – which means it’s not exactly the positioning of the cover’s cover yet. zone D – and the Leafs are in a really good position as the battle progresses. (This includes Jake Muzzin crawling as a center-back. If the Leafs get the puck he can be on offense, if the Jets get it his gap will be tighter than if he were taken out).

The puck is pushed back behind the net, and the spin here is pretty black and white. F3 can re-attack, becoming F1, the next attacker closest to the puck (in this case Tavares) can join him as F2 in the chase, and the furthest away from it all can shoot directly over the scrum. and take on the role of F3. .

Above, Muzzin is in the right place to pinch the wall, which also allows for fairly straightforward rotation. As he comes down the wall, his partner D can slide and F3 can enter where the other defender was previously. Galchenyuk must return now – you can feel the direction of the threat shift.

But Galchenyuk doesn’t back off straight – he goes sideways through the net first, presumably drawn to the alluring melody of the puck, just long enough to notice things go downhill and the Jets come out of the zone.

And it doesn’t take much, but if he just takes a more defensive lane, he’s down that lane on the backcheck. At one point he was directly over the guy who finally scored the goal. If he comes back right away after the game has switched sides, he might even skate upside down alongside Justin Holl. (Holl, for what it’s worth, it looks like he wants to skate forward to Scheifele to defend him, convinced he has help on the other side.)

It’s not a big blunder, not at all, but Connor was his guy.

Watch it again in full if you wish.

In the next quarter, the Leafs are in the attacking zone and win a draw against Jake Muzzin, who shoots wide. Ten seconds later, the Jets score.

The puck enters the corner and the weak side defenseman – Justin Holl – is in the best place to put pressure on and try to win the puck back. Mitch Marner sees the Jets looking to fly into the zone to attack (and open up the ice where he’s skating) and scramble to get back with him. That’s kind of the key here – Marner takes on that F3 role once again as a high level attacker concerned with defense.

Because of this, when Holl enters the game and with Tavares below him in the attacking zone, it’s another straightforward read for Galchenyuk. Go out and fill Holl’s place until this battle is settled. D below, forward.

The thing is, he’s taking on the role of Holl, lucky to, but where it ends up isn’t where a D-man plays while his attackers are in a 2v2 battle along the wall. They are either in battle or out of battle, not in no man’s land, neither in aid nor in a safe defensive location. (It could have been better if he had fully do not covered for Holl’s pinch, and instead, just launched into battle.)

The puck shoots out in the middle, and because Marner has been paying attention to Pierre-Luc Dubois outside the area, he has a good view of that and can jump to catch the loose puck. In theory, anyway. Dubois does a good job tying his stick, and that’s all it takes for a fairly harmless moment to turn into an unchallenged breakaway.

It’s a matter of inches, because look in the box below at how higher Galchenyuk should have been to get the body position on Scheifele – like maybe a step or two? If he just had his skates on the blue blanket for Holl it’s not far from dangerous, it’s dead play and maybe Zone O possession.

So now he’s caught off guard and Scheifele is gone. Speaking of no man’s land, Muzzin is taken by a matter of circumstance. The game probably feels harmless to him (until it isn’t), so he probably thinks he’s just going to step aside a bit before retiring to defend a possible rush, and because of the way which he had already decided to close this gap. -up pivot, it’s absolutely done.

This below is a great example of how hockey screenshots look, because while the image doesn’t look much like a still image, even a moving frame or two shows you that it is. a clear separation.

A GIF of less than two seconds:

It’s just a question of positioning. Marner is tied up, fine, but Galchenyuk is in the wrong place and Muzzin turns the wrong way.

You can review everything here.

So the question is, how important do you think these positional errors are? They weren’t many, were they? Do you think these are the type of one-off events that happen to all players, or do you think they point to a player who isn’t good at that part of the game and can’t be trusted?

Doing this assessment is a big part of coaching. Because you can find the best defensive forwards in the league – Mark Stone, Ryan O’Reilly, Patrice Bergeron, you name him – doing the same things Galchenyuk did in these clips, and much worse. It happens to everyone sometimes. On the other hand, some players are extremely good but this spatial perception, this ability to read pieces and how they might play out, it never comes.

Sometimes players who struggle with this part of the game can figure out that they are being judged on it, they can still protect themselves on the defensive side of things, and for a while you can get the good parts of their game with this. defensive leaning. . But it doesn’t last forever because these players end up getting comfortable, and that’s unnatural for them.

Generalities aside, I think this is an issue with the Galchenyuk game that many teams have taken note of, and that the Leafs will need to consider heading into the playoffs. If this is a guy who notices that positioning is extremely important to his place on the depth chart, they can probably get some gains by bringing him in. This probably means it’s best used to get in and out of the roster, knowing it’s unstable. Earth. It’s not a fun way to play, but it’s NHL and not house hockey, and if he’s going to stay in the league, it might just have to be that way until one. other team wants to give him a futures contract.

I don’t know where the Leafs are sitting on this, but let’s face it – if you’re nervous about a player’s ability to execute their role in the system, you’re probably not comfortable with it. them to play great minutes for you in your top. -six. And if Galchenyuk isn’t in the top six, will he still give you the same effort with increased defensive engagement in your bottom six? Is he even the type of guy you want in the bottom six if you’re hoping for downtime, physical, or PK minutes?

If the Leafs are healthy in the playoffs and you have doubts about Galchenyuk, it probably looks like this:

Hyman-Matthews-Marner
Foligno-Tavares-Nylander
Mikheyev-Nash-Kerfoot
A mix of Thornton-Galchenyuk-Engvall-Spezza-Simmonds (Robertson?)

If Galchenyuk is at his best, and you feel like you can play with him a lot, it looks like:

Hyman-Matthews-Marner
Galchenyuk-Tavares-Nylander
Mikheyev-Nash-Foligno
A mix of Thornton-Engvall-Kerfoot-Spezza-Simmonds (Robertson?)

Your last six improve a lot when Galchenyuk pushes the good players down. Looking at these two groups though, the group with Galchenyuk in the top nine seems more preferable to me, and I’m not sure they would want it on that fourth row due to the type of minutes they would want. give to these players.

I’m sure the Leafs are hoping he can lock in that part of his game, because a good Galchenyuk makes him a deeper group. I imagine his play over the next 12 games and his attention there will make a difference in how their roster looks on the first night of the playoffs.

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