In yet another game decided by overtime, the Maple Leafs are now on the brink of elimination after a hard-fought 2-1 defeat in Game 5.
Your game in ten:
1. There has been scrums and tension between different players at different times in the first four games, but tonight was the first time it felt like there was genuine bad blood boiling over between the two teams following the Nazem Kadri hit on Alex Ovechkin late in the first. Ovechkin retaliated, so did Matt Niskanen with a two-handed slash, and Tom Wilson got into it with Kadri as well (both were called for unsportsmanlike conduct at the end of the second). Matt Martin also got into it with Ovechkin before the third period started. It took five games for the two teams to really hate each other, but we’re there. Playoffs!
2. Speaking of the Niskanen slash, the refs clearly saw it because they called it (correctly), but no one on the broadcast — from the guys in the truck to the commentators – did, and it started a firestorm on Twitter during the intermission with Kadri getting labelled a diver. That was a pretty hard two-hander to the back of Kadri’s knee. It’s hard to believe no one in the CBC crew caught it, and the results were unfortunate because the majority of the viewing audience took the broadcasters’ word that it was a sales job by Kadri with a penalty mistakenly assessed to Niskanen on the play.
3. As for the Kadri hit — the key component of a clipping infraction is that the contact takes place at or below the knee. It looked like Kadri got part knee and part thigh to me, although the optics weren’t helped by Ovechkin trying to evade the hit. That hit resides in a grey area of the rulebook for sure, but a minor penalty seemed adequate. Especially given Ovechkin came back and played, a suspension would be above and beyond here (just my .02).
4. The Capitals cashed in on that power play opportunity to open the scoring before the end of the first period. Leo Komarov got drawn out too high pressuring Shattenkirk and Martin Marincin didn’t front the shot well, leaving Nick Backstrom with a lot of time and space to measure his shot in the right circle before TJ Oshie banged in the 1-0 goal on a rebound off of the crossbar.
Kadri later did his best to make up for the penalty by drawing the one off of Niskanen, but the Leafs failed to take advantage in what was a miserable night for the Toronto power play. Special teams obviously swung the game. There was not much between the two teams at even strength; by the possession numbers, the Capitals carried a slight edge in the first, the Leafs played a very strong second, and the Capitals again carried a slight edge in the third, but there was very little between the two sides overall at 5v5.
5. Some initial impressions on what was happening on the Leafs’ power play, which went 0 of 4 and put just four shots on goal over those eight minutes:
Obviously, it all started with the entries. The Capitals are determined to take away the right side (which is what Jay Beagle basically alluded to before the series started) on Nylander and Marner, with their forechecker angling them off into a defenceman standing up at the blue line. They were also pressing hard on half-wall and were prepared for the curl back or quick drop pass to the D right after entries. The Leafs were never able to comfortably set up.
On entries, the drop, or lateral pass to a parallel rusher, were not fooling the Capitals PKers whatsoever, with the blue line stacked and no Capital even attempting to pressure up ice. The Leafs’ most successful controlled entries were up the left side (Matthews, Boyle).
Nylander seemed rushed and rattled by the pressure when the Leafs established their set up. He had a couple of bobbles/bad passes or fired shots high/wide that led to dump-outs. Matthews also missed high and wide and cleared the zone that way once. While it all started with entries, the Leafs didn’t win enough draws, didn’t move the puck well, and didn’t hit the net while in the zone.
On the final PP especially, they took to simply dumping it in with a hard ring for the winger on the far side to try to collect. Their best (and only good) chance on the power play came off a dump-in that Holtby mishandled, leading to JVR’s chance right in front. That was the Leafs’ best chance to win the game and redeem a tough night on the man advantage.
6. The Leafs are going to need to find an answer here because the special teams are now proving to be the biggest difference in the series and they’re currently trending in Washington’s favour. Going by 5v5 shots and shot attempts, the Leafs and Capitals are basically a wash through five games, which is highly impressive from the Toronto perspective and not something many would’ve anticipated. It was assumed before the series that the Leafs would have to get the better goaltending and special teams to make this series interesting at all. The Capitals now have five PP goals to the Leafs’ three, and in a tight series with four of the five games decided by overtime, that has been the difference.
The Capitals have been shorthanded 17 times to the Leafs’ 15.
7. Thought Matt Martin played a good game tonight. He threw his customary five-plus hits, rang the crossbar on a shot that beat Holtby clean, and drew a tripping call off of Wilson after getting another opening in the slot.
Bizarrely, while it’s not like his TOI was high (just 7:46, so pretty low, in fact), Martin actually played more than one of the Leafs defencemen tonight — Connor Carrick played just 6:31, which is the lowest TOI by any Leaf defenceman this season (excluding games where someone left injured). After Andre Burakovsky beat him pretty badly halfway through the second and went in alone on Andersen, Carrick was stapled to the bench.
8. I knew this Leafs team would have lots of speed, skill and scoring talent before the season started, but I figured it would be a defensively-porous club with an offense that would run hot and cold throughout the year. What I didn’t anticipate was how well this team would be able to execute Babcock hockey when it comes to funnelling pucks to the net with traffic, winning battles in front, and scoring so many goals in the hard areas of the ice.
It has been vital in the playoffs, where pretty goals are usually few and far between. While the Capitals have been lamenting some of the bounces the Leafs have been getting around the net this series, Toronto often creates their own breaks.
Matthews’ goal tonight was a good example. Hyman drove to the net hard and occupied a defenceman, Nylander curled out from behind the net and directed the puck into the mess of bodies in front, and Matthews reacted first to the loose puck to dig it out of the crowd and finish it off (like he has so many times this year). There was no defensive breakdown on the Caps’ end of it; it was just a well-executed ‘ugly’ goal by the Leafs in a tight hockey game that featured few clear offensive openings.
The Leafs are a very fast team that generates a lot of offensive opportunity with their speed, but that element of their game has caught a lot of opponents off guard this year.
It all comes together to produce the most high-event offensive team in the league on a shot-attempts-per-60 basis.
9. Maybe it’s just a lack of confidence, or maybe it’s an injury of some sort, but it’s hard to watch Mitch Marner pass up looks like this (especially after Babcock and his staff have worked with him on shooting the puck more).
He just looks ‘off’ these last four games; as though he doesn’t really want the puck, or that he doesn’t believe he can be a difference-maker out there at the moment. It’s odd after he played such a good Game 1. Of course, he’s got the talent to flip the script in a moment’s notice, but he is certainly the Leaf rookie who is going through the toughest adjustment to playoff hockey at the moment (he’s also the only one not to play pro hockey last season). In the big picture, it’s a positive that he’s getting this experience/exposure in his rookie year.
10. On the overtime goal, Williams needs to be tracked coming off of the bench, but Rielly and Hunwick can’t get beat so cleanly on that puck race behind the net after the dump-in. It looked like neither was entirely sure who was going to retrieve. Crappy way to lose a game after such a hard-fought 60-minute battle.
The Leafs will have to find a way to replicate their starts on the road back on home ice in a do-or-die Game 6 at the ACC on Sunday.
"See you in a couple days."
Mike Babcock said this to every staff-member at Verizon Center as he walked to the team bus.
— Jonas Siegel (@jonassiegel) April 22, 2017