Each of the Montreal Canadiens goals on Saturday night was created by an error from a Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman.
Alex Galchenyuk’s marker may be the most subjective among the bunch, but each goal showed a form of inability to read the play and react correctly.
The first goal was caused by a misread by Jake Gardiner and Mitch Marner, with their lack of communication leading to a positional error. The second was due to a missed mark by Andreas Borgman, and the third originated from a bad decision by Morgan Rielly that led to a turnover and a goal.
Defensive gaffes from Gardiner are common enough to become items of online contention and a separate debate; I am hoping that this example isn’t exaggerated as a direct critique of this player’s ability. Each of these instances showed breakdowns in positioning and decision-making errors.
Jeff Petry’s Goal
The main culprit here is goaltending. Frederik Andersen should have handled this long shot with ease but didn’t. Even with the collapse here, there’s no reason this shot should hit the back of the net.
The play begins with a zone entry and coverage for every pairing. The puck carrier (Jonathan Drouin) has both Jake Gardiner and Mitch Marner covering him, with every other Hab accounted for by the Leafs‘ defensive coverage.
Gardiner is responsible for engaging the puck carrier. Marner should have been the support layer to get the puck back from the 1-on-1 between Drouin and Gardiner while maintaining patrol of the top of the zone – it is the winger’s responsibility, in this case, to look for the trailer.
Gardiner instead made a secondary attempt to engage and then retreated back to a ‘defensive’ position. He ended up covering no one and became an extra body amid proper coverage down low. He should have been on the puck carrier, and that’s the misread that led to the Marner coverage.
Marner’s effort to put on pressure, while a decent attempt at defensive coverage, is not the correct play. Into the hole of open space behind Marner, Drouin laid a pass to Jeff Petry for the long shot and Habs’ first goal, while Marner was twisting around to get to the shot.
That hole is supposed to be covered by the winger, which should be Marner’s responsibility, just like van Riemsdyk patrolling the opposite wing at the top of the zone. But Marner has to pivot and scramble to the trailer in desperation.
Gardiner in the shot below is not involved in the play.
Both players’ misreads caused the situation that allowed a shot on goal to appear. Improving defensively involves making sure these subtle details are adhered to for proper shot suppression, and it’s up to the coaching staff to focus on and point out.
Alex Galchenyuk’s goal
I can’t outright say this play was a mistake. It was more of a lateness to reacting, or initial indecision, by another young Leaf player — this time Andreas Borgman. With the play broken up just off the faceoff dot, there was a Habs player stationed at the blueline. All players in the center of the ice were covered and Rielly had his sights on Paul Byron.
Charles Hudon picked up the loose puck and Borgman had his mark at the blueline covered. With the proper coverage here, I’d like to see Borgman be right on top of the mark and station himself right up at the blueline. The lane Hudon explored would not have been open and the little flip pass to Galchenyuk would likely have been thwarted, diffusing the situation at the blueline.
I can’t say Borgman played that wrong, exactly, but I think he had better options and could have thwarted the zone entry attempt by being a little more aggressive at the line.
Once the pass at the blueline was made, it was a 2-on-1 for Galchenyuk and Byron, and a good shot tied it up for the Habs late in the first period.
Jonathan Drouin’s Goal
This goal should never have happened, with misreads all over the place, but the initial decision caused it outright.
I’m a little baffled by the sequence of events here. Some of that stems from the audio just prior to the puck getting behind the net.
Montreal dumped the puck in deep and Morgan Rielly recovered just to the left of the crease. Over the play-by-play, I could somehow make out someone shouting, ‘wheel, wheel’ (I think) as Rielly recovers, indicating that he should continue to skate with the puck from behind the net and up the right side. He eventually threw the puck up that side (the strong side), but he didn’t exactly wheel behind the goal. He stopped for just a brief moment behind the net.
Once he made that stop, the weak side was entirely free of Habs skaters. James van Riemsdyk was unattended aside from the weak side defenseman. Rielly didn’t bother going that route.
Instead, he threw it up the strong side right into the Montreal forecheck, resulting in a turnover. The boxed area in the image below is where the puck battle was lost. There’s lots of time to get the puck over for Montreal to manoeuvre, especially with JvR missing Drouin moving in down low.
I thought this was a one-off play that led to the goal, but with 11:25 remaining in the 3rd period, Rielly did the same thing, throwing the puck up the strong side (this time up the left wing instead), leading me to believe this could be a set play.
All three goals involve subtle plays leading to goals against that could be re-visited by coaching staff for future use.