1) Evaluating the Mikheyev-Tavares-Marner line
It’s always difficult to evaluate a player or a line’s contributions right after the final whistle.
The eye test suggested that TOR’s 65-91-16 line was tentative in the offensive zone and created precious few chances in transition. Yet statistically the line had a strong night.
As displayed in the graphic above created by friend of the newsletter JFresh, L2 (65-91-16) was by far the best Leafs line in terms of 5v5 expected goals.
Meanwhile Mik Nahabedian’s hand-track data showed Mitch Marner and John Tavares as transitional pillars of the team, while Ilya Mikheyev was efficient (though a bit high-risk) in a smaller sample.
When reviewing the line’s 5v5 shifts last night (thanks to InStat Hockey’s online video platform), I saw a hardworking unit who was extremely effective at preventing Columbus from setting up in the Toronto zone. The trio was also great at winning the puck in their end and getting it up-ice. Below is a sequence which I feel is representative of their night:
United defensive effort and close puck support allowed the line to regain possession, create shot attempts for and suppress shot attempts against.
2) Attacking the middle across the neutral zone
For all the things they did well in the DZ and OZ, I felt the Leafs’ second line left some opportunities off the rush on the table.
In the first portion of the video above, Tavares could have made a backhand pass to Marner, who has tons of space to work with in the middle of the ice.
Later Mikheyev pushes CBJ’s right defender back (something I mentioned in an earlier post about how to beat CBJ’s 1-2-2 NZ FC) but just misses connecting with Tavares in the middle of the ice.
In the third clip Marner attacks CBJ’s RD on his off-wing, then makes an excellent play, cutting into the middle and feeding Mikheyev for a rare rush shot for Toronto.
3) Small area 2v1s on OZ entries & OZP
Below are two beautiful clips about creating small 2v1s, first on a regroup/entry sequence and then in OZ play.
On a regroup Marner builds speed, freezes CBJ13 Cam Atkinson and finds Muzzin with speed for a shot off the rush.
Imagine if it was not Muzzin but a forward like Auston Matthews making the final play? The Leafs would have to swing two forwards back on the NZ regroup and have their Ds farther up-ice, but it’d be something worth trying in a situation where it’s generally hard to create good offensive looks.
In the offensive zone the Blue Jackets’ Seth Jones and Zach Werenski show elite partner work by two-on-one-ing TOR11 Zach Hyman. The play eventually draws a Toronto penalty. CBJ’s first pair was fantastic in Game 1 and this was part of the reason why.
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