November 6, 2019
LEAFS REAL IDENTITY AROUND THE LEAGUE IS “SPEED AND SOFT”
LEAFS HAD ONLY 33 BODYCHECKS/FINISHING CHECKS 5 ON 5 IN THEIR 4 – 3 PHILI SO WIN AND ONLY 34 IN THEIR 3 – 1 WIN OVER LA – WHY?
This analytic measures not only the number of “regular bodychecks” like the official league “hits” stat but also includes the very important finishing checks contacts and squeeze out bodychecking that each Leaf player had in their 4 -3 shoot-out win over Phili and in their 3-1 win over LA.
Many top offensive players do not value pure “hits” as part of their game and leave that to other not so talented scorers on the team. That is so until they understand that finishing checks and squeeze out hits are very effective parts of playing better as a team besides just the raw regular hit.
The official Phili game analysis credits the Leafs with 28 bodychecks. I measured 33 bodychecks/finishing checks in rewatching/rewinding the game. The official LA game analysis credits the Leafs with 25 bodychecks and I measured 34 bodychecks/finishing checks in rewatching/rewinding the game. If you want to use the Bruins as one of the best of class standards here, the Bruins would usually register 50+ in a game including finishing checks and squeeze outs, so 33 or 34 are far under what is needed for the Leafs to develop good heavy play habits.
As to whether effective and reasonable bodychecking/finishing checks are needed as a tactic to be a champion, I refer you to the Stanley Cup winners over the years. Most players have bought into this style of play as they have come up to the NHL. But some Leafs have not.
The real important point here is which Leaf players need to modify their play to a heavier game to help the team? Not everyone. Against Phili, the players who had zeros next to their names in the entire game for bodychecks/finishing checks were: Matthews, Nylander and Barrie. 4 other forwards had one each which isn’t much better: Marner, Kapanen, Mikheyev, and Gauthier (who didn’t play much).
Against LA, the players who had zeros next to their names for bodychecks/finishing checks as I measured them were: Matthews, Nylander, Marner and Kapanen. 3 others had one each which again isn’t much better: Reilly, Dermott and Kerfoot (the latter who you could excuse given the Carter massive hit on him). Too many softer players at 7 on a team that wants to win the Cup.
Now we shouldn’t expect Marner or Matthews or Nylander or even some others to lay on big hits but re effective squeeze outs and reasonable finishing checks to win pucks and stop give and goes and opposition speed, the answer is a resounding “yes”. 2 each from these guys together with the rest of the team gets us close to 50 for the game.
If the above low level of “inside hockey” compete in the “heavy” aspects of the game persists with 7 Leaf players, how on earth are the Leafs going to beat the top 6 teams, with their current only real main identity of “speed” and speed tenacity. Contact tenacity is necessary too, particularly in a 7 game series.
And in so far as winning and losing puck battles are concerned and measuring takeaways, I did that for a period against Phili and found we won more puck battles/takeaways than they did (12 to 9) but failed on 13 occasions in that period to engage in a puck battle/takeaway when we were in a reasonable position to do so. We were content to reach and wave at the puck, turn away, or just watch and thus give them time and space to make a good passing play and skate up ice.
Bottom line is the leaders of this team need to start leading by playing tougher “inside” hockey and the coaches need to hold them accountable in very certain terms. All this is not to say that some puck wins do not occur with effective stick checking, of course they do. It’s just sometimes it’s more effective for the team for the player to make contact. Flip the coin and ask a skilled scoring forward whether he would rather be stick checked or bodychecked consistently?
Mike Babcock has said this team needs to find its identity. He needs to help them define what past champions know are the ingredients to a winning identity, and two of these ingredients are mentioned above. These and other aspects need to be measured every game by player and the results posted in the dressing room the next day so the players and their units know their and others results and the team leaders are encouraged to lead their teammates by example. This works very well given the right reinforcement teaching tone from the coaches. Check all egos at the door.
And when Matthews after the LA game says the Leafs team identity is “speed and tenacity” he needs to start leading more physically on the latter in all zones so speed tenacity is combined with the needed contact tenacity.