Leafs Game 5 Recap: Missed Opportunity

So remember what I said 2 nights ago about the Leafs making sure that those stupid Montreal Canadien fans won’t get to see their team play in a do-or-die game at home for the first time in over a year? Yeah, well, throw that all the way out the window because they seemed oddly content with having to fly back to Montreal for a game 6 through the first period and a bit. Maybe they are just hoping to get their captain some more rest so he can make a return at a more opportune time? If that’s the plan (obviously it wasn’t), William Nylander certainly didn’t get the memo because he seemed like the only guy who was trying for a while there.

I wrote about the number of brutal turnovers by Leaf defensemen in their own zone on Tuesday night and how if it continued against the Jets, they’d get punished, and well, they didn’t even have to wait to play Winnipeg. 3 goals tonight off turnovers and 2 of the D-zone variety that were just pitiful, both involving Rasmus Sandin. I don’t know why Keefe sat him Tuesday, and not that it excuses his play tonight, but you could tell he lacked confidence after his scratch. The theme of missed opportunities rings true not only in the grand scheme of the series but the game as well. We are all fools for thinking that the Leafs would make this anything but excruciatingly stressful for us, and tonight was perfectly representative of that fact. It’s not like any of us have had any extra anxiety to worry about over the last 12 months; the Leafs are just trying to make sure we stay grounded (yah, sonnnnnk). Time for positives, negatives, and reader questions!

Positives

1. Mental Fortitude: If a team comes back from 3 goals down but doesn’t win the game, does anyone really care? The answer is no, but it was good to see that the Leafs didn’t just turn over and move on to game 6. They usually are the kings of the almost comeback, but this time they actually did manage to get it to OT, and one of the worst plays I’ve ever seen by an NHLer let them down. You’re going to need to face adversity to win a cup; we all know this. That’s what real grit is, overcoming obstacles, and the Leafs did tonight. Now they just need to do it once more on Saturday. They know in the room that they have the Habs on the brink, it’s right there for them, and they are going to go out and grab it.

Fuckin’ Rights Muzz

Negatives

1. Coaching decisions: Look, Sheldon Keefe is the coach of the Maple Leafs, not me. No, I don’t think I’m smarter than him, but that doesn’t mean every decision he makes is unquestionably correct. How on earth is William Nylander getting just 17 minutes of ice time compared to the 23 minutes of Zach Hyman or Mitch Marner. Again, he was fantastic with 2 assists and .45 ixG, but you need to find more ice for him. Be creative! Run him with Matthews and Marner, give Jumbo a break now and then, you have the options with JT out, use them. Secondly, I’ll say it until someone cuts my tongue out, please take 41-year old Joe Thornton, who had 5 goals this season, off of the first power-play unit. He is slow, he can’t shoot, he cannot read the game like he used to, and oh yeah, he’s FUCKING SLOW. Thirdly, yes, Sandin made some objectively atrocious giveaways, but you’re down 3 goals, and he’s the 2nd best offensive defenceman on the team, give him more than 6 freaking minutes, man! He knows he messed up, he’ll learn, he’s good enough to put it behind him. I trust that Sheldon will be better because I have no reason not to, but he may have cost the Leafs a chance at some more rest with his decision-making tonight.

2. Odd-man rushes: The Leafs’ inability to capitalize on their exuberant amount of 2 on 1 has been painful to watch and is the reason this series is still going. They had 15 high danger chances tonight, with Zach Hyman having 4 by himself. They scored just once. That is a nauseating success rate. Here’s just one example of a perfect chance to score going awry.

By no means am I saying this is an easy finish, but you have to make tough plays to score in the playoffs, and the Buds just aren’t connecting on their odd-man rushes. Run an hour of 2 on 1 drills next practice IMO

3. The play of Mitch Marner: It really seemed like Mitch had turned a corner after game 3, but it is now becoming increasingly evident that it was a false dawn. Yet again tonight, Marner just looked out of control and erratic. He couldn’t finish any of his chances, and he appeared at times like he just didn’t have any feeling of purpose out there. Statistically, he was good, and maybe I’m just being harsh, but something feels different with him compared to his regular-season play. 

Questions

1. Why can’t we close a series?: I wish I had the answer to this, honestly I do. I’ll say this, and maybe I’m just tricking myself, perhaps I’m a complete idiot, but this year FEELS different. In the past, you could just sense that if any mountains got in the team’s way, they wouldn’t scale them. But with all the roster changes and playoff history, I am convinced that they know what sort of moment they have here, and they’ve worked too hard to let it slip again. Let’s finish this fucking thing Saturday.

2. How do you give up a 2 on 0 in OT?: Step 1, play for the Leafs. Step 2, play in a playoff game for the Leafs. Step 3, play in a playoff overtime game for the Leafs. Only the Leafs allow that sort of thing to happen, only the Leafs. 

3. Who is Mitch Marner?: He’s either one heck of a hockey player or one hell of a magician to trick us into thinking he can do what he does in the regular season come postseason time. I choose to believe the former because I will always believe in his talent. He’s going to have a huge game 6.

Word of the Night: Goldfish. Got to have the mind of a Goldfish fellas, let’s go.

Number of the Night: 2, The number of penalties called. The Leafs will have to play well enough Saturday that the refs don’t matter because the stripes certainly aren’t going to help them/ do their jobs at a competent level.

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