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Leafs Game 1 Takeaways

At the drop of the puck, one team looked noticeably nervous, and it certainly wasn’t the back-to-back champs.

A deflating 7-3 loss in game 1 has left the Toronto Maple Leafs stunned and down 1-0 in this first-round series.

The game was full of action. However, at the drop of the puck, one team looked noticeably nervous, and it certainly wasn’t the back-to-back champs.

Through the first period, the Lightning outshot, out-chanced, and simply outplayed the Leafs in nearly every category. Resulting in the Lightning taking a 2-0 lead within the first eight minutes of the game, and a 3-0 lead at the end of the first period.

A useful stat to look at is inner slot shot attempts and ozone-completed passes to the slot. Through the first period, the Leafs actually completed three offensive zone passes to the slot but had zero shot attempts from that area. Meaning that even though the Leafs were getting the puck in great areas, they chose to pass more often than shoot. They looked for the perfect opportunity rather than simply putting the puck on net.

Here we can see the shots on goal by both teams. Notice the higher volume of shots by the Lighting that come from the faceoff dots and from the point, whereas the Leafs struggled to get the puck on net, instead focusing on shooting from only high-danger areas.

While shooting to score is important, high shot volume on a goaltender like Andre Vasilevsky should also be prioritized.

The nerves, the overpassing, giving up goals and shots early, it’s all very reminiscent of a much younger Leafs team. One that fans believed was left behind.

“I think there’s always nerves on opening night of the playoffs,” said John Tavares Postgame.

“ A few days to prepare and the excitement builds. Obviously, it’s an area we need to be better in.”

“We just had a little hesitation in our game, we were thinking a little too much there.” Said Ryan O’Reilly. “They came with a lot of speed and gave us issues right away.”

And then there’s the penalties.

The Leafs took six penalties to the Lightning's four, resulting in four powerplay goals against. Most notably, Michael Bunting received a five-minute major and match penalty for an illegal check to the head on Erik Cernak.

Bunting will have a hearing today, and will likely be suspended. This raises the question of whether rookie Mathew Knies will draw into the lineup for game two.

Speaking of rookies, Joseph Woll took the crease in the third period after Ilya Samsonov allowed six goals on 29 shots. Woll only faced five shots and let in one, but looked much calmer in net.

It would be interesting to see the Leafs lineup for game two.

So how can the Leafs bounce back? Simple. Keep it simple.

Stop looking for the perfect shot, just get the puck on net and create chaos in front of Vasilevsky. Don’t take bad penalties. Recognize where the line is. But most of all, keep it calm. When their opponent is nervous, the Lightning can sense it, and they elevate their play to expose nervous mistakes and defensive breakdowns.

It's worth noting that the Leafs shocked the Lightning with a 5-0 win in game 1 last year. The Lightning would go on to win the series. A bit of a lineup shuffle and a fresh look for the Leafs may be all it takes to come out blazing in game 2.

Dave Felsbourg

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

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