Toronto leads the series 1-0
Time: 7:30 PM EST
Broadcast/Streaming: ESPN 2, BSSUN, CBC
Opponent SBNation Site: Pension Plan Puppets
Alright, we’ve gotten the Game One blues out of us and it’s time to move on. The beauty of the playoffs is that there isn’t a long time to dwell on the past. It’s easy to, as Coach Cooper likes to say, turn the page. Heading into tonight’s Game Two, the mission is pretty obvious - play better.
It’s still too early to call it a “must win” game, after all the old trope is that a team is never in real danger until it loses on home ice and the Tampa Bay Lightning haven’t even seen home in over a week, let alone played there. So, we’ll call it a “it would really be nice to win” game. Leaving Toronto with a split would do a lot to change the momentum of the series. In order to do that the Lightning have to show that they can pressure the Toronto Maple Leafs into making mistakes, rather than what we saw in Game One, which was the complete opposite.
The decision for the coaching staff is how much change do you implement after such a decisive loss. Over the last two days Coach Cooper, when talking to the media, has emphasized how odd the game was due to the unusually high amount of special teams play involved. He’s flat out stated that neither team was particularly overwhelming in the limited 5v5 time and Toronto simply pressed their advantage on the power play and, unfortunately, shorthanded.
That seems to indicate that he’s not inclined to institute wholesale changes into the game plan for Game Two. The lines they rolled out at practice were pretty much the same that he started with on Monday except for a tweak on the second power play unit where Nick Paul took Pat Maroon’s spot. Maroon’s slow pass back to the point on one of the power play’s led to a penalty by Mikhail Sergachev and negated the first real signs of progress the Lightning had with the extra skater in the game.
Coach Cooper mentioned in his press conference that it’s hard to get players to change the way they’ve played after an 82-game series. So it’s unlikely he’s drawing up any brand new schemes or plays just because they lost one game. What they believe, and they have to believe, is that executing the game plan that has gotten them here is what will lead them to victory. Eliminate the self-inflicted mistakes that makes carrying out that game plan a lot easier. There may be some minor adjustments that they make after watching the game film, but by and large the plan stays the same.
One thing that they need to do is focus on getting the puck through to Jack Campbell and make the Maple Leafs goaltender’s night way more difficult than it was on Monday. While he did make some nice glove saves, there weren’t any real hard stops he had to make, especially on rebounds or second chances. The Leafs controlled the area in front of his crease rather easily:
There is nowhere near enough dark blue in front of the crease on this chart from Natural Stat Trick. The Lightning have to do a better job of getting their shots from the edges through in order to get Campbell moving around.
According to NST, the Leafs blocked 22 shots at 5v5 with Morgan Reilly leading the way with 5. That’s just too many even for a team that initiates a lot of their offense from the blueline. Getting a few more of those shots through will lead to more space for the Lightning to operate and more chaos in the offensive zone.
As for the Maple Leafs. There isn’t really much they can change. It wasn’t a perfectly played game on their part, but it was pretty darn close. Being able to replicate that may be difficult, but they are smart enough to know that they can’t give the defending champs any sense of comfort so expect them to try and push play from the drop of the puck.
Their line-up will be a little different as Kyle Clifford will be out due to a suspension. The question will be if Michael Bunting is ready to come back and take his spot on the line, thus pushing everyone back down or if Jason Spezza cycles in to take his spot. If Bunting is back on the top line, that’s just one more problem for the Lightning to worry about as it makes the second and third lines better for the Leafs.
Their biggest test will be to handle ant of the minor changes the Lightning make, especially on special teams. In the past that has been an issue for Toronto in the playoffs. They’ve had early success in series only to falter as the other team makes adjustments. They also have to deal with the fact that they won Game One so easily. Toronto can’t assume the entire series is going to be like that and if they let their foot off the gas even a bit, the Lightning will take advantage.
Tonight will be a good test to see if the “better” that Coach Cooper insists is in the team is enough to make a difference.
Potential Toronto Maple Leaf Lines
Michael Bunting — Auston Matthews — Mitch Marner
Ilya Mikheyev — John Tavares — Alex Kerfoot
William Nylander — David Kampf — Pierre Engvall
Ondrej Kase — Colin Blackwell — Wayne Simmonds
Morgan Rielly — Ilya Lyubushkin
Jake Muzzin — T.J. Brodie
Mark Giordano — Timothy Liljegren
Based on practice from Tuesday and the assumption that Bunting is ready to go.
Potential Tampa Bay Lightning Lines
Ondrej Palat - Steven Stamkos - Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - Brayden Point
Brandon Hagel - Nick Paul - Ross Colton
Pat Maroon - Pierre-Edouard Bellemare - Corey Perry
Victor Hedman - Jan Rutta
Ryan McDonagh - Erik Cernak
Mikhail Sergachev - Cal Foote
Note on the defense - the pairings above are the ones Coach Cooper relied on for most of the year, however, there was a lot of mixing and matching in Game One starting in the second period. Part of that might have been due to the special teams play, but Sergachev really struggled and it seemed like they wanted to split that pairing up as the game continued. Something to keep an eye on tonight.