The Flames walked into Toronto and walked all over the Leafs for 40 minutes last night. By the end of the 2nd period, Calgary had a 24-15 lead in shots (13-2 from the slot) yet the score remained tied at 0-0. The Flames buried a couple of quick goals in the 3rd period and bent but didn’t break when the Leafs pushed back late en route to a 3-1 win.
“Their gaps were great. I mean, right on top of our guys. You know, coming through the neutral zone just seemed like it would be a pain in the ass every time. They made it tough on us and certainly congested the neutral zone area and that was the difference.” – Nazem Kadri
Last night, the Calgary Flames did exactly what you need to do to keep the Maple Leafs from hitting you with wave after wave of offensive pressure. I’ve talked at length about the Maple Leafs and their stretch-pass heavy breakout. If you cut off the neutral zone by standing them up at the blueline and tracking well, you’ve got a good chance of taking away one of their greatest strengths – speed through the middle of the ice. The Flames did that and limited the Maple Leafs offensively in ways no other team has been able to this season.
First, Calgary’s forwards did an excellent job of tracking through the neutral zone and pressuring the Maple Leafs as they skated the puck towards the offensive zone. This helped disrupt potential entries before they happened and forced Toronto to dump the puck in more often than it usually does. Second, as Kadri mentioned, Flames defencemen played attacking Leafs skaters tight at the blueline and used their sticks to break up entries at a high rate.
Because of the Flames “Great gaps”, Toronto had its lowest zone entry success rate in a game all season, successfully gaining the attacking blueline only 36% of the time.
End result, the Maple Leafs finished the game with 0 scoring chances on net off the rush, the only time they’ve failed to register at least 1 in a game.
Nazem Kadri hit the nail on the head in his assessment and the Calgary Flames provided a perfect template of how to neutralize the Maple Leafs attack. I know, the Leafs were missing their top goal scorer, Auston Matthews, but credit where credit is due to the Flames who entered last night’s game ranked 29th in quality shots on net against per game and executed as well defensively against Toronto as any team has all this season.