The Toronto Maple Leafs’ unrefined blue line was expected to be under a bright spotlight entering their first-round series with the Boston Bruins.
And oh boy, has it become blinding.
The inexperience and tentativeness of the Leafs’ defence corps was on full display in Thursday’s 3-1 loss in Game 4. Four different blue liners combined to make several critical mistakes on Boston’s second and third goals — seeing the Leafs into a nearly-unclimbable hole heading back to Beantown.
— NHL (@NHL) April 20, 2018
After the Bruins won a clean defensive draw, Zaitsev looked to be lost at the far right side of the blue line. As Boston goes to clear the puck up the wall on Jake Gardiner’s side, Zaitsev needs to support and move to the middle of the ice, which he certainly did not.
Because of the poor spacing, Gardiner is forced to make an ill-timed (and poorly-executed) pinch — leading Zaitsev scrambling back into position as the only man back while the Bruins bust down on an odd-man rush. Gardiner’s decision to hold the line wasn’t a great one, and neither was the execution, but it all stemmed from Zaitsev’s poor positioning off the draw.
Pastrnak’s no-look feed sets up Marchand for the 2-1 lead pic.twitter.com/Wz7E8mhddE
— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) April 20, 2018
On the 2-on-1, Zaitsev didn’t eliminate the pass as he should, and waited a split-second too long before pressuring the passer, allowing Pastrnak to make an easy feed over to Marchand. He slid it into the open net past a confused and helpless Freddie Andersen, who was playing the shot like he should.
Later, it was a different pair of victims on Boston’s third goal, as rookie Travis Dermott and veteran Roman Polak combined to leave Andersen hanging once more on Jake DeBrusk’s second tally of the series — on yet another odd-man rush.
Jake Debrusk scores to put the Bruins up 3-1 in the third period pic.twitter.com/C96NkEMoai
— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) April 20, 2018
Another bad, indecisive pinch, this time by Dermott on David Krejci, once again sprung the Bruins on a 2-on-1. Polak was the only man back and, well, that didn’t turn out so well. Polak (who, again, should be eliminating the pass and giving Andersen the shot) angled the passer with a weird, half-baked slide thing—allowing Krejci to feather one over to DeBrusk, who used a nice bit of hesitation to beat the goaltender.
Small sample, for sure, but if Games 1, 2 and 4 have taught us anything, it’s that this Leafs defence corps is a far ways off from where it needs to be.