The Toronto Maple Leafs got outplayed by the Ottawa Senators and deservingly lost the game. Thanks to a few goals with their netminder pulled, Toronto was able to make things close towards the end, although Ottawa ultimately prevailed 4-3.
This is two nights in a row the Leafs have been outplayed at even strength. Maybe the practice week is coming at just the right time.
Emotions can run high after nights like these. Keeping that in mind, let’s try our best to rationally* break down each player individually. It’s time for some report cards!
*I’ve already accepted that no self-respecting Leafs fan is going to be rational after losing to the Senators.
Game Puck: Coaching Staff — Let’s call this game what it was: a dud. The Leafs couldn’t muster much of anything when they were trailing 4-1, so Sheldon Keefe decided to pull his goalie with an OZ draw and 6:21 on the clock.
I loved it. Analytics nerds like myself will tell anyone willing to listen that pulling the goalie earlier is a good strategy; it increases your chances of scoring a goal.
You know what else increases your chances of scoring? Putting four forwards on the ice.
I loved this as well. All of the research indicates that 4F1D power-play units score more goals than the old-school 3F2D setup, so why not apply that same logic when you’re trailing late in the third period at 5-on-5? Yes, it’s riskier, but you’re running out of time and you really need to score soon.
The Leafs tried out a few innovative strategies in the last few minutes of the game, including an on-the-fly goalie change. When Toronto’s big guns came off the ice in a 6-on-5 situation, they put Andersen back in the net while maintaining puck possession, knowing that the “second unit” didn’t stand a strong chance of scoring.
This game sucked to watch as a Leafs fan, but watching the coaching staff get really creative towards the end was cool to see. It almost manufactured a three-goal comeback out of nothing.
Zach Hyman (LW, #11) — After a subpar performance on Saturday night, Hyman looked more like himself on Sunday. He led the team in 5v5 scoring chance differential and also added two goals from in tight.
The first one was about as junky as it gets.
Good things happen when you go to the net, whether it’s 5v5 or 6v5.
Morgan Rielly (LD, #44) — On Hyman’s first goal, Rielly did a great job of skating down the left wall and finding a lane to get that puck into the high-danger area. He’s been making that play his whole career. When it comes to tonight’s game, I actually thought he was the one creating most of Toronto’s high-quality chances at even strength.
He won’t get credit for his assist on the Ilya Mikheyev goal that got disallowed, but it was a perfect microcosm of his game tonight.
If there’s one thing Rielly’s good at, it’s jumping up in the play and connecting on passes through the middle of the ice. He connected on a few of those tonight, which is why I have him ranked so high despite the team’s poor performance offensively.
Frederik Andersen (G, #31) — He’s not the goaltender you should be frustrated with tonight. Andersen stopped 26 of the 28 shots he faced, good for a .929 save percentage. I’d say that’s doing your job.
If we’re going to litigate things goal-by-goal, he had no chance on the gorgeous seam pass Tim Stützle made on the power play. Maybe you’d like to see Andersen have better rebound control on the second goal he allowed, but all things considered, he played pretty well.
William Nylander (LW, #88) — Right from his first shift, Nylander looked dangerous as an offensive threat off the rush. He cooled down a bit as the game went on, but he really picked up steam after Keefe pushed his chips all-in later in the third period.
That goal moves Nylander into second on his team in scoring. It is worth noting he should’ve taken away the middle of the ice on Ottawa’s second goal of the game (instead of turning a 3-on-2 into a 2-on-1 for the Sens). That’s why I decided to give him three stars instead of four.
Auston Matthews (C, #34) — He’s obviously playing hurt, but Matthews was still able to stick-handle his way into the slot for his patented curl-and-drag wrist shot on multiple occasions. It didn’t look as powerful as we’re used to seeing it, but the fact that he’s comfortable taking those shots is a very positive sign. We’ve seen him turn down those looks recently.
Mitch Marner (RW, #16) — This wasn’t a dynamic Mitch Marner game. It also wasn’t an invisible night. He looked good on the penalty kill and alright on the power play. Even strength is where you would’ve liked to see him make a few more creative plays in transition.
Jake Muzzin (LD, #8) — At even strength, the Leafs generated 17 more shot attempts than Sens when Jake Muzzin was on the ice. They only attempted eight more when Justin Holl was on the ice. Anytime you see a difference that stark between two defense partners, it’s usually because one guy was driving the bus — and the other was trying not to get run over.
Muzzin was making all of his usual strong defensive plays at the blueline, but it was his passing in the offensive zone that really impressed me. There were a few times he got his teammates into open ice with a subtle little pass, leading to a few quality chances.
TJ Brodie (RD, #78) — Aside from his blooper on the Drake Batherson giveaway, when TJ Brodie didn’t seem to notice Ottawa making a line change, I thought this was a pretty solid game from him. Much like Muzzin, it was the simple passes that made a big difference for Brodie, especially on the breakout.
Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm Flailing Tube Men
Of course, I’m referring to the long-armed duo of Ilya Mikheyev and Pierre Engvall. Their back-pressure in the neutral zone is super annoying to play against. Offensively, they weren’t able to create much aside from that disallowed goal we showed in the Rielly section.
On that play specifically, it was nice to see Engvall connect on a pass off the rush. That’s something I’d like to see more from him in transition. Going hard to the net is great, too, although tackling an opposing player into the net and standing still in the crease didn’t create the desired outcome tonight.
The 4th Line Passers — I’ve decided to group Travis Boyd and Jason Spezza together because they were both involved in a brutal passing sequence, but managed to turn it around with some strong play later in the game. We might as well address the elephant in the room.
Boyd is one of the better “drop-passers” on the Leafs, but that definitely wasn’t the time or the place. He helped make up for it later on when he fired a couple east-west passes in the offensive zone, one of which led to a shot off the cross bar for Rielly. Spezza’s chances came from more in tight, where he forced a couple jam plays that almost worked.
The Bottom “Pair” — I’ve got the word pair in quotation marks because Zach Bogosian only played 8:26 in this game, while Travis Dermott played 14:44. Bogosian did get into a fight right after his team went down 2-0, which is consistent with Kevin Bieksa’s theory that players are fighting more in 2021 to manufacture “energy” in a COVID season with no fans.
After that, Keefe mostly went with his 5 puck-movers on the blueline. Dermott’s 5v5 metrics don’t look great tonight, but I did want to note that he did an excellent job on puck retrievals to help start Toronto’s breakout.
Now, if he played so well, why did he get significantly outshot and outchanced in sheltered minutes? I don’t have a great answer for that question, which is why I’m not giving him a passing grade tonight.
John Tavares (C, #91) — I always find it funny when my initial reaction to a Tavares game is “meh,” then I look up at the box score and find out he generated five chances from the slot. Maybe it’s the subtlety of his offensive game, but I didn’t find myself thinking he made a major impact until the Leafs pulled their goalie.
Justin Holl (RD, #3) — Like we mentioned in Muzzin’s section, Holl was the second best defenseman on his pairing tonight. If we’re being honest, that’s the case every night for Holl, but this game in particular had a few rough moments.
Holl let his man get behind him right off the draw on Ottawa’s second goal. The rest of his night didn’t go much better; he seemed to be missing on a few easy plays, particularly in the offensive zone.
Are We Sure They Played? — Let’s start this section off with Jimmy Vesey, who I legitimately forgot was playing until the puck bounced out to him in the slot later in the game. That was his only scoring chance of the night.
Remember when Alex Kerfoot was someone we were all looking forward to watching? That feels like ages ago. Unless he’s playing with Tavares-Nylander, I’m having trouble finding a spot in this lineup where Kerfoot makes sense. He’s a shifty little puck handler, but it hasn’t been enough to drive Toronto’s third line alongside Mikheyev-Engvall.
Finally, why is Joe Thornton playing on the second half of a back-to-back at age 41? There are games where you can tell pretty quickly whether or not Thornton has his legs, and this (predictably) was not one of them.
Michael Hutchinson (G, #30) — He allowed two goals on three shots, both of which were saveable. I’m not quite sure what else to say. This was a nightmare game for Hutchinson, who was promptly pulled six minutes into the game.
Here’s a quick look at where each team’s shots were coming from at even strength, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.
Weirdly, the shots and chances were listed at 50% for each team at 5v5, although I’d much rather have Ottawa’s heat map.
Tweets of the Night
It is so hard to watch this officiating,goalie interference my foot,there was no contact with till after the puck was in the net. The officiating gets worse every game.
— Marietta Dubas (@grammadubie) March 15, 2021
Grandma Dubas might be my favourite Hockey Twitter account.
In retrospect, the Sens Sickos were the real juggernauts all along.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) March 14, 2021
Is anyone else concerned with how much power CJ wields over all of us?
“I don’t even have words right now. I just want to thank my family for everything they’ve done for me – It’s pretty special.”
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) March 15, 2021
For all the Leafs fans who were fired up right after this game, ready to punch a hole in the wall, this was a nice human moment. We don’t get many of those in this sport, so I figured we’d end on somewhat of a positive note!
Final Grade: C-
Warriors top Grizzlies for No. 8 seed
Stephen Curry scored a game-high 46 points en route to his second NBA scoring title and Jordan Poole stalled a rally with a late 3-pointer Sunday afternoon as the Golden State Warriors held off the visiting Memphis Grizzlies in San Francisco for a 113-101 win to claim the No. 8 position in this week’s play-in tournament.
With Curry scoring 17 of his 46 points, the Warriors appeared to take command of the game in the third quarter, but Dillon Brooks led a Memphis comeback. Before fouling out, Brooks contributed 13 points to a 22-5 flurry that made it 91 all with 6:32 still to play.
The Grizzlies went up by two twice after that, before Poole nailed his momentum-changing 3-pointer.
The loss ended Memphis’ five-game winning streak and landed the Grizzlies in the No. 9 spot in the play-in, where they will host 10th-seeded San Antonio on Wednesday.
Lakers 110, Pelicans 98
LeBron James scored 25 points as Los Angeles won in New Orleans on the final day of the regular season, but was unable to avoid the play-in round.
James left the game midway through the fourth quarter, slightly favoring the injured right ankle that sidelined him 26 games down the stretch.
But the victory wasn’t enough for the defending NBA champions to avoid the Western Conference play-in tournament. Portland defeated Denver to claim the sixth seed so the seventh-seeded Lakers will host eighth-seeded Golden State in a play-in game Wednesday.
Jazz 121, Kings 99
Jordan Clarkson scored 33 points and made six 3-pointers and Bojan Bogdanovic added 18 points to lead Utah past Sacramento and the league’s best regular-season record.
Rudy Gobert added 13 points and 16 rebounds. Mike Conley chipped in 11 points, nine assists and six rebounds. Utah clinched the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference and will have home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.
Terence Davis scored 20 points to lead the Kings. Damian Jones chipped in 19 points. Buddy Hield added 13 points, nine assists and seven rebounds for Sacramento, which rested several key players: De’Aaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton, Harrison Barnes, Marvin Bagley III and Richaun Holmes
Timberwolves 136, Mavericks 121
Anthony Edwards closed his push for NBA Rookie of the Year with 30 points, and Minnesota dominated Dallas nearly wire-to-wire for a season-ending win in Minneapolis.
Edwards capped his debut season with his eighth game of 22 or more points over the final nine. He is in contention to be Minnesota’s first Rookie of the Year since teammate Karl-Anthony Towns, who won the award in 2016.
Dallas, which locked up the No. 5 seed and will play the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round of the playoffs, shot 16-of-38 from 3-point range, including Kristaps Porzingis making 4 of 5. Porzingis finished with 18 points.
Heat 120, Pistons 107
Precious Achiuwa had 23 points and 10 rebounds to lead Miami to a road win over Detroit in the regular-season finale.
With little to no incentive to win the game, each team rested several starters. Miami already had the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs clinched going into the game, while Detroit was looking to clinch the league’s second-worst record and enhance its odds of winning the first pick in the NBA draft lottery.
Saddiq Bey scored 22 points and Josh Jackson scored 17 points off the bench for Detroit.
76ers 128, Magic 117
Tyrese Maxey had 30 points, seven rebounds and six assists to lift host Philadelphia over Orlando in game in which the 76ers rested all of their starters.
Since the Sixers have had already secured the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Danny Green, Seth Curry and Tobias Harris sat the game out.
Isaiah Joe scored 17 points, rookie Paul Reed added season highs of 17 and 12 rebounds, and Shake Milton contributed 15 points and nine assists for the Sixers, who improved to 49-23. George Hill added 14 points.
Nets 123, Cavaliers 109
Kevin Durant totaled 23 points, a season-high-tying 13 assists and eight rebounds in three quarters as Brooklyn Nets secured the second seed in the Eastern Conference with a wire-to-wire win over Cleveland in New York.
The Nets ended the season on a five-game winning streak and edged out the Milwaukee Bucks for the second seed. A loss by Brooklyn and a Milwaukee win over the Chicago Bulls would have pushed the Nets into the third seed due to losing the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Bucks.
Kyrie Irving added 17 points on 7 of 11 from the field for the Nets and became the ninth player in NBA history to shoot at least 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent from the free throw line.
Knicks 96, Celtics 92
RJ Barrett scored a game-high 22 points as New York completed a resurgent regular season and clinched the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference by hanging on for a win over visiting Boston.
The Knicks, who are headed for the playoffs for the first time since 2013, will open the quarterfinals at home next weekend against the fifth-seeded Atlanta Hawks.
The Celtics already were locked into the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference and the first seed in the play-in tournament. Boston, which needs to win just once to advance to the playoffs, will play the eighth-seeded Washington Wizards on Tuesday.
Pacers 125, Raptors 113
Canadian-born Oshae Brissett exploded for a career-high 31 points against his country’s displaced team, and Indiana earned a home game in the NBA’s play-in tournament with a thrashing of host Toronto.
Brissett completed a double-double with 10 rebounds, while Domantas Sabonis had one of his own with 25 points and 16 rebounds, as the Pacers snapped a two-game losing streak to clinch a tie for eighth place in the Eastern Conference.
Indiana assured it would finish tied with either Charlotte or Washington, who were playing each other in a contest that finished after the Pacers-Raptors game had ended. The Wizards secured the win 115-110 over the Hornets.
Wizards 115, Hornets 110
Bradley Beal made a go-ahead layup with 2:53 remaining as host Washington beat Charlotte to secure the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.
Russell Westbrook collected 23 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists and Beal added 25 points in his first contest after a three-game absence for the Wizards.
Robin Lopez posted 18 points and Rui Hachimura had 16 for Washington, which will visit the seventh-seeded Boston Celtics in the play-in round on Tuesday. Charlotte, which owns the No. 10 seed, will face the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday in Indianapolis.
Suns 123, Spurs 121
E’Twaun Moore poured in 22 points, including the deciding 3-pointer with 2.2 seconds to play, to lift visiting Phoenix past San Antonio.
Phoenix was without Devin Booker (rest), Chris Paul (rest) and Deandre Ayton (knee) as the Suns opted to keep key players on the bench despite the chance to earn the top spot in the Western Conference.
San Antonio pulled its starters at the end of the third quarter, allowing the two teams’ bench players to decide the contest. The Suns’ reserves had just enough to secure the win that forced Utah to win in Sacramento later Sunday in order to finish atop of Phoenix in the West.
Hawks 124, Rockets 95
Led by rookie Onyeka Okongwu’s career bests of 21 points and 15 rebounds, Atlanta tuned up for its first trip to the playoffs since 2017 with a win over visiting Houston in the regular-season finale on Sunday.
Okongwu, who posted his second double-double, was 10-for-13 from the field and added three assists, two steals and two blocked shots. The Hawks had eight players in double figures, including Skylar Mays with 16, John Collins with 15 and De’Andre Hunter with 14. Trae Young (sore big right toe) was limited to 16 minutes and scored 10 points with nine assists.
The Hawks will be the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference and face off with the No. 4 New York Knicks in the first round.
Bulls 118, Bucks 112
Thaddeus Young finished with 20 points and seven rebounds to help host Chicago finish its season with a victory over playoff-bound Milwaukee.
Young was one of six Bulls who scored in double figures. Coby White totaled 19 points, five rebounds and five assists, and Lauri Markkanen had 17 points and five rebounds.
Locked into the No. 3 spot in the Eastern Conference after the Brooklyn Nets’ victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers earlier in the evening, the Bucks rested all of their starters — Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, Jrue Holiday and Donte DiVincenzo.
Thunder 117, Clippers 112
Aleksej Pokusevski scored a career-high 29 points to lead Oklahoma City to a win over Los Angeles in the final night of the NBA regular season.
The loss sent the Clippers to the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference. They’ll face Dallas in the first round of the playoffs.
Pokusevski got off to a hot start and then hit a 3-pointer to break a tie in the final minute and snap the Thunder’s nine-game losing streak. He hit his first six shots and finished 10 of 19 from the floor, hitting six 3-pointers.
Trail Blazers 132, Nuggets 116
CJ McCollum scored 24 points and Portland clinched a Western Conference playoff spot with an easy victory over visiting Denver.
Damian Lillard recorded 22 points and 10 assists and Jusuf Nurkic added 20 points and 13 rebounds in the wire-to-wire victory that allowed Portland to avoid the play-in round and claim the No. 6 spot in the West.
Nikola Jokic scored 21 points in the first half before exiting for the Nuggets, who landed the third seed in West despite the setback because the Los Angeles Clippers lost to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Denver owned the tiebreaker with the Clippers.
–Field Level Media
Djokovic outlasts Sonego to set up Rome final with Nadal
Defending champion Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal will clash for the Italian Open title after the top two seeds advanced to the final of the Masters tournament on Saturday.
Djokovic, who beat Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas 4-6 7-5 7-5 in a rain-delayed quarter-final earlier in the day, was also stretched to three sets in the semi-final before overcoming local favourite Lorenzo Sonego.
Sonego, the first Italian to make the semi-finals in Rome in 14 years after he beat world number seven Andrey Rublev earlier on Saturday, had his dream run ended by Djokovic who triumphed 6-3 6-7(5) 6-2.
Djokovic failed to convert two match points in the second set that lasted 91 minutes as Sonego forced a tiebreak, where the Serb lost a 4-2 lead.
However, the world number one controlled proceedings in the decider and advanced after Sonego’s return on match point found the net.
Earlier, Nadal beat Reilly Opelka 6-4 6-4 to move into the final in Rome for the 12th time.
The match was Nadal’s 500th on clay where he has a formidable 458-42 record and the Spaniard advanced after twice breaking the big-serving American.
“When you play these kind of matches, you know it’s not going to be a beautiful match… you’re not going to find rhythm in the match. You’re going to have just a few chances to break,” Nadal told reporters.
“It’s important not to suffer much with your serve because if you are… you feel the stress all the time. So the positive thing today, I just faced break points in one game during the whole match.”
Djokovic was trailing Tsitsipas 6-4 2-1 when Friday’s quarter-final was halted by rain but the Serb raised his game at key moments to twice come back from a break down in the deciding set.
Djokovic has a 29-27 career record against Nadal but the Spaniard has won five of their eight matches in Rome.
(Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru and Sudipto Ganguly in Berhampore, India; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Ed Osmond)
New York Rangers get OK to interview Gerard Gallant for coaching job
The New York Rangers plan to interview Gerard Gallant for their head coaching job, TSN reported.
The Vegas Golden Knights, who fired Gallant during the 2019-20 season, reportedly have granted permission.
A first conversation between the Rangers and Gallant was expected to take place quickly, before Gallant heads to Latvia to coach Team Canada at the IIHF World Championship, which runs from May 21-June 6.
Gallant, 57, was the first coach of the expansion Golden Knights and led them to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season in 2017-18. The Washington Capitals won in five games.
He was fired 49 games into his third season when the team was 24-19-6, and he had an overall record of 118-75-20 with Vegas.
He also coached the Columbus Blue Jackets (2003-07) and Florida Panthers (2014-17) and has a career record of 270-216-4-51 in 541 career games as a head coach.
The Rangers are in the midst of an overhaul. They fired head coach David Quinn and three assistant coaches on Wednesday, following the dismissal last week of team president John Davidson and general manager Jeff Gorton.
The Rangers failed to qualify for the playoffs for the fourth straight season after posting a 27-23-6 record in 2020-21. They finished in fifth place in the East Division.
Quinn, 54, compiled a 96-87-25 record during his three seasons as coach of the Rangers after taking over for Alain Vigneault on May 23, 2018.
–Field Level Media
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