It’s not hard to spot the big mistake the Toronto Maple Leafs made in allowing Sami Salo’s 5-1 goal midway through the second period of Saturday’s game in Vancouver. With the Canucks on the powerplay, James Reimer makes a save on an Alex Edler shot, and the rebound bounces into the slot, where Matthew Lombardi has a chance to fire it the length of the ice. He whiffs on the clear, however, instead putting the puck right back on the stick of Edler at the point. The next time the Leafs touch the puck, they’re fishing it out of their net.
It was one of a salad bar of errors the Leafs served up to the Canucks.
You can understand why many in the Toronto media call for Ron Wilson’s head on a regular basis: his team is abysmal defensively. All six Maple Leaf goals against Saturday were the result of defensive errors. Furthermore, four were the direct result of a senseless turnover, and two of those four were the result of a series of defensive errors after a senseless turnover.
Salo’s goal falls into the final category. Lombardi’s failure to ice the puck is one of two mistakes he makes on this play. Furthermore, while the flubbed clear undoubtedly enables a goal, it’s not the mistake that eventually causes it. Let’s take another look at this one:
For obvious reasons, we’ll begin with the puck on the stick of Matthew Lombardi and the players from both teams preparing to vacate the zone and change. Salo is on his way out of the zone to collect the puck wherever it may land, and Alex Edler is hoper-groping, moving towards where he suspects Lombardi will fire the puck in the .0001% chance that something goes wrong.
Alex Edler wins the lottery.
Meanwhile, Salo circles back. Keep in mind that he’s a right-handed shot, meaning he will re-enter the zone with his stick facing the inside of the ice. In effect, Lombardi’s botched clear hasn’t simply failed to quell the zone pressure — it’s flipped Salo and Edler at the point, thereby improving Sami Salo’s preparedness for a cross-zone one-timer. Lombardi has inadvertently loaded Salo’s rifle.
Here’s where Lombardi makes his second error. Understandably embarrassed, he tries to make up for his mistake in haste by rushing out hard to challenge Edler at the blueline. However, he comes out too hard, and Edler simply moves the puck to Henrik along the end boards and steps past him, seeking a return pass. You thought Lombardi was in recovery mode before — now he’s out of the play.
Jake Gardiner sees this and rushes to take away the give-and-go option. Unfortunately, he forgets that it’s Henrik, whose passes are never that predictable. Rather than make the basic return feed on his forehand as expected, Henrik opts instead for the swiveling, no-look backhand pass. (Silly Gardiner. Everyone knows that’s always Henrik’s option A.)
It’s a smart play, as it draws Gardiner away from the slot, opening up two more options: Henrik can hit Kesler in front of the goal or he can hit Daniel cutting through the middle of the ice. The Leafs scramble to adjust. Steckel chases Daniel, and poor Dion Phaneuf has no idea what to do. He can either vacate the goal mouth to cover Daniel or leave Daniel a wide open path to the goal mouth by staying with Kesler.
Henrik hits Daniel. Now, Daniel’s a big smartypants, so he recognizes that, with Steckel chasing him and Lombardi chasing Edler, the Leafs’ four-man box has basically died. No seriously — it now resembles a coffin.
That in mind, Daniel decides not to take the puck to the net. Instead, he’ll swing around the outside and find Sami Salo, who is so completely forgotten at this point that he’s become invisible. Additionally, poor Matthew Lombardi realizes he’s been duped again.
Meanwhile, Alex Edler sees Daniel curling around to Salo. He decides to make things even easier on his blueline partner by continuing through the zone and aggressively interfering with David Steckel, who might be able to get into that wide open shooting lane. I have circled the blatant interference call happening five feet from the official.
If Steckel’s smart, he just goes down at this point to sell the call. Sure, it’s a dive, but it arguably saves a goal.
With Edler actively pushing Steckel from my red circle into the bigger red circle, Salo now has a wide-open lane to the goal. And, with Dion Phaneuf still unclear on who he should check, Ryan Kesler is able to provide a quality screen. Like the play that opens this sequence, that’s a gimme. But, unlike the play that opens this sequence, Salo makes no mistake. 5-1 Canucks.Tags: Breakdowning, Edler, powerplay, Salo, Toronto Maple Leafs