A loss is a loss, right? Well not all losses are created equal, and sometimes the goals for and against don’t justify who lost worst. That was certainly the case when breaking down the two worst losses in the opening games of the 2018 NHL playoffs.
Philadelphia, mired in a though matchup with state rivals Pittsburgh were murdered by a touchdown on the opening night of the playoffs. Crosby scored a hat trick while batting pucks in the air and making ridiculous deflection to find perfect spaces to beat the Flyers goalies, showing that despite McDavid’s rise to prominence in the league rankings every time the playoffs come around 87 can find another gear.
There were two main things that dictated this game’s outcome: Philadelphia’s coach, Dave Hakstol, overthinking his goaltender, and Pittsburgh getting production from their team.
Hakstol. You are the coach of maybe the most successful team in the passed twenty years that has not had a #1 goalie. Not since Roman Cechmanek in the 2002/2003 season have they had a real reputable goaltender, and that is a bit of a stretch, too. In order to remedy this the Flyers brought in Petr Mrazek from the Red Wings at the deadline to solidify their goaltending status.
For the opening game Hakstol selects Brian Elliot, a veteran who management didn’t trust enough to not bring in a replacement, to start game one. Mrazek is a better player – he is younger, he is more agile, and he suits the style of play more so than an old school guy like Elliot does. This predictably blew up and Mrazek eventually did enter the game but it was more so damage control at that point.
While Elliot was lacklustre in net, Pittsburgh got crazy production from a lot of their roster. Notable pointless players were Phil Kessel and Olli Maatta, however the Penguins had four multipoint players, and only saw six names kept off the score sheet. As well, Murray made an unbelievable save on the goal line to maintain his shut out and deny any hopes of a Flyers resurgence.
The game was over pretty quickly, and despite the Pens being heavy favourites it was still quite shocking to see that score line. How so then could Toronto’s 5-1 loss to Boston be worse. Well, expectations are a hell of a thing.
Thought to be a toss-up, pick em’ series, Toronto came out flat, took bad penalties, didn’t capitalize on their chances, the shut down centre got himself (likely) suspended, and they failed to up their game from the regular season. Quite the laundry list, which is why Toronto’s loss was worse than Phili’s, and I don’t think they’ll make it out of this series.
Mike Babcock started off the bad performances with the decision to not challenge the first goal. There were two players who were possibly offside but once slowed down one player was safe while the other clearly offside. Babcock, the highest profile and highest paid coach in the league decided hastily that this wasn’t worth a look, and didn’t challenge. That goal, a power play marker, shifted momentum for the entire game, and it’s on Babcock’s hands.
Auston Matthews went missing in this game. Sure, his linemate scored but that was a solo effort from Hyman. As well, many people will pick out that he is matched up against the best defensive forward in the game (Patrice Bergeron). While that is a fact, it isn’t justification for a generational type player like Matthews to be a non-factor on the ice. The fifth best even strength scorer in the league was part of a team that was outshot 15-4 even strength. Despite his matchup, Matthews needs to find ways to be effective against the Bruins, if not the team will crumble alongside him with Boston home ice matchups.
Nazem Kadri decided to take justice into his own hands, boarding Tommy Wingles’ head into the boards on a hit from behind while Wingles was on his knees. Even one of those things would be bad, add them up and you have Toronto’s “shut down” centre suspended for game two. It was a dumb decision, one that was fuelled by a bad penalty call earlier in the game from a Kadri hit on Wingles. Not surprisingly Kadri decided he would put himself ahead of his team and show the ref what a real hit from behind looked like, further wrecking the game and the upcoming games for the Leafs.
The list goes on and on: Polak was bad, the leafs d-core was in shambles, Gardiner give aways, Komarov has EXTENDED power play time, and Plekanec actually hurt the Leafs when he was on the ice. Regardless, the almighty, ‘don’t ever question me’ Mike Babcock needs to sort his team out in a hurry if they want to jump back in this series. If not maybe he can help coach their golf swings.