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Maple Leafs 3, Flames 2: Lack of finishing, puck luck, proves costly

January 25, 2021, 11:22 AM ET [142 Comments]
Todd Cordell
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Five observations from Calgary vs Toronto:

1. Luck went the other way. Hockey is a very luck driven sport. The puck takes weird bounces every game and sometimes one or two wonky ones going against you is the difference. It *can* be that simple. I think yesterday’s matinee was a good example of that. The Flames played pretty well throughout. They out-attempted the Leafs by 18, out-chanced them by 12, and won the Expected Goal battle. The statistical profile was encouraging. So, too, was their overall defense against the lethal 1-2 center punch of Auston Matthews and John Tavares. It didn’t matter. Why? A couple unlucky bounces. Wayne Simmonds tried to pass it through his legs in front of the net. It went off his own foot and directed in. That gave Toronto a lead entering P3. The next goal was even stranger. The puck bounced off Matthews’ skate, followed by Rasmus Andersson’s, and into the net. That’s the go-ahead and game-winning goal scored off extremely flukey plays. Sometimes that happens. The Flames played well and if they can replicate performances like that, they’ll come out on top more times than not.

2. Turning back the clock. I thought Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan were fantastic. They were better with Matthew Tkachuk than Dominik Simon, but I thought they were dangerous with either. Gaudreau played with a lot of pace and was buzzing around the offensive zone making plays. His passing was very good (as usual). Monahan was able to consistently get to high-danger areas and he piled up the chances around the net. He was credited with eight chances (five Grade A’s) at 5v5 alone, both of which were game-highs. More favorable usage helps – they’re getting a lot of OZ starts – but Gaudreau and Monahan have looked a lot more dangerous this season than last. That bodes well for the team’s hopes of accomplishing anything this year.

3. Noah Hanifin and Chris Tanev played really strong games. Hanifin frequently used his skating ability to jump into the play and help create offense. He was very active and carried the puck down low on several occasions. Tanev stayed back and was the reliable presence he is paid to be. Chances were 14-3 with that duo on the ice at 5v5; and that’s while playing a large chunk of their minutes against either Matthews or Tavares. If they can put together performances like that with any sort of frequency the Flames are going to be very good.

4. Matthew Tkachuk caused havoc. It was a vintage performance from No. 19. He was all over Jack Campbell – perhaps a little too much at times – and made a ton happen around the net. The Flames piled up the chances with him on the ice and he had more than his fair share of them (eight across all game states). Beyond scoring a goal and posting excellent underlying numbers, Tkachuk managed to aggravate what felt like half of Toronto’s roster. That is what he does and what makes him so effective. He pulls something – most times within the rules of the game – to upset opponents and more or less laughs in their face when confronted. That sets them up to come at him at another time; often leading to a penalty drawn for the Flames. The Leafs aren’t exactly the Broad Street Bullies but a lot of them are unhappy with Tkachuk and I wouldn’t be surprised if they take some shots at him in the next meeting. That could work in Calgary’s favor.

5. Finishing was an issue. The Flames generated a ton of chances. It didn’t really matter, though. They missed the mark on quite a few of them, and failed to beat Campbell on many others. In total, they generated 37 chances (17 high-danger!). That amounted to 3.63 Expected Goals but only two in actuality. Piling up chances doesn’t do much good if you can’t convert them and, despite facing a backup, the Flames were unable to do that. Gotta be more opportunistic.

Numbers via NaturalStatTrick.com

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