Here we are. In September, the playoffs seemed all but a pipe dream for the Maple Leafs. The Caps, well they entered the Stanley Cup favourite. Add Kevin Shattenkirk to the blue line and you’ve got the makings of a juggernaut. At first glance, and second, and probably third, many think this should be a clean sweep. Here’s the thing about the playoffs, things rarely go according to plan (ask Jake Allen). There’s something special about the playoffs, the pressure is higher, the games are tighter and things happen when they usually wouldn’t. Let’s face it, if the Leafs have a chance, they are going to need many things to go their way. For starters, Andersen to steal a few games, the power play to run at close to 30%, and then they hope that the young Leafs shine under the spotlight, not fade.
There is no way of measuring how Andersen will perform under the pressure, the same for the kids. But the lethal power play, well that can be measured. At the trade deadline, the acquisition of Kevin Shattenkirk made an already dangerous Caps PP, more dangerous. If the Leafs are going to have a chance, they need to stay out of the box and hope the PP scheme clicks.
The Leafs top unit, of Matthews, Nylander, Gardiner, Brown and Komarov is easy to dissect. Adding Kapanen to replace one of Brown or Komarov would be a smart decision, the “new” Leaf brings more skill to the PP and another dangerous shooting option (9/18 AHL goals this year were PP goals). The first unit shot breakdowns, brought to you by Micah McCurdy, indicate a stationary set-up; the video indicates the same.
It is the standard 1-3-1 setup, with a twist. Instead of the one-timer options for Nylander & Matthews, they play on their strong sides. Brown parks himself in front of the net; both him and Komarov handle puck retrievals and move it to Matthews or Nylander. The Nylander and Gardiner clusters speak for themselves: shots are generated by passes from Matthews or each other. Many times this year, Matthews feeds Nylander who quickly gets a shot off. This opportunity presents itself more when the team on the PK employs the Czech Press because Nylander has more space to release. If Nylander has to puck, Matthews creeps into the quiet area of the slot, an explanation for his shot location. He presents himself as a shooting option that requires little time to release the puck after the pass is received.
Here’s the wrinkle: If you replace Komarov with Kapanen, once Matthews creeps in the middle, Kapanen can slide up to the top of the face-off circle. He’s a right-handed shot, opening up a one-timer option. Nylander has shown his ability to thread the needle countless times this season. The Kapanen addition gives him Gardiner at the top with Matthews in the slot (to tip) and Brown net front, Matthews in the middle for a shot or Kapanen on the far side with Matthews and Brown at the net. One of those options will likely always be open and the Leafs have to trust that Nylander will find it. This makes the top half of the Leafs power play similar to Washington’s, who use Backstrom on the half-wall to feed Oshie, Shattenkirk and Ovechkin. The difference: Washington has to respect Nylander’s shot (more than Backstrom) because he’s demonstrated the ability to inflict damage with that, as well.
The Leafs are in tough, that part is not news. Playing with house money, adding a wrinkle to an already successful power play could be the boost they need. Kapanen provides a one-timer option and more player movement by the Leafs, something the Caps would have to adjust for. In a playoff series, there isn’t a lot of time for adjustments, one goal can be the difference. If it leads to win, that may plant seeds of doubt in a Capitals team that has left more questions than answers, in the playoffs.