Sports Analyzing Morgan Rielly’s performance early in Maple Leafs’ season
Leafs’ power play this season is to tap into Auston Matthews one-timer
The Maple Leafs power play, which should have been a source of pride, was pedestrian last season. They shot out of a cannon with 11 goals in the first 13 games, then slowed down, scoring only 35 times in the remaining 69 games. So changes were inevitable. Those changes started at the top, with assistant Jim Hiller now an assistant with the New York Islanders, replaced by Paul McFarland, who organized the second-most-potent power play in the NHL last year in Florida.
It’s amazing how much one season can change expectations, but a 20-goal, 72-point season from Morgan Rielly in 2018-19 has completely altered the anticipated offensive output for the 25-year-old defenceman.
Before a four-point performance that saw Rielly tie Rick Vaive’s Leafs record for the most assists in a regular season second period, there were a few whispers that Rielly was having a slow start — with a lowly five points in six games. That sounds pretty crazy, but when you consider that four of those five points came on the power play, and Rielly has yet to score a goal, it makes a bit more sense, even if it’s slightly unreasonable on the face of it.
Maple Leafs set to name captain before puck drop at Wednesday’s opener
The Maple Leafs are poised to name a captain by the time the puck drops to open their 2019-20 season on Wednesday at Scotiabank Arena. Just who will it be, however, remained anyone’s guess on Tuesday night. Auston Matthews — the team’s highest paid player and most prolific scorer — might have been the favourite until a disorderly conduct charge in Arizona that’s still before the courts. In the wake of that revelation, coach Mike Babcock and GM Kyle Dubas made clear how disappointed they were that Matthews had decided to keep it a secret from the team until it surfaces on social media.
A lot has been made of Rielly’s pairing with newcomer Cody Ceci, as Ceci has a long history of poor play in tough minutes, so there’s an implicit expectation that things won’t work out. It’s early in the season, but we can take a look at how the two have played together compared to Rielly’s career year alongside Ron Hainsey last season.
The sample sizes are small, but so far this season the Rielly-Ceci pairing has been incredible at controlling play in front of both creases, but has really struggled everywhere else.
Rielly has typically played extremely tough matchups under Mike Babcock with partners who don’t necessarily help him out much. One of the reasons I wasn’t sold on him being a Norris candidate last season was that almost across the board the Leafs were worse off at 5-on-5 when Rielly was on the ice than off of it.
Mitch Marner scores twice, Maple Leafs beat Blue Jackets 4-1
Mitch Marner scored twice and added an assist, Frederik Andersen made 28 saves and the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-1 on Friday night. Auston Matthews had a goal and a pair of assists, and Cody Ceci — who came from Ottawa in an off-season trade — got his first goal as a Maple Leaf to help spoil Columbus' home opener.Cam Atkinson scored for the Blue Jackets in a sixth straight season opener, the longest active streak in the NHL. Mud Bruneteau of the Detroit Red Wings (1940-45) and Yvon Cournoyer of the Montreal Canadiens (1973-78) also scored in six straight.
More likely than not, that wasn’t a function of Rielly’s own play. But in order to be a premier defenceman in the NHL, you need to do more than just produce points, and the best defencemen can carry poor partners. Erik Karlsson carried Filip Kuba and others en route to Norris Trophies. P.K. Subban in his prime carried Hal Gill and Josh Gorges. Drew Doughty carries a bunch of players most hockey fans haven’t heard of.
So despite the situation, Rielly’s underlying numbers in differential form were not impressive last season. Typically, you would take the trade-off of being outshot while controlling high danger chances from the inner slot, but the sample size with high danger chances this early in the season is very small, even for a high event team like the Maple Leafs.
What that means is the confidence we should have in Ceci and Rielly’s early-season dominance at inner slot differentials being something sustainable is lower than what it should be in shots or shot attempts since those happen more frequently and will have less randomness involved in a small sample. And unfortunately, those numbers are the less impressive ones.
Cody Ceci-Morgan Rielly pairing pays early dividends as Leafs beat Blue Jackets for second straight win
Codi Ceci and Morgan Rielly appear to have developed some quick chemistry on the Maple Leafs’ blue-line. Very quick. The two had a major say in the Leafs’ 4-1 win in Columbus Friday, with Ceci scoring his first goal as a Leaf and Rielly picking up three assists. In a game where the Leafs were both solid and disorganized in their own zone, an offensive flourish between the two helped make a difference against a Columbus team that likes to take the body.Mitch Marner offered another massive dose of his own puck magic, scoring twice as the Leafs won their first road game of the season and improved to 2-0 overall. Auston Matthews scored the other goal.
For what it’s worth, though, when looking into the inner slot shots Rielly’s differential is improved by becoming more low-event than before. The Leafs are giving up just five high danger chances against every 60 minutes Rielly is on the ice at 5-on-5 this year, compared to 8.3 last season. This is a notable defensive improvement if it lasts, but it has come at the loss of some offence for the team while he’s out there as well.
The question then becomes whether that drop in offence is due to Rielly being less involved in creating chances, or another factor entirely? Let’s dig into Rielly’s individual offensive performance.
Rielly’s offensive performance compared to last season is extremely consistent, and in fact he’s even more involved in scoring chances than he was in 2018-19. He’s getting more chances himself, creating a little more for his teammates, gaining the offensive zone just as often and as easily as he did last season, so what’s the issue?
Rielly’s offensive zone passing is down slightly from last season and his passes to the slot have dropped as well. One of Rielly’s primary assets as an offensive defenceman is that he’s one of the NHL’s highest-quality playmakers from the blue line and this makes it seem as though he’s not been performing at his best in that department early this season. But is he actually passing the puck less often and shooting more?
Report: No contract talks yet between Maple Leafs, Muzzin
The Toronto Maple Leafs and defenseman Jake Muzzin have yet to discuss a contract extension, TSN's Pierre LeBrun reported on Wednesday's edition of "Insider Trading." "Jake Muzzin, their best defender early this season, there have been no contract talks at all. Not this summer, not early in the season between his camp and the Toronto Maple Leafs," LeBrun said. Muzzin is an impending unrestricted free agent and is eligible to sign an extension at any time. Yet the Leafs are reportedly waiting to see how blue-liners Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci fit before engaging in contract discussions with any of their other defensemen.
Last season Rielly attempted 26.01 offensive zone passes every 60 minutes at 5-on-5, while this season he’s attempting 27.03, so he’s actually passing slightly more often, but his completion rate has dropped from 59.9 per cent in 2018-19 to just 50 per cent this year.
That decline in completion rate extends to slot passes as well, where Rielly is attempting a whopping nine per 60 minutes compared to 6.75 last season, but only completing 27.8 per cent of them compared to 47.3 per cent last year.
The explanation for that can involve a multitude of factors; the sloppiness of early-season hockey, teams focusing more on taking away Rielly’s passing lanes after a career season, Rielly himself not playing as well, bad luck, or teammates just not receiving enough passes in a small sample.
The overall takeaway though, is that Rielly hasn’t struggled to produce offence individually. It’s true that almost all of his assists at even strength came in one game, but that’s just random distribution more than an indication Rielly was struggling up to that point.
Rielly is still without a goal of his own this season and, again, he’s getting more scoring chances than he was last season. It’s true that the Leafs as a whole are producing less offence while he’s on the ice compared to last season, but it doesn’t appear to be Rielly’s doing by any measure. In fact, he’s a model of offensive and transition consistency.
Whether he can carry Ceci throughout the season is up for debate when you look at the differentials, but nothing individually in Rielly’s performance makes me worry about him.
Rick Zamperin: Toronto Maple Leafs’ struggles are grossly exaggerated .
The Toronto Maple Leafs have not burst out of the gate this NHL season, but aside from some subpar performances, there are a couple of underlying factors.For all the so-called hockey experts who are predicting the demise of the slumping Toronto Maple Leafs, I can't help but refer them to literary icon Mark Twain's famous quip, "the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.
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