By one measure, Tyler Seguin has been the most dangerous player all series for either team.
It comes as little consolation to the young star however. The Toronto Maple Leafs have converted on a much higher number of chances than the Boston Bruins, and the Leafs’ most dangerous player—Phil Kessel—has found the back of the net three times already in the series.
I’ve long thought that a playoff series, or even a playoff run, should not change your opinion of a player. If you thought that Seguin was a player coming into the series, you should probably still think that Seguin is a player, regardless of his results from the first six games.
For those catching up (and if you’re reading hockey blogs, I presume you’re past that stage) the Maple Leafs, heavy underdogs against the Bruins in the first round, have come back from a 3-1 deficit to tie the series 3-3 after 2-1 wins in Games 5 and 6. Game 7 on a quick turnaround runs tonight, and it seems as if there are lots of people prepared to bury the Bruins.
The trade that sent the draft pick rights for Seguin to Boston in exchange for Kessel will forever link the two players. Both of them are first-line wingers. It’s seemed for two years now that when one player is on a hot streak, the other is in a slump. Depending on which team you cheer for, one of the two is Voldemort:
Seguin, of course, has lived a charmed NHL life compared to Phil Kessel. No longer. He has been out-played badly, his line reduced to an irrelevancy in the last two games while Kessel is playing himself into a likely contract extension. Seguin has no goals or assists in six games, with linemates Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand combining for one goal and two assists despite 67 shots at James Reimer – a continuation of a late-regular season snooze that saw the line, which scored 44 goals during the season, held scoreless in its final three games. Making matters worse, it was that line on the ice at the end of a long shift for the Toronto Maple Leafs second goal in a 2-1 loss in Game 6. It was scored by Kessel, the guy the Leafs traded a couple of draft picks to get – one of which turned into Seguin.
That’s from Jeff Blair and I think he paints a more disparaging picture of the Bruins first line than I would have in my mind. It’s true that Patrice Bergeron, Seguin and Brad Marchand have combined for a single goal, and none has come at even strength.
But there are six-game stretches throughout a season where that happens on any team. Just because it’s the playoffs doesn’t make it all that much worse. I doubt that a player can “just add effort” and turn scoring chances into goals, and the Bruins’ first line has created a pile of scoring chances.
I’ve counted them, and just at even strength, Seguin has 12, Bergeron has 9 and Marchand has 3. Not a single puck has gone in and they’ve only missed the net on three occasions (Seguin has a post in there somewhere). A scoring chance counts as any attempted un-blocked shot from the front of the net, usually in the offensive zone between the faceoff dots and below the top of the circle. Most goals are scoring chances, but some are re-directed point shots, others bounces off of legs and sometimes the goaltender just whiffs on them.
As far as danger goes, Seguin has taken the best chances for the Bruins (2.8 scoring chances per 20 minutes of play) that makes Kessel (2.0 chances per 20 minutes of play) look rather pedestrian in comparison. I don’t know what’s keeping the puck out of the Maple Leafs’ net when it’s specifically the Bruins’ first line. Seguin’s career shooting percentage is 10.5%, but he’s 0-for-27 shooting the puck in the postseason.
It’s not at all because none of those 27 shots are “quality” shots. We know from his past living arrangements that Seguin has no issue getting to the dirty areas. Nearly half of them are, or at least, shots from a good area that Seguin got away with some good wood. Where he’s aiming, well, you never quite know if a player has picked a corner until a shot gets past a goalie. James Reimer is a very sound positional goaltender who gets himself in the right spot and lets pucks hit him.
You wouldn’t be surprised if a goal resulted on either of these plays:
There’s some Schadenfreude if you’re a Leaf fan off Seguin’s struggles to put the puck in the back of the net. After years of “Thank You Kessel”, a chant Bruins fans have used to taunt the Leafs who have struggled against Boston until this playoff series, Toronto fans turned around and serenaded the Bruins bench with “Thank You Seguin” after Kessel made it 2-0 last night.
Of course, “things seem” is often radically different from “things are”. It took Kessel 23 games and two periods against Boston to score an even strength goal against his former team. He now has two in his last five games, and three total goals in the six-game series, matching his total in 22 games against Boston.
The important thing to do is to not form conclusions based on a small sample of data. For a couple of years now I’ve been leaning towards the possibility that the Leafs won that trade for Kessel: I think they got the better player, straight up.
But Seguin has had his chances, and all it takes is one to get out of his slump. If it’s particularly well-timed, his transgressions in the series will be forgiven. I wouldn’t count out that top line of Bergeron-Seguin-Marchand being a big part of tonight’s seventh game, especially now that the Leafs appear to want to match their top defensive pairing to slow down David Krejci, Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic.