Game Preview: Leafs look to keep winning while also playing better vs. Canes

Game Preview: Leafs look to keep winning while also playing better vs. Canes

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The Leafs will bank the points and run in the early season, but let’s hope Randy Carlyle’s apprehensive sentiments about the team’s 6-1 start are hitting home with the players. The Leafs have been a high-wire act the past few games and it won’t cut it against a team like the Blackhawks, who are on the docket this Saturday. Tonight against the Hurricanes, let’s hope to see the Leafs play a more complete game than what’s been on display the last few outings, results aside.

 
Leafs
Canes
Record6-1-02-2-3
GF/G3.71 (4th)2.14 (26th)
GA/G2.29 (7th)2.71 (17th)
SF/G28.4 (22nd)32.1 (9th)
SA/G34.6 (27th)32.9 (23rd)
PP33.3 (2nd)12.5 (23rd)
PK88.9% (3rd)83.3% (12th)
5 on 5 F/A1.17 (11th)0.92 (17th)
Sh%13.1% (3rd)7% (27th)
Sv%93.4% (5th)91.7% (13th)

What’s interesting is that the Leafs are top 10 or better in all major categories except, you guessed it, shots. It hasn’t always been pretty, but great goaltending, special teams excellence, and opportunistic scoring do add up to wins.

The big question surrounding this team that won’t go away is the question of sustainability. There aren’t many recent precedents for what the Leafs have been doing, but they’ve been fairly successful at it over the past 55 games; 62 if you include the playoff series against Boston. The Leafs are currently 4-1 when getting outshot in the early goings of 2013-14 (outshot in 71% of games so far), after a 2012-13 season in which the team was a remarkable 21-10-5 when outshot (75% of games). The Leafs were 5-7 last season in the rare instances when they outshot their opponents.

It’s clear this coaching staff is not worried about getting edged out on the shot clock; the Leafs key in on taking away the slot, even if it means eating a few more shots, and they can usually generate at least as many quality scoring chances as the other team with less shots taken. What it should care about is the total lack of offensive zone time on display against the Wild.

It’s as Carlyle said after the last game: “The worry for the coaches is that some night we’re going to get our butt kicked playing like this.”

Further: “We are not going to accept what’s happening. We are on the receiving end too much, and you can’t play that way and expect to win.”

And yesterday: “We know we can play to a higher level and play a better puck possession game than what we have so far.”

Indeed, what I’ll be looking for tonight is a less negative possession game against an opponent that is mediocre in most respects. I’ve heard a similar quote to the last one from Carlyle numerous times in the past several months. Carlyle’s goal for more offensive zone time in the team’s performance has been left wanting as the cycle game has been all but non existent the past couple of games. There is potential for improvement, especially when Clarkson and Kulemin are reinserted into the top 9; Kulemin is arguably the Leafs’ strongest winger on the boards, while Clarkson is ferocious on the forecheck.

As for James van Riemsdyk, he practiced for 40 minutes yesterday, and Randy Carlyle is hopeful that he’ll be ready to go tonight.

The Leafs lost two of three games against the Hurricanes in 2012-13. Toronto had little answer for Staal brothers, who combined for four goals and seven points over the three outings. Jordan Staal has just one assist through seven games, while Eric has 4 points, but if there’s one place the Thunder Bay, Ontario natives will find some extra jump it’s under the bright lights of the Air Canada Centre.

Jeff Skinner has been the most potent Hurricane in the early going, with four points (two goals, two assists) in his last four games. Skinner leads the team in assists (five), points (seven), and shots on goal (28).

Presumptive starter James Reimer has a 4-1-1 career record against the Hurricanes and has only allowed six even strength goals against in six meetings. He’s coming off a one-goal, 37-save win over the Wild.

Last Meeting:

The last meeting between these two teams featured a dramatic third period Leaf comeback in the final five minutes, including a memorable game-winning goal courtesy of #19 in Blue and White (Bowen’s call on that goal was poetry). Almost as pretty to watch was the Leafs’ opening goal that night. On the third shift of the game, JvR, Bozak and Kessel combined beautifully after some sustained pressure. This was one of my favourite Leaf wins last season.

 

Alec Brownscombe is the founder of MapleLeafsHotStove.com, where he has written daily about the Leafs since September of 2008. He was also the editor of the 2009-12 Maple Leafs Annuals. You can contact him at [email protected]