Game Preview: Leafs visit the stingy Minnesota Wild

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Frank Gunn/Canadian Press

Tonight, the Leafs, scorers of two goals in their last three games, look to rediscover their scoring touch against a Minnesota team that’s allowed only 18 goals over 10 home games (7-1-2).

Once known for a 2011-12 collapse often bragged about in the advanced stats community (started at 20-7-3, missed the playoffs), Mike Yeo’s team this season has achieved a 10-4-4 record with a shooting percentage below league average and top-notch Corsi. While Josh Harding’s .947 save percentage over 14 games is remarkable, he’s done it while facing only 286 shots (20.4 shots a game is crazy low, especially coming from a Leafs fan).

In terms of the enemy threat, Zach Parise leads the team with 15 points (playing on a line with Koivu and youngster Charlie Coyle). Pominville is shooting the lights out with 11 goals in 18 games, playing on a line with Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund. The Wild have recently put together a shutdown line of Matt Cooke, Kyle Brodziak and Justin Fontaine that has been experimented against top competition at even strength the past couple of games. For anyone wondering about Dany Heatley, he’s got 4 points in 18 games and is currently on the Wild’s 4th line. He scored 50 in ’07, though.

The Wild have been riding their top pairing on defence very heavily, even more so than usual, in recent outings. Suter played over 35 minutes the other night in a shootout win over Carolina (over half the game). Brodin clocked over 29 minutes. With Clayton Stoner and Keith Ballard out hurt, perhaps the bottom two pairs are there to be exploited, but the Wild play effective shot-suppressing team defense.

The Leafs last meeting with the Wild was an amusing 4-goal, 13-shot win in mid October. The Leafs allowed 37 shots, but scored on their first shot of the game against rookie Darcy Kuemper, and then put 2 more by him on their next 6 shots in what is likely to be Kuemper’s only NHL start this season. Obviously, the odds of replicating their 31% shooting percentage against the Wild with Harding or Backstrom in net, who is top 5 in save percentage, are what one might label as “not high.”

The Leafs have been playing .500 since their 6-1 start, but have been winning games they should against weaker teams for the most part. The Wild are not a weak team, but the Leafs will have to keep that habit up over an easy next 10 games before embarking on their hellish December schedule, as we discussed.

Building on a good final 40 minutes of even strength play against Boston will be the priority for the Leafs tonight. The Leafs mustered 18 shots at even strength in the 2nd period and kept the Bruins scoreless at 5 on 5, but were ultimately let down by an 0-7 power play and a 1 for 3 penalty kill. It was the opposite to how the Leafs have been playing while winning this season, and sure enough they lost. That will have to change tonight; the Wild penalty kill is the weakest part of their game, and the Leafs took advantage of that for two of their three (non empty net) goals in the first meeting. The Leafs PK, meanwhile, missing Bozak and Bolland, has dropped out of the top 10 for the first time in a long time after conceding twice against Boston; it will need to get back on track against the second best power play in the league.

The sight of the Leafs cycling the puck in the Bruins end was a redeeming sight amid the Leaf loss. Provided they can successfully break out of their end, they have the speed to out skate teams on the cycle if they’re committed to outworking them. The 60-minute-long focus and effort continues to elude the team, however.

Said Carlyle after yesterday’s practice: “the best teams in the league can get the pucks in deep and go to work. We haven’t done enough of that.” Carlyle was pleased with the Leafs ability to retrieve the puck on the forecheck in the 2nd period against Boston and was happy to see the Leafs moving well off the puck to sustain the cycle, but he wants to see those things executed consistency before he gets too excited.

The lines from practice have been Raymond – JvR- Kessel, Lupul – Kadri – Kulemin, Ashton – McClement – Clarkson, and McLaren – Smithson – Orr. Defence pairings are likely to remain Phaneuf-Gunnarsson, Gardiner-Franson and Fraser-Ranger, with Rielly as a 7D option.

James Reimer stopped 36 of 37 shots in the Leafs’ 4-1 win over Minnesota on October 15 and seems like the logical choice in net. Update: Bernier gets the start as Carlyle chooses to rotate after a loss. Backstrom is in for the Wild (1-1-2, 3.42 GAA, .871sv%).

 LeafsWild
Record11-6-010-4-4
GF/G2.88 (11th)2.61 (17th)
GA/G2.35 (10th)2.06 (3rd)
SF/G26.7 (28th)28.9 (22nd)
SA/G36.5 (28th)24.2 (1st)
PP21.7% (6th)23.9% (2nd)
PK83.8% (12th)78.3% (26th)
5 on 5 F/A1.16 (8th)1.75 (2nd)
Sh%10.8% (1st)9.0% (15th)
Sv%93.6% (3rd)91.5% (12th)
FO%45.6% (25th)55.1% (3rd)
  • mcloki

    Morning gents. Nice to have hockey back.

  • Dan39

    Morning. It’s been frustrating that the team has generally not played physical against these soft Western Conference teams we should be taking advantage of, opting instead to play shinny hockey, but but I’m hopeful tonight marks a change in that regard. And I don’t mean beating the piss out of Clayton Stoner, although I wouldn’t mind that (good fight for Fraser, I think). 
    3-1 Leafs win.

  • PEIleafnation

    hump day in leaf PEI nation and they need to get 6 points by midnight Saturday…they will! Clarkson breakout week

  • mcloki

    Where is everyone this morning?

  • Beleafer29

    YES GAME DAY!!!   As some know I live here in Minnesota, and today is my LEAFS DAY!!!  Sporting the Blue and White all day! I will be in ST. PAUL from noon to midnight!
    I will be cheering on from the 13th row where Leafs attack twice,  $75/seat!  Not a bad price!!!
    May Kessel and Gardiner (both Minnesota Boys) sink a puck in the State of Hockey!!
    I know the Wild too, stop Pominville and Parise….WE WIN!!!!!   GO LEAFS GO!!!

  • Beleafer29

    Where Phil “The Thrill” came from!!!!  A MUST SEE!!!  Welcome back home Phil for just a day!!!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HYMTMqei5AY

  • http://i.imgur.com/MyKj5C3.gif ingy56

    Beleafer29 Nice…too bad the guys don’t visit more often. Excellent seats and price. Enjoy the game.

  • Burtonboy

    “the best teams in the league can get the pucks in deep and go to work. We haven’t done enough of that.”
    Exactly the reason why the West has been much better then the East so far this yr.

  • Beleafer29

    CARLYLE play this video pre-game…PLEASE!!!!!!  Most of these hits are suspensions today!
    WILD have 9 players under 6 feet and 200 lbs, smurfs of the west.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GdiY-2u6U9Q
    “He sized him up, he lined him up…….he LAID HIM OUT!!!

  • Jmessih

    Happy to see Grabo having success he worked his ass of for this teamhttps://twitter.com/ChuckGormleyCSNhttps://twitter.com/ChuckGormleyCSN/status/400466860111441921
    https://twitter.com/search?q=%23CapitalsTalk&src=hash Asked about Caps’ third line of Chimera-Ward-Grabovski, Adam Oates replied, ‘You mean the top line?’ Retweeted by https://twitter.com/mirtle

  • http://i.imgur.com/MyKj5C3.gif ingy56

    https://twitter.com/SNHockeyCentralhttps://twitter.com/SNHockeyCentral/status/400630287836516353
    Buffalo Sabres have called “a major news conference” today at 10:30 a.m. ET

  • Burtonboy

    Hope they trade Miller before Friday lol

  • theacs1966

    Beleafer29 Kessel is from Wisconsin.  Madison I believe.

  • Jmessih

    ingy56 Traded miller, announcing a new owner, new coach, new logo and moved to the ahl?

  • Mind Bomb

    Jmessih ingy56  Moving to Quebec :)

  • BPsotka

    Jmessih ingy56 If they lose Miller, they’ll get blown out in the AHL too.

  • http://i.imgur.com/MyKj5C3.gif ingy56

    Burtonboy Think it’s a trade? I might have thought we would have heard more chatter. I wonder if they’ve fired Rolston.

  • Mind Bomb

    Beleafer29  Enjoy the Game Bro

  • http://i.imgur.com/MyKj5C3.gif ingy56

    Mind Bomb Jmessih ingy56 wiski deserves better.

  • Burtonboy

    ingy56 Burtonboy Might be .

  • Mind Bomb

    mcloki  Morning MC. we are winning 11-6, people dont start coming on till we are losing and they can Bitch !

  • Mind Bomb

    ingy56 Mind Bomb Jmessih  Wiski will make them Better :)  Wait hmmm

  • BPsotka

    They’re a fairly young team up front (three of their top 6) and hopefully we can frustrate them. Unfortunately, the other three in their top 6 are Parise, Koivu, and Pomminville which almost rivals our JvR, Kessel, and Lupul combination. We’ll have to outwork them if we want to win again- I’d hate to rely on Reimer to bail us out once more.

  • Burtonboy

    ingy56 Burtonboy There has been some talk about him going to Nashville

  • http://i.imgur.com/MyKj5C3.gif ingy56

    theacs1966 Beleafer29 He did play one season of hackey at University of Minnesota

  • http://i.imgur.com/MyKj5C3.gif ingy56

    Burtonboy ingy56 If so, Rinne must be out for quite a while.

  • http://i.imgur.com/MyKj5C3.gif ingy56

    https://twitter.com/JSportsnethttps://twitter.com/JSportsnet/status/400632777999003648
    Sounds like Buffalo will announce the creation of a new position in the org. today, President of Hockey Operations.

  • Burtonboy

    ingy56 Killjoy lol

  • http://i.imgur.com/MyKj5C3.gif ingy56

    Burtonboy ingy56 Maybe it’s Roberto Luongo?

  • Jmessih

    ingy56 That is major? FU Sabers. Huge buzz kill.

  • Burtonboy

    ingy56 Burtonboy Seems to be the trend around the NHL . Burke in Calgary and Davidson in Columbus .

  • Bobsyouruncle

    Jmessih 
    lol    Looks like the mighty Grabovski could be the most productive UFA from last summer. 17 points in 19 games and blowing Bozak out of the water in the dot. Whoda thunk it, eh? He just keeps on ticking.

  • http://i.imgur.com/MyKj5C3.gif ingy56

    Burtonboy ingy56 Wonder who’s out there?

  • Burtonboy

    ingy56 Burtonboy Good question. I have no idea

  • Burtonboy

    https://twitter.com/HennyTweetshttps://twitter.com/HennyTweets/status/400635176134246400
    Phil kessel plays in his 300th game as a leaf tonight. to date he’s scored 129 goals and recorded 272 pts. “Thank you kessel.” https://twitter.com/search?q=%23tmltalk&src=hash

  • BPsotka

    Burtonboy A hatty to celebrate?

  • http://i.imgur.com/MyKj5C3.gif ingy56

    Burtonboy ingy56 Rick Dudley?

  • Bobsyouruncle

    Burtonboy  
    And hasn’t missed 1 game since coming off IR 12 games into his first season here.

  • http://i.imgur.com/MyKj5C3.gif ingy56

    CanuckUKinToronto ingy56 Burtonboy That too…just thinking ex-Sabre, done every job in the business….mind you he really does like scouting and evaluating talent.

  • theacs1966

    ingy56 theacs1966 Beleafer29 He’s still a Wisconsin boy.  Born there, grew up there, lives there in the off season.  It’s true he visited Minnesota, he spent about 1/52nd of his life there, following that logic, he’s a Toronto boy!

  • mcloki

    Burtonboy I love Henny.

  • mcloki

    Burtonboy ingy56 Please be Healy

  • http://i.imgur.com/MyKj5C3.gif ingy56

    mcloki Burtonboy ingy56 Haha…I’m in.

  • mcloki

    ingy56 Burtonboy Always liked that man.

  • http://i.imgur.com/MyKj5C3.gif ingy56

    mcloki ingy56 Burtonboy Who, Dudley? Absolutely.

  • mcloki

    Jmessih ingy56 Going back to Electric Pikachu logo

  • mcloki

    ingy56 mcloki Burtonboy Yes Dudley. I liked the team Burke was building.

  • http://i.imgur.com/MyKj5C3.gif ingy56

    mcloki ingy56 Burtonboy Met him at a junior game once, seemed very shy and humble. Very smart guy…knows his stuff.

  • dlb eh

    Bobsyouruncle
    he’s a bargain at 3m

  • http://i.imgur.com/MyKj5C3.gif ingy56

    https://twitter.com/TSNBobMcKenziehttps://twitter.com/TSNBobMcKenzie/status/400638349561843712
    Sounds like Pat LaFontaine is being introduced as BUF’s new president of hockey operations this morning.