The Leafs emerged with a convincing enough 4-0 win the last time these two teams met (October 10), but the game wasn’t always without doubt.
The game featured two 8-10 minute spells without a Leaf shot, both in the first period and to start the second. It was one of the Leafs’ worst nights in the faceoff circle, going 5 for 22 in the first 30 minutes and 38% overall on the night. Ironically, the Leafs scored their first goal off a lost faceoff when JvR pounced on a puck behind the net and fed Kessel in front.
The Leafs have improved in this area of late in part thanks to the addition of Jerred Smithson (57.5%), but also in large part thanks to Jay McClement, who now finds himself tied for 15th in the league among centermen to take 200 or more faceoffs this season at 55.4%. Toronto’s now 47.1% overall, which is poor but quickly improving.
The Leafs broke the 0-0 deadlock in the October 10 win after accomplishing little in the first 30 minutes, which opened up the play against a Nashville team keeps things tight when they’re playing their game. Morgan Rielly had one of his best games of the early season, cementing for me, anyway, that he deserved to stick around for a while. Bernier recored his first shutout as a Leaf while Kessel and JvR led the way offensively with three goals and five points between them.
The Leafs will get a boost in the form of Nazem Kadri’s return. The Leafs went a commendable 2-1 without Kadri (and Bozak and Bolland, obviously), and now look to build on the last couple of games with a new configuration down the middle. It’s expected Kadri will join JvR and Kessel up top, bumping Holland down between Kulemin and Raymond on line three. That’s just based on the practice lines.
Raymond – McClement – Kulemin was effective against the Islanders on Tuesday night, taking a number of shifts against the Tavares line and putting him on the defensive for much of the night with some sustained offensive zone time. I would keep that line together, myself, but Carlyle opted to keep Lupul – Smith – Clarkson together in practice, and that would leave Peter Holland to play with Smithson and Orr on the fourth line, or something.
How many minutes Peter Holland plays in this one will be interesting to monitor now that he’s been moved down the lineup. It could give us a clue as to whether or not it will be Holland or Smith returning to the Marlies when Tyler Bozak returns, presumably on Saturday. Bozak will take over the top line center spot while Kadri becomes the 2C; it is likely a question of whether or not Carlyle wants to put McClement in the third line center role next to a Kulemin and Raymond and continue forth with that as a shutdown line (while Smith moves to L4), or if Holland is going to play as 3C while Carlyle protects the line’s minutes.
Kadri, for his part, hopefully doesn’t let the suspension affect how he plays his game. Kadri mentioned being “on probation,” but he’s at his best when he plays with an edge. He should take note that the League basically admitted his hit on Granlund was clean. A reckless collision with the goaltender, which Brendan Shanahan called unintentional, shouldn’t be any reason for him to neuter his desire to mix it up.
In net the Leafs are likely to continue with Jonathan Bernier, who shut out the Predators on October 10th and is coming off a win on Tuesday. Not that ‘win and you’re in’ is the model Carlyle is following… Got to feel for Reimer, but no one is going to complain if the Leafs keep getting .930+ goaltending night in, night out.
The Predators are without Pekke Rinne and prior to this week were on a horrible run of games in which they allowed 3-5 goals and scored 0-1 of their own while losing four straight. They broke out in a big way on Saturday against Chicago with a 7-2 win and shut out Detroit 2-0 on Tuesday, so they’re rolling in with the momentum of a couple of good showings against some good competition. Rookie Marek Mazanec is likely to start in net (2-2 with a .927 save percentage).
The Leafs fell to last in the League in shots against per game since Tuesday, and there has been some interesting remarks coming out of the Leaf dressing room as it pertains to the ongoing shot paradox. Said Lupul:
“Our coaches track scoring chances, not shots. After the game, they put up the scoring chances. And if there’s ever a big disparity in that, it’s going to be an issue with the coaches and the players. But if [opponents] get 40 shots and five scoring chances, that doesn’t concern us.”
Certainly Tuesday night’s win over the Islanders was a game in which the Leafs were soundly outshot but were getting the better of the scoring chances. Whether that has been the case in general over the course of the season is a matter of contention.
Head to Head:
|GF/G||2.86 (10th)||2.29 (24th)|
|GA/G||2.29 (9th)||2.90 (21st)|
|SF/G||26.5 (28th)||28.4 (23rd)|
|SA/G||35.9 (30th)||30.5 (18th)|
|PP||24.3% (2nd)||20.0% (13th)|
|PK||84.0% (11th)||82.2% (16th)|
|5 on 5 F/A||1.20 (8th)||0.63 (29th)|
|Sh%||10.8% (3rd)||8.1% (23rd)|
|Sv%||93.6% (2nd)||90.5% (25th)|
|FO%||47.1% (25th)||54.9% (2nd)|
GAME DAY LINKS:
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Sean McIndoe plays mythbuster with a number of common NHL perceptions, including “Red Light” Racicot, the injury that ended Neely’s career, and (predictably) Courtnall-for-Kordic.