Game Preview: Leafs look to break down the Wild

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Tonight, the Leafs will look to crack the tough nut known as the Minnesota Wild, who will almost definitely be bringing a tight, contained road game into the ACC for game six of the regular season.

The Wild are currently the best shot preventing team in the league with under 22 shots allowed per game after six games. They’ve been excellent at 5 on 5, outscoring opponents 2:1 at evens. So, they’ve pretty much been the opposite of the Leafs, who eat shots for breakfast and are thriving on special teams excellence at the moment.

 LeafsWild
Record5-1-03-1-2
GF/G3.67 (4th)2.67 (16th)
GA/G2.5 (13th)2.0 (6th)
SF/G30.8 (15th)30.3 (17th)
SA/G34.2 (25th)21.7 (1st)
PP29.2% (6th)30.8% (5th)
PK90.9% (2nd)72.7% (24th)
5 on 5 F/A1.08 (15th)2.0 (5th)

The two teams are also opposites in the sense that the Wild are tied for first in the NHL in faceoff proficiency at 57.9%. The Leafs are sitting with a paltry 45.7% success rate at the moment. Mikko Koivu and Kyle Brodziak are hovering around 60% on the dot; the Leafs’ top three centers are all under 50%.

The ridiculous contract given to Ryan Suter by the Wild last summer has been as close to earned as is possible so far this season, one would think. Suter’s 28:39 leads the league in TOI/g; Suter is playing nearly a full minute more than the second-most-played defenceman Dennis Seidenberg. Together with Jonas Brodin, the Wild have as good of a top pairing as there is in the league at the moment. Brodin’s 5 points have him 6th among defencemen in scoring.

Minnesota’s presumptive starter Josh Harding has a .948 save percentage, 1.06 GAA and a 3-1-0 record so far this season. Update: Darcy Kuemper is expected to start for the Wild; Kuemper has only made three career starts: 1-2-0 with a 2.08 GAA and .916 SV%.

One area of weakness in the Wild’s game at the moment is on the penalty kill, which is in the low 70s. The Leafs’ third-ranked powerplay may be the key to a win tonight when they do get the opportunity; the Wild do not take many penalties, having only spent 13:27 at 4 v 5 over 6 games. The Wild are also playing their second game in as many nights, having beat Buffalo last night 2-1.

Hopefully the Leafs won’t be forced to try to break the Wild down without the assistance of leading goal scorer (tied with Lupul) James van Riemsdyk. JvR is currently a game time decision. JvR is one goal off the league lead at the moment with five on the season and has been a consistent force for the Leafs.

At the ready in case JvR can’t play is Trevor Smith, recalled today from the Marlies. Smith could center the fourth line, with Lupul joining Kessel and Bozak on the top unit and McClement shifting to the third line wing, but that’s just my guess and one of a few possibilities.

James Reimer returns to the net for the Leafs tonight for his third appearance of the season. He hasn’t played since a poor second period outing against the Senators in the third game of the season, back on October 5th. I’m a big fan of this choice from Carlyle; it strays from the win-and-you’re in model and keeps the fire burning in the bellies of both goaltenders. Bernier didn’t lose, but he was much less than perfect on Saturday, and so it seems a great opportunity to keep the goaltenders really pushing one another.

It could be a tight game tonight akin to the Avalanche loss, so, unlike Saturday vs. the Oilers, any one bad goal could be all the more magnified. Let’s see how Reimer responds.

***

Projected Starting Lines:

Maple Leafs Lines vs Minnesota Wild

Toronto Maple Leafs vs Minnesota Wild, Oct. 15th, 2013
Leafs Lineup  
Left WingCenterRight Wing
LupulBozakKessel
RaymondBollandLeivo
McClementKadriBroll
AshtonSmithOrr
JvR out
Left DefenseRight Defense
PhaneufGunnarsson
RiellyFranson
GardinerRanger
Goalies
Starter: Reimer
Bernier

***

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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]
  • george

    Great primer!
    I hope Reimer keeps the goaltending battle going all year long.. a bad outing here and right back to Bernier could sideline him for some time.

  • mORRganRielly

    I guess the fact that Harding’s numbers are unsustainable and Reimer’s numbers can only go up should make this a game in which the outcome should favour the Leafs.  At least I hope so.  The team can’t do much worse than they played on Saturday night.  
    Go Leafs Go!

  • Mind Bomb

    Big Win, at home, against a team on a Back to Back, this is a momentum maker. We need to be 6-1 and bank these points, these are invaluable come spring. This is were a Playoff Contender wins. 
    4-2 Leafs with an empty Netter, Rielly with the Winner !

  • mORRganRielly

    CanuckUKinToronto Oooo, I didn’t know that.  I thought it was confirmed!  Guess it’s Backstrom?

  • mORRganRielly

    CanuckUKinToronto Actually, it’s Kuemper.  Never mind.  He’s good.

  • lieffan

    Let’s test this Kuemper fucker early and often!

  • Loric76

    CanuckUKinToronto McLaren will be back by then too, so all three will sit.  The spot that was up for grabs by the bubble guys was snagged by Raymond.
    That said, of the three I think Broll stays in the lineup as the 13th forward

  • Greg Fenton

    This will be an interesting offense vs defense match up

  • Xxxxxnew

    Minnesota is paying Suter, Koivu and Parise $31.2 million this season.

  • Loric76

    Mind Bomb you’re not thinking big enough…imagine the momentum an 81-1-0 season would create going into the playoffs lol