Maple Leafs vs. Anaheim Ducks Preview: Into the Valley of…

Phil Kessel #81
TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 22: Phil Kessel #81 of the Toronto Maple Leafs scores his third goal on Jonas Hiller #1 of the Anaheim Ducks during NHL action at the Air Canada Centre October 22, 2013 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)

In the next four nights, the Maple Leafs are going to play three teams who they, fortunately, won’t have to meet in the playoffs unless they wind up in the Finals. It’s going to be a stiff pre-playoff test, assuming the Leafs can net 16 of a possible 34 points in their remaining 17 games. These are good measuring stick games coming up this week.

Here were today’s practice lines:

While both are back practicing with the team, it seems unlikely the Leafs will actually play both enforcers given the 7D/11F formula has been getting results as of late. The options are there within the organization to put together a decent 4th line capable of more than a couple of minutes. Evidently, Carlyle feels he rather up the minutes for his scoring options in the top 9. Given the Leafs are on pace to have six 20-goal scorers in their lineup, there is some sense in dispersing the extra minutes among them. It’s in these back to back situations where it becomes a particularly pointed debate as to whether or not the Leafs should be running the odd 7D/11F set up along with a two-minute enforcer (assuming one of Colton Orr or Frazer McLaren plays). If both enforcers play, the same questions apply, really, except the Leafs can’t share the minutes around a little more on the backend, either.

The Anaheim Ducks are the second-best team in hockey (43-14-7, 119-point pace) and simply one of the best run organizations in the League, with a great current team and one of the best prospect stables. Along the best center-winger tandem in hockey both drafted by the Ducks late in the first round (Perry and Getzlaf, who have combined for 135 points in 64 games) and an embarrassment of riches found in net over the past couple of years, the Ducks are also confident enough in their depth that they don’t have a regular below 11 and a half minutes in average TOI. They have plenty of productive natural centers, so much so they dealt Peter Holland. If there’s a positional weakness it’s that they’re leaning on quite a bit of inexperience on D. Bob Murray added the defensive acumen and experience of Stephane Robidas at the deadline, although his return date is still unknown.

Speaking of Peter Holland, it’s the first time Holland and Carlyle will return to Anaheim as members of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Joffrey Lupul has played in Anaheim as a Leaf once since getting traded, a 5-2 win back in November of 2011 in which he tallied a pair of assists. Jake Gardiner was a +2 in that game. The moneyboard will be full up tonight.

The two teams met back in October, a come-from-behind 4-2 Leafs win in Game 10 of the season. The Leafs were getting dominated for the first half of the game, so much so their first shot on net (a wrist shot from the blueline with no traffic in front via Paul Ranger) received a derisive cheer from the crowd, but the Leafs managed to grab a powerplay goal, capitalize on some bad pinches/turnovers and generate some offence off the rush in transition. The Leafs scored four unanswered including a Phil Kessel hat trick and Phaneuf’s second of the season.

The Ducks were the hottest team in the NHL come late October (and have obviously remained one). The Leafs garnered some post-game praise from Ducks defenceman Ben Lovejoy, seemingly awe struck with the Leafs’ speed and skill that night:

“They’re so fast, so skilled and we got away from our game and turned pucks over. And they were able to come back at us and killed us in the second half of that game. They’re deadly, they’re a transition team. They have so much speed, and we fed pucks right into their system.”

Corey Perry, meanwhile, today shared some thoughts on his ex coach Randy Carlyle. Sentiments “Leafs Twitter” is definitely fully in agreement on: