– It isn’t getting much attention, but Jake Gardiner currently sits tied for 23rd among NHL defensemen in scoring. Of the 25 players either tied or ahead of his 21 points, only four of them play less per night. His ice time has climbed as the season has progressed:
|Month||Time on ice per game|
– We’ve talked about Auston Matthews’ goal totals previously (he’s currently third in the league among NHL pivots), but right up there with him is Nazem Kadri, who is tied with Evgeni Malkin for fifth in goals by a centerman. His 13.1 shooting percentage is two points above his career average (10.9%), but it is not necessarily unsustainable – last season, 96 players played at least 40 games and shot over 13%. He’s currently on pace for 34 goals.
– Last season, only one Leafs player hit the 20-goal mark (PA Parenteau, with 20 exactly). This season, the team has five players on pace for at least 20 – Kadri, Auston Matthews, JVR, Mitch Marner and Tyler Bozak – as well as two others who have a real chance of hitting the 20-goal plateau in William Nylander and Connor Brown.
– That kind of scoring depth is what makes Toronto a tough opponent. Let’s look at the amount of 20 goal scorers on each Eastern Conference playoff team last season:
|Team||Number of 20 Goal Scorers (2015-2016)|
|Detroit Red Wings||2|
|New York Islanders||4|
|New York Rangers||5|
|Tampa Bay Lightning||2|
– Further to point about the Leafs scoring depth: Last season, Toronto had three players with over 160 shots on goal compared to the seven players on pace for at least that many this season. In fact, they are all on pace for over at least 180 shots each, with four projected to pile up well over 200 (Matthews, Kadri, JVR, Marner). That’s at least one player on each of the Leafs’ top three lines putting, at a minimum, 227 shots on goal (that’s Marner’s pace, which is the lowest of the four). For a reference point, only 33 players in the entire league last season took 227 or more shots.
– It has been an interesting few weeks for Antoine Bibeau, getting called up and sent down and collecting his first NHL win along the way. A few years ago, while talking to a few different Leafs scouts for the magazine, Bibeau was someone that often got mentioned after the interviews concluded. A few years back, there was quiet optimism in the organization that he could become a player, but goaltending is too mysterious of a position to get too excited about. A little while after that, Bibeau won the QMJHL playoff MVP, helping his Val d’Or team win the championship and qualify for the Memorial Cup. His play has been largely inconsistent in his first two seasons in the AHL, including an up-and-down playoff last Spring. In two NHL games so far, he’s handled himself well and seems to have a fan in Babcock.
“I think it’s 100 per cent wrong for player safety. You’ve got so many games in such a short period of time and you’re jamming in more. To me, the more day’s rest you can have by not playing back-to-backs and jamming it in the healthier you have a chance to be I believe.”
– Mike Babcock, on the five day bye week.
I thought this was an interesting take on the bye week. I am sure the players enjoy the time off and the ability to spend time with family/go on a quick vacation, but I do think there is some merit to Babcock’s point here. Condensing the schedule presents a problem; players are more likely to get hurt when they are tired or fatigued.
“Yeah, it’s definitely noted.”
– Nazem Kadri on Alex Radulov, November 19, after Radulov celebrated in his face after a Habs goal.
Radulov scored a goal and an assist, including a point on his first shift where he knocked Kadri down before setting up Max Pacioretty in the slot for a goal.
“The Toronto Maple Leafs are a young team that… they’ve got stars. They have Matthews, Marner and Nylander — young stars that are coming. They have Zaitsev, who was a free agent pick up from Russia, who is a top 4 defenceman, they’ve got a star — I think — on the backend with Rielly. Young Gardiner is a top 4 guy. They fixed the… Andersen is a really, really good goaltender. You look and they’re a balanced team; they already had Kadri and JVR. When you look, they’re 9 deep in terms of offensive talent. The Bozak line has, like, 74 pts, Kadri’s has 67, and Matthews has 64 or something like that. We’ll probably match them on the first two, but our 3 and 4 (lines) probably just about matches up to the Matthews line. They’re pretty dangerous offensively — they’re quick strike, they can hurt you with their talented individuals, they go to the net really hard; they’re a middle line drive type of team and they play 200ft, that’s what Mike demands of them and they’re learning how to win, they’re a very dangerous team right now, they’ve won 5 in a row, they’ve won their last 5 on the road, their fathers trip — another motivation for them, we’ve talked about that — and they’re really good on the road, especially special teams. Their penalty kill is #1 on the road and their power play is, I believe, #4 on the road; they put up really good numbers. They’re a quick team that demands you to play hard against them.”
– Barry Trotz, before the Leafs played Washington.
I don’t think the Leafs are going to be sneaking up on anybody in the second half of the season.
Video Tidbit of the Week
I watched this overtime minutes after the Leafs lost to Washington at 3v3. Watch how Nashville plays zone coverage instead of man-to-man. In Washington, Leo Komarov overcommitted to John Carlson and got beat on the wrong side of the puck. The breakdown cost the Leafs the game-winning goal.
Here we can see Montreal circling the zone and moving the puck, but the Nashville players are communicating the whole time and filling zones instead of covering specific players. Nashville later lost in OT after focusing on the puck instead of Max Pacioretty cutting in after a line change, but the zone defense worked well here. I wonder if it’s something the Leafs will look at; they’ve been primarily playing man-to-man so far.
5 Things I Think I’d Do
1) If Soshnikov is still hurt after the break, I think I’d give Josh Leivo a few games to see if he can get on a roll. While Brendan Leipsic and Kasperi Kapanen are deserving of callups at some point, Leivo has only played two games in the NHL this season — both on the fourth line. He hasn’t played enough either way this season to truly evaluate him. He was productive last season, so it’s not as if Toronto is waiting to see if he can ever produce at this level. I’d give him at least a few more games before re-evaluating. Against Montreal, he drove the net hard a few times and put two shots on goal in only 4:16 of ice time.
2) Conversely, when Ben Smith returns I think he should go back in the lineup for Frederik Gauthier. In Gauthier’s last five games, the most he played was 9:28 against New Jersey, which was a relatively easy win with a big early lead in the first game of a back-to-back. He’s only 21 and still developing, but it’s not going to happen while playing eight or nine minutes alongside Matt Martin on the fourth line. It will happen by playing 16-20 minutes in a top checking role in the AHL. It will also benefit the Leafs as a whole – Gauthier’s corsi-for percentage is 37.9% compared to Smith’s 43.5%, and Smith is a positive in the faceoff circle at 53.2% compared to Gauthier’s 49.1%.
3) It bears repeating: If the Leafs want to be competitive this season, I think a real fourth center would really help round out their lineup. Their top three lines are all high-powered, but the fourth line can barely be trusted with 10 minutes per night. That’s not all on the center, but Martin isn’t going anywhere and the other wing spot will be a revolving door of young players it seems. They also don’t have any center depth in the organization should any of the top-nine centers go down to injury. A proven center that can capably handle some minutes and move up the lineup on occasion would fill the glaring hole at forward for the season.
4) I think Matt Hunwick should sit for a few games when Martin Marincin is healthy. It went under the radar, but Marincin-Polak actually put up a 55.1CF% together last season in over 340 minutes of ice time. Marincin has also been effective on the penalty kill as a Leaf, so he can slide into Hunwick’s minutes there while providing a boost at 5v5.
5) I think I would have claimed Curtis McElhinney as well if I was Toronto. For his career, he’s about an average backup goalie (career .905sv%), with a contract that the Leafs can bury if it doesn’t work out. It is worth noting that Jhonas Enroth has played one less game in his career and has a better overall save percentage at .909 SV%, but that ship sailed in Toronto. Given he’s 6’3, at least Babcock will play McElhinney. Goaltending is a weird position and it’s worth kicking tires on an NHL backup who has shown he can do the job before.