With a sparkling road record of 8-1-0 and coming off one of their best wins of the season in San Jose, the Maple Leafs are in Anaheim tonight looking to close out a California sweep against the struggling Ducks (10 p.m., TSN4).

Until recently, the Ducks were in the bottom three in shot attempts for and against and were faring even worse in goal metrics. After winning their first three games of the year, they suffered through a miserable seven-game losing streak in the second half of October.

Toronto fans are used to Randy Carlyle’s teams having these sort of abnormalities in their shot numbers, especially when it comes to the number of shots and shot attempts against. The Ducks have picked it up some lately as far as their possession numbers — in four of their last six games, they’ve been over 50 CF% — but they’ve only managed nine goals over those six games, with two blowout losses to boot.

The ‘prevent’ style that Carlyle’s teams are known for in the defensive zone can lead to an asinine number of perimeter shots against, but the fundamental flaw to his systemic approach is that it also tends to lead to a higher number of home-plate shots, too, through the death-by-a-thousand-paper-cuts effect that comes with eating so much own-zone time against.

At 8-9-3, the Ducks are way underperforming the strength of their lineup down the middle (Ryan Getzlaf – Ryan Kesler – Adam Henrique), on the blue line (Hampus Lindholm, Cam Fowler, Brandon Montour, Josh Manson, although Fowler is hurt), and in net (John Gibson is a top ten, arguably top five, goaltender). It won’t be a walk in the park for the Leafs in a back-to-back situation tonight, especially with the Ducks rested and angry coming off a 5-0 loss to Vegas on Wednesday.

The challenge isn’t dissimilar to the one against the Sharks as the Ducks are a veteran team that plays a heavier forechecking style of game with a highly active D core, but the Leafs — as they do most nights — will have the speed advantage if they can execute as well as they did last night. They came out of their zone with good puck support, traversed the neutral zone with pace, created odd-man opportunities when the Sharks gambled and got aggressive or turned pucks over, and they manufactured a number of what Mike Babcock would’ve marked down on his whiteboard as ‘heavy shifts’ in the offensive zone. That allowed their skill to take over in what was a fabulous four-line effort on the road.

More of the same, as well as a rebound performance from backup Garret Sparks after the loss in Boston in his last start, will be the order of the day as the Leafs look to complete the Cali sweep tonight at the Honda Center.


Game Day Quotes

Randy Carlyle on his team’s inconsistencies early in the year:

We look at ourselves and say that we’ve taken some steps from where we were in our first five games compared to the last five. In fact, we have. But still, we’ve got more to go. The performance we had the other night — statistics wise, if you want to use Corsi and all of those stats — we had a good game. We didn’t score a goal. And that is what is frustrating. We had lots of power play looks. It was probably the best our power play has looked. We were getting looks but we didn’t have finish. We did not execute with the puck.

That is the most frustrating part for us. We seem to be able to bring it for a game, and then the next game, we’ve come back and we lack something that is a huge part, be it defensive-zone coverage or breakouts or execution with the puck. Those are the troubling things and the things that frustrate us all.

Mike Babcock on Garret Sparks getting back in the net:

Good opportunity for Sparksy. We’ve got to play well in front of him. He is in the process of earning his confidence in the NHL. As we can see, it’s much different than the American league. He’s worked hard, so it will show tonight.

Babcock on Kasperi Kapanen taking advantage of his opportunity up in the lineup without Nylander:

I just think that, any time big players aren’t here — you’ve got Willy and Matty not here — there is more opportunity for other guys. You can earn yourself more of a role when they are away if you do well. I’m proud of the guys. They dig in and do a good job. It’s about team, anyway, never the individual. It’s about the team and we’ve got good players.

Babcock on the emphasis on keeping the feet moving in the offensive zone:

I just think any time you stand still against big D, it’s all over for you. Whether that be your feet and being evasive, or moving it quick, you can’t be an easy pin or an easy touch that is easy to defend. We have tried to do a good job of that. I talked about our team speed.I think that is one of our assets. We have to use it. That is not just the 200-foot game. That’s in the offensive zone.

Babcock on his team’s ability to outskate the opponent lately:

Good team speed. Just in general, against Boston on the road and against Jersey, we’ve had good team speed. In Boston, we didn’t maintain it throughout the game, but I thought last night we really — in the first 10 minutes — were good and then really got going in the second and were able to play a pretty good hockey game. We got good goaltending and good special teams and we had every going — all four lines and all six D. It was a good night.


Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines

Forwards

#11 Zach Hyman – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#21 Patrick Marleau – #43 Nazem Kadri – #24 Kasperi Kapanen
#18 Andreas Johnsson – #26 Par Lindholm – #28 Connor Brown
#63 Tyler Ennis – #33 Frederik Gauthier – #32 Josh Leivo

Defensemen

#44 Morgan Rielly – #2 Ron Hainsey
#51 Jake Gardiner – #22 Nikita Zaitsev
#23 Travis Dermott – #92 Igor Ozhiganov

Goaltenders

#40 Garret Sparks
#31 Frederik Andersen

Scratched: Justin Holl, Martin Marincin, Trevor Moore
Unsigned: William Nylander
Injured: Auston Matthews (shoulder)


Anaheim Ducks Projected Lines

Forwards

#67 Rickard Rakell – #15 Ryan Getzlaf – #20 Pontus Aberg
#7 Andrew Cogliano – #17 Ryan Kesler – #33 Jakob Silfverberg
#37 Nick Ritchie – #14 Adam Henrique – #25 Ondrej Kase
#23 Brian Gibbons – #83 Kalle Kossila – #64 Kiefer Sherwood

Defensemen

#47 Hampus Lindholm – #26 Brandon Montour
#32 Jacob Larsson – #42 Josh Manson
#28 Marcus Pettersson – #45 Andy Welinski

Goaltenders

#36 John Gibson
#30 Ryan Miller

Injured: Corey Perry, Maxime Comptois, Carter Rowney, Cam Fowler