Looking to extend their winning streak to five, the Toronto Maple Leafs will face off against former backup Curtis McElhinney and the Hurricanes tonight in Carolina (7 p.m., Sportsnet National).
Of no surprise to those who have been following them at all in recent seasons, the Hurricanes have been controlling play possession-wise with the best of them again this year, yet they’re stuck in and around .500 in the record column.
When it comes to shot-based metrics, the Hurricanes have long been a top performer. Entering the game tonight, they sit first in shot attempts for and expected goals. They’re not a perimeter team by any means, either, leading the league in slot shots for per game. They don’t do well converting on enough of those chances, though (28th in the NHL in goals), and that’s a big reason why GM Don Waddell has been ringing Kyle Dubas’ phone asking for status updates on the William Nylander situation for the past few months.
It’s reasonable [to assume we are interested] in that we know we don’t score goals. We have been in every hockey game. We only had one game where we lost 3-0 and didn’t score. We have been talking to multiple teams about offensive players for that reason. As I sit here in my chair today, any offensive player that might be available we have to explore to every possibility to see if that would be a good fit for us and for the other team.”
– Don Waddell on his interest in William Nylander
While it’s to be expected to a degree with the sheer volume that they throw at the net, their shooting percentage on their slot chances is just under 12%, which puts them second last in the league. For context, seven NHL clubs currently shoot over 20%. There is a larger qualitative analysis worth undertaking here (that is beyond the scope of this simple game preview) as to how — rush, odd-man, cycle — and from where they’re generating their slot chances, but it’s obvious why they want more shooting talent and offensive skill that is capable of creating high-grade scoring opportunities as well as converting on them.
Since the Hurricanes picked him up on waivers from the Leafs at the start of the regular season, Curtis McElhinney has a 4-2-0 record and a .903 save percentage. His last start bumped his numbers back above .900 — a 33 saves-on-34-shots performance against New Jersey — after four previous starts that were below .880. Again, though, it’s worth noting that when a team gives up as few shots as the Hurricanes, it often doesn’t lend itself to high save percentage figures from their netminders.
The game plan from the Leafs‘ side of things is more of the same blueprint they’ve been executing well on the road while amassing the league’s best road record (9-1-0) so far this season: Fast start, score first, quick out of their own zone, fast through neutral ice, four lines going, win the special teams battle, and more excellence out of Frederik Andersen.
Game Day Quotes
Babcock on the Leafs‘ league-low penalties drawn:
Obviously, team depth is important and you’ve got to play fast and skate. Otherwise, you’re taking penalties for sure anytime you’re reaching, especially in today’s NHL. It’s a priority for us for sure. Other teams can really get you on special teams, so we like to do a good job in that area.
Babcock on Par Lindholm’s progression as an NHL player:
Jim Paliafito (Leafs Sr. Director of Player Development) did a real great job. We’ve kind of known what we’ve had from the get go. You don’t know how a guy is going to acclimatize, how a guy’s going to find it out. Just because he was a dominant faceoff guy overseas, you didn’t know if it was going to transfer over to here. You didn’t know how he was going to settle in, but you thought you had something right from the get go. When there’s an injury, it leads to opportunities for others, but you’ve go to do something with that opportunity.
Babcock on using star players on the PK:
A lot of people penalty kill their very best guys and we don’t do it as much. I don’t like them being in the lane, to tell you the truth. Just makes me nervous. Risk-reward, kind of thing. In saying that, rhythm in the game is important when you freeze to death sitting there. It’s no different for the other guys when we’re on the powerplay all the time. You like to keep a rhythm. It’s best for the players.
Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour on competitive balance in the NHL and how he views the Leafs:
Everybody’s so evenly matched. This year more than ever, it feels like all the teams are playing really well. You watch the league any night, everybody is beating everybody. There’s a couple of teams — Toronto is one of them — that have separated themselves a little bit, but not like in the past.
There’s a lot of challenges [to facing Toronto], obviously. They’ve got some high end players that we need to find a way to shut down. We’ve got to find a way to get pucks by their goalie, which is obviously going to be a big challenge, too. Their record is what it is because they do it right.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#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
#44 Morgan Rielly – #2 Ron Hainsey
#51 Jake Gardiner – #22 Nikita Zaitsev
#23 Travis Dermott – #92 Igor Ozhiganov
#31 Frederik Andersen
#40 Garret Sparks
Scratched: Justin Holl, Martin Marincin
Unsigned: William Nylander
Injured: Auston Matthews (shoulder)
Carolina Hurricanes Projected Lines
#79 Micheal Ferland – #20 Sebastian Aho – #86 Teuvo Teravainen
#23 Brock McGinn – #11 Jordan Staal – #14 Justin Williams
#48 Jordan Martinook – #71 Lucas Wallmark – #37 Andrei Svechnikov
#13 Warren Foegele – #48 Victor Rask – #7 Phil De Giuseppe
#74 Jacob Slavin – #19 Dougie Hamilton
#44 Calvin De Haan – #27 Justin Faulk
#4 Hayden Fleury – #57 Trevor Van Riemsdyk
#35 Curtin McElhinney
#33 Scott Darling
Injured: Brett Pesce, Petr Mrazek