After going 1-for-2 on the Florida trip, the Toronto Maple Leafs return to Scotiabank Arena tonight to face an injury-laden Coyotes team that currently sits five points out of a playoff spot in the West (7 p.m, SN Ontario).
Back in late November, the Coyotes traded two recent top draft picks in Brendan Perlini and Dylan Strome, both under the microscope for falling below expectations to start their careers, in exchange for 22-year-old Blackhawks 2014 1st rounder, Nick Schmaltz. Schmaltz started his time with Arizona on the top line with Clayton Keller and recorded 14 points in his first 17 games with the team. However, he was injured in late December and the team announced a couple of weeks ago that he’ll miss the rest of the season.
They also recently lost depth penalty killing center Brad Richardson, not to mention another young center in Christian Dvorak, who had pectoral surgery in October and might miss the rest of the year. Having lost so many centremen — a position where they’re already relatively shallow — they were forced to acquire Jordan Weal from Philly. He’ll play with team-leading scorer Clayton Keller tonight. Key right-handed defenseman Jason Demers is also sidelined, and it’s possible he’ll remain out for another month or two.
Lastly, Arizona starter Antti Raanta is also out and (if you can believe it) might miss the rest of the year as well. Raanta has been one of the NHL’s most underappreciated netminders in recent years. Last year was his first year as an outright starter after backing up Henrik Lundqvist in New York for years, and he performed extremely well on a weak Coyotes team. Darcy Kuemper has been starting in his absence and has gone 9-11-4 with a .914Sv% and GSAA of 4.00 while winning in four of his last five starts.
Considering what they’ve been missing, Arizona has performed relatively well lately. They’re 5-3-2 in their last ten while performing around 50% in most metrics. Year over, Arizona isn’t a good possession team and they don’t generate enough looks from the critical areas of the ice. An interesting statistical outlier for Coyotes is their inefficiency in shots from the slot: They’re below average but not terrible is slot shots for (HDCF) per 60 minutes — ranking 20th — but they’re dead last in their ability to score off those slot shots. Both their slot shot goals per 60 minutes and Sh% off slot shots rank 31st by a very wide margin. There are elements of poor luck and a lack of shooting skill; they’re missing some key offensive talent, but it’s hard not to point to the puck luck factor for a team that produces slot shots at a near league average rate yet has scored off those shots so infrequently. Goal numbers fluctuate much more than shot numbers do, as we know, so it’s possible they’ll regress to the mean over time.
To visualize this phenomenon a bit, here’s how they Coyotes compare to the rest of the league when you cross slot shots per 60 with slot goals per 60, courtesy of moneypuck.com:
Note: If you’re curious where the Leafs are, they’re hidden right underneath the Jets and Habs logos
The Leafs will run slightly altered lines tonight. It’s clear that line combinations are a secondary concern Mike Babcock right now behind getting consistent efforts out of his group regardless of who is slotting in where, and he’s shown a willingness to shake his lines up frequently in-game this season (especially compared to years previous). The Leafs played one of their best games of the year against Tampa before a lacklustre effort against Florida the next day in a back-to-back situation. Building off of the Tampa game, where all three top lines (Matthews-Tavares-Kadri) generated a fair bit, will be crucial to ‘out-depth’ing’ a team with Coyotes’ injury issues tonight.
The only major change to the lineup from Friday will be on the back-end, where Jake Gardiner will miss today’s game with back spasms — a problem he’s been dealing with since December. We will have to wait until pre-game line rushes to know exactly how the defense pairs will line up, but we can expect Travis Dermott to move up and play with Nikita Zaitsev, while Martin Marincin will sub in on the bottom pair with Igor Ozhiganov.
Game Day Quotes
Mike Babcock on William Nylander’s struggles:
When I talk to Willy, he knows he’s getting in his own way now and so we’re just going to take the heat off him. We’re going to play him where he’s playing, play him all over, give him the opportunity that way. He knows. He told me exactly what he’s got to do. He’s a good kid and a good player and a good person. He wants to do well and it hasn’t been going as good. He hasn’t been able to handle it as good as he could, so now we’ve got to help him out.
In fairness to the kid, he hasn’t been the way he normally is. Normally, he’s a dominant player, he shoots the puck, carries the puck, wins battles. He’s good with the puck, and that hasn’t been the case. It’s not like he’s not trying, and it’s not like we’re not trying to help him — it just isn’t going as good for him. Ideally, this will allow him to take some heat off himself and just get playing.
Babcock on preparing for Arizona:
We spent quite a bit of time on that, obviously. Pressure and hard work are best in the league, in zone. [They’re] doing a real nice job and so we’re going to have to really move the puck to have success. We’re just hoping to work hard enough tonight to draw some penalties. We thought we drew a few last game, but we didn’t get any, so the bottom line is we’ve got to find a way to get on the PP a little bit.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#18 Andreas Johnsson – #34 Auston Matthews – #28 Connor Brown
#11 Zach Hyman – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#12 Patrick Marleau – #43 Nazem Kadri – #24 Kasperi Kapanen
#26 Par Lindholm – #33 Frederik Gauthier – #29 William Nylander
#44 Morgan Rielly – #2 Ron Hainsey
#23 Travis Dermott – #22 Nikita Zaitsev
#52 Martin Marincin – #92 Igor Ozhiganov
#31 Frederik Andersen
#40 Garret Sparks
Injured: Tyler Ennis (broken ankle)
Scratched: Justin Holl, Martin Marincin
Arizona Coyotes Projected Lines
#9 Clayton Keller – #10 Jordan Weal – #36 Christian Fischer
#14 Richard Panik– #21 Derek Stepan – #13 Vinnie Hinostroza
#17 Alex Galchenyuk – #25 Nick Cousins – #83 Connor Garland
#67 Lawson Crouse – #29 Mario Kempe – #45 John Archibald
#23 Oliver Ekman-Larsson – #4 Niklas Hjalmarsson
#6 Jacob Chychrun – #46 Ilya Lyubushkin
#82 Jordan Oesterle – #33 Alex Goligoski
#35 Darcy Kuemper
#30 Calvin Pickard
Injured: Nick Schmaltz, Christian Dvorak, Micheal Grabner, Jason Demers, Antti Raanta