Preview: Game #7 Capitals @ Leafs - Is there room for Cody Franson?

Cam Charron
January 31 2013 11:33AM

Mike Komisarek is going to be held out of the lineup for a second straight contest, this one against the Washington Capitals. The Cody Franson-Mark Fraser pairings had strong games in Buffalo, both according to performance numbers and production numbers. It's a workable pairing, but I think Franson deserves to get a few more minutes. For some reason he hasn't gotten onto the good side of anybody in the organization, or has appeared to.

That's odd that he played more minutes in Nashville his two seasons there per game than he has so far under Randy Carlyle, but the season is still young, and maybe he'll realize at some point that having two defencemen play their off-side in the top four may be stretching expectation. Franson is a rare right shot.

The Toronto Maple Leafs play at home to the Washington Capitals tonight and attempt to win their second straight game for the first time since March 17. They could wrap up January over .500, against some odds. Not all odds, but most odds.

How can we gauge the first half-month of the season? Are we optimistic or pessimistic? They've been quite clearly out-shot and out-chanced at 5-on-5 this season, the penalty kill is better than it was a year ago but the powerplay doesn't look particularly dangerous at all. Their possession numbers fall below even, and their goaltending has still been kind of brutal. I was surprised to see this morning that Reimer and Scrivens have combined for an .895 save percentage at even strength, 2nd worst in the league behind Phoenix. Of course there's always room for a correction. The season is still six games young, and I think the goalies have been getting unlucky on a couple of bounces.

The team is 0-2 at home, and Phil Kessel is still goal-less, but again, there's only been six games played so far. Kessel is still the Leafs' most dangerous offensive player, leading the team in scoring chances "for" while on the ice as well as individual scoring chance shots. He's kept to the outside in the last two games, but I think all he needs is a Southeast Division team with a weak goaltender to break out…

Broadcast Info:

Puck Drop: 7 PM EST

TV: Sportsnet Ontario

Setup:

Toronto dropped 3 of 4 against the Capitals last season, and three straight after smashing them 7-1 in the first game they played. Goal differential in games between the two clubs last season was, even actually, with both teams scoring 11. Washington, like Toronto, are having some problems in goal, but their even strength difficulties range onto the powerplay as well.

After Braden Holtby struggled in the first two games of the season, the Capitals went to Michal Neuvirth, who fared marginally better. He'll get his fifth start of the season against Toronto. He's a young goalie who hasn't shown the ability to be consistently above average at the NHL level, whether it's at even strength or overall save percentage. Washington are the second worst team in the league for goals against per game so far at just 3.67, ahead of Florida who have given up four. Critics of Washington's offseason bring up how much faith the Capitals put in Holtby after he had a good playoff run last spring, and the decision to go with two inexperienced goalies probably won't play out well. It was the same thing Toronto did last year and got burned for.

But what of their lineup in front of Neuvirth? They've played around with the lines some so far this year, and here's what we have…

Alex Ovechkin - Jay Beagle - Joey Crabb
Wojtek Wolski - Nicklas Backstrom - Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera - Mike Ribeiro - Joel Ward
Matt Hendricks - Mathieu Perrault - Eric Fehr

Karl Alzner - Mike Green
John Erskine - John Carlson
Jeff Schultz - Tomas Kundratek

Michal Neuvirth
Braden Holtby

Again, it's Leafs-esque, a team that puts their top scoring winger on a line with a pair of marginal NHLers and expects him to score 30 goals. The team has two quality centremen in Backstrom and Ribeiro, but chooses them to play off of their top scoring winger.

There's room for some shuffling on the fourth line, but that's presumably the defence that new coach Adam Oates will roll out. Jeff Schultz and Tomas Kundratek have been handling the heavy minutes after Oates split up last season's top pairing of Karl Alzner and John Carlson. Alzner has instead been seeing easy competition with Mike Green and Carlson has been playing on John Erskine's right side.

Here's how bad it's been for the Caps this year: Green has started 37 shifts in the offensive zone—most on the Caps—and 35 in the defensive zone. That makes his offensive zone start ratio 51.4%. There are not a lot of offensive zone starts to go around, which toughens the minutes played for their scorers. They can't shelter a scoring line because there is nowhere to shelter these lines. It's like how the Leafs last game in Buffalo had so many defensive zone starts that even Nazem Kadri took a bunch of defensive zone face-offs, but that's not how Carlyle would rather deploy his young top scorer.

So I'm not sure how Carlyle will match up. I'd assume he goes with Mikhail Grabovski against Nick Backstrom. Going power-on-power with Kessel against Ovechkin could be a fun matchup to watch, and deployment of his third line may depend on how Washington works their bench early on. If there are a lot of offensive zone opportunities to go around, Kadri will get his minutes. This is a game Toronto should win.

James Reimer in net (likely) for Toronto. Looks like the goaltending "controversy" is over and he'll be the regular starter for the Leafs this season. The Leafs also made some roster moves, having called up Ryan Hamilton, sent down Jake Gardiner and claimed Frazer McLaren (a goon) off waivers from San Jose. Carlyle comes out with his lineup pretty late, so it remains to be seen if Hamilton or McLaren get into the lineup. McLaren exists presumably to replace Mike Brown, but obviously I'd prefer if Hamilton draws into the lineup over Colton Orr. Doubt we see that.

Game Day Notes:

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Cam Charron is a BC hockey fan that writes about hockey on many different websites including this one.
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#1 daoust
January 31 2013, 12:12PM
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Great preview Cam.

Maybe you could help educate some of the mouthbreathing MSM and share your scoring chance info with them? Some don't seem to think Kessel's getting his chances.

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#3 tntleaf
January 31 2013, 02:41PM
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Kessel needs to step up his game as I'm tired of hearing these excuses of him working hard or being unlucky etc. Leaf's need a motto "no excuses"

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#4 Tiago Martins
January 31 2013, 03:42PM
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Great preview, as always. I like the expression "performance numbers". That should be one of the options on NHL Numbers' poll.

I'm shocked that Leafs' save percentage is that low. Reimer was solid in the last couple of games. Maybe the game against the Islanders is pulling that number down. I mean, save percentage in that game must have been awful. I think only one goal was on PP.

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