October 29 2013 12:14PM
What are the big stories leading into the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers game? Both teams have lost some key players to injury in the early going, but the Leafs have managed to persevere and have one of the best records in the NHL. The Oilers stumbled out of the gate, were a respectable 2-3-1 on a tough six-game Eastern road trip and have generally bounced along so far, defying the positive expectations set for the team.
Tell you the truth, this year was the first in recent years that I'd bought into the Oilers preseason hype, and while I'm sure they're a better team than the record indicates, they're already pretty far back of a playoff spot, and nothing about their numbers suggest that they're due for the quick and fast turnaround they need to inch closer to the Western Conference playoff race. The Pacific Division is an absolute nightmare. Five teams from the Pacific are Top 10 puck-possession clubs in the early going, with just Edmonton and provincial rival Calgary lagging behind.
While the Oilers get Sam Gagner back tonight, Edmonton is still putting together a skeleton roster in the absence of key forwards Taylor Hall and Ryan Smyth as well as depth addition Jesse Joensuu. First of two on the road, and hopefully the Leafs are well-adjusted to the time zone difference. Worth noting: Edmonton are the only Western team that are below .500 against Eastern opponents.
|Corsi Close %||43.6% (29th)||44.4 (28th)|
|5v5 GF/60||2.33 (15th)||2.54 (11th)|
|5v5 GA/60||2.22 (15th)||3.05 (29th)|
|PDO||1.026 (6th)||.999 (15th)|
|5v4 GF/60||9.45 (5th)||4.26 (23rd)|
|5v4 SF/60||56.5 (10th)||57.1 (9th)|
|4v5 GA/60||3.92 (4th)||9.55 (28th)|
|4v5 GA/60||64.3 (28th)||61.3 (27th)|
|5v5 Penalty Diff||-22||-3|
If you're a follower of this blog, none of the stats in the Leafs column should shock or amaze you. While a pretty average team at even strength, the Leafs have absolutely killed in on special teams. Unfortunately, the team gives up a lot of powerplays against (Extra Skater doesn't sort those by team yet, so I added together player numbers in the meantime. I have to think minus-22 is one of the worst differentials in the NHL) and their shots against on the penalty kill are very poor this season while last year they were elite. They're missing some key PK personnel in Nik Kulemin and Mark Fraser. Tyler Bozak, who had very strong shots against numbers on the PK last season (15.062 shots per 20 minutes) has allowed 27.957 against this season and is the highest on the Leafs.
There's also some new personnel: Mason Raymond and James van Riemsdyk are killing penalties for the Leafs, when they weren't last season (probably because Raymond was somewhere else). I think that either the shots against rate is going to improve from now until the end of the year, or the Leafs are going to keep bleeding goals against while shorthanded. Hidden under the bastion of awesomeness of the penalty kill is that the team has given up at least one powerplay goal against in six of the last seven games. That seemed to be an early season issue for Toronto last season as well.
As for the Oilers, they just can't score, and they can't really defend goals. From the NHL.com preview, this snippet really sums up the early part of their season:
Whatever comes next had better be positive. For the Oilers, "hotness" means having a slow start, as long as you aren't on IR.
MAPLE LEAFS LINEUP
Is Joffrey Lupul back? The team has had no trouble scoring without him, and I think it would be silly to rush him back for back-to-back games early in the season against non-Conference opponents, but that's just me. It seems he'll be a gametime decision. Here's dailyfaceoff:
James van Riemsdyk - Nazem Kadri - Phil Kessel
Mason Raymond - David Bolland - David Clarkson
Carter Ashton - Jay McClement - Colton Orr
Frazer McLaren - Trevor Smith - Troy Bodie
Carl Gunnarsson - Dion Phaneuf
Morgan Rielly - Cody Franson
Paul Ranger - Jake Gardiner
With John-Michael Liles rather than T.J. Brennan acting as the 7th Leafs defenceman on this trip, I can kind of see that maybe the Leafs are in the process of putting Bozak on the long-term injured reserve. Otherwise, I don't see how this is all going to fit under the salary cap.
The Bolland line played some excellent defence last time out against Sidney Crosby, Jay McClement's line had its way against the bottom six, and Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk did Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk things. No reason to quibble with the forward units or to tinker unless Lupul is 100%.
Nail Yakupov - Sam Gagner - Jordan Eberle
David Perron - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Mark Arcobello
Ryan Jones - Boyd Gordon - Ales Hemsky
Ben Eager - Will Acton - Luke Gazdic
Denis Grebeshkov - Andrew Ference
Ladislav Smid - Jeff Petry
Justin Schultz - Anton Belov
The guy you really want to hate is David Perron. He's an exceptionally skilled, dirty little rat that can get under your skin. He's drawn 11 penalties, leading the Oilers, and has taken 10, which ties him for the team lead with enforcer Luke Gazdic. He has just 2 goals on 47 shots so far to start the season at 5-on-5 but I wouldn't expect that low shooting percentage to continue.
The defence is unspectacular here. Petry and Smid get the tough defensive minutes at home (sort column "TotTm% F QoC H" and check in the glossary to see that refers to. Basically it's a quality of competition metric that measures average ice-time of opponents and is super useful).
One thing Eakins does is he's very particular about which line he starts in the offensive or defensive zone. Sort, in the Deployment section, the column O/D St%, which is shifts started in the offensive zone divided by all shifts started in either attacking end. You'll note Yakupov leads the team. He was a healthy scratch last time the two teams played but coach Dallas Eakins has really tried to keep him away from having to play defence, sheltering him with his third line centred by Boyd Gordon.
Per Chris Johnston, it'll be James Reimer, coming off a 37-of-38 performance and a win, against Richard Bachmann, coming off of 47-of-48 performance and a loss. Devan Dubnyk got hurt in Phoenix and he's had a pretty brutal start regardless. Dallas Eakins is pretty patient with his goalies, but an NHL market with the longest playoff drought is probably less patient than an AHL fanbase. Bachman, career .906 save rate, will be in goal against one of the best shooting teams in the NHL.
In other words: "Aaaaaahhhhh!!!!!!"
The Oilers play in Edmonton, which is like, on the other side of the Rocky Mountains and is in some super weird timezone. Game starts at 9:00 Eastern and is on Sportsnet Ontario. Don't forget Streakcred.
Steve Dangle in Edmonton
Our buddy Steve is in Edmonton this week. He was on the radio this morning with blogger and radio personality Allan Mitchell, or Lowetide. Check that out here, from TSN Radio 1260.
Also, for those of you into contests, check this out: