November 13 2013 12:41PM
When we last ran into the Minnesota Wild, they were on their first win streak of the season. They then lost to the Leafs, despite out-shooting Toronto 37-14, and then lost to Tampa Bay and Florida. Since then, the team has mostly been winning, scraping together a 10-4-4 record since the 3-3-3 start.
Almost every addition the team has made over the last year-and-a-half up front has been to improve the team's skill: Jason Pominville, Zach Parise, Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle. Given how poor of a puck-possession team the Wild were between the dawn of their franchise and as recent as last season, they've sort of become a poster child for shifting institutional philosophy. Despite retaining the coach and the general manager Mike Yeo and Chuck Fletcher, the team has worked to change the stylistic make-up of their team.
I feel the Leafs have the skill to be a team like the Wild, they just need the philosophy. As you'll see below, the Wild are not a team that the (somewhat) struggling Leafs want to run into tonight.
|Corsi Close %||54.2% (5th)||42.6% (29th)|
|5v5 GF/60||1.95 (23rd)||2.18 (17th)|
|5v5 GA/60||1.15 (1st)||1.94 (8th)|
|PDO||102.0 (6th)||103.2 (4th)|
|5v4 GF/60||9.10 (2nd)||7.40 (12th)|
|5v4 SF/60||63.1 (3rd)||59.2 (6th)|
|4v5 GA/60||7.20 (19th)||5.46 (13th)|
|4v5 SA/60||46.0 (7th)||63.3 (27th)|
|Penalty Differential||-2 (18th)||-8 (26th)|
Not only are the Wild pretty good at possession, but they've been very efficient on the powerplay, and anybody who has been regularly following the pre- and post-game threads at The Leafs Nation is aware of my concerns about the Maple Leafs penalty kill.
|Leafs 2013||October 15||November 13|
I think it's easy enough to say "oh, but the ~quality of shots~ is what really counts" when you're looking at the Leafs PK shots against… but that doesn't gel with last year. The Leafs were relatively even at 5-on-5 last season and it really took a great penalty kill unit to keep those goals against down, and one of the ways they did that was by limiting shots.
This year it's completely different. They haven't limited shots at all, and the save percentage is no longer there. They've allowed 9 powerplay goals against in the 11 games since I first brought up the issue, and their overall PK efficiency has fallen to 12th in the NHL.
Again, when you're having issues killing penalties, the Wild aren't the team you want to run into. The best thing Toronto can do tonight is to limit the number of penalties they take.
At 5-on-5, this looks like it could be a pretty low-scoring affair. Minnesota are best in the league at preventing goals 5-on-5, partly thanks to good goaltending, partly because they allow so few shots against them. The Leafs have gone three consecutive games without a goal at 5-on-5. Maybe both sides are due for some 'give' in that area.
MAPLE LEAFS LINEUP
Colt Knorr back in the lineup, per Mr. Siegel? Sure, why not:
Joffrey Lupul - James van Riemsdyk - Phil Kessel
Mason Raymond - Nazem Kadri - David Clarkson
Carter Ashton (??) - Jay McClement - Nik Kulemin
Frazer McLaren (??) - Jerred Smithson - Colt Knorr
Carl Gunnarsson - Dion Phaneuf
Jake Gardiner - Cody Franson
Mark Fraser - Paul Ranger
About the only sure thing seems to be that Troy Bodie will sit tonight, with the possibility of either Ashton or McLaren ditching for Morgan Rielly, who practiced with the 2nd powerplay unit. To tell you the truth, I hate the idea of Ashton or Bodie coming out while McLaren plays.
Zach Parise - Mikko Koivu - Charlie Coyle
Nino Niederreiter - Mikael Granlund - Jason Pominville
Matt Cooke - Kyle Brodziak - Justin Fontaine
Torrey Mitchell - Zenon Konopka - Dany Heatley
Ryan Suter - Jonas Brodin
Nate Prosser - Clayton Stoner
Jared Spurgeon - Marco Scandella
Back during the 2012 Memorial Cup in Shawinigan, a bunch of reporters were scrumming then-Saint John Sea Dog Charlie Coyle. Coyle had defected from Boston University that winter to join the Sea Dogs, and as you might expect from a Massachusettsan, spoke with an accent.
Anyway, it wasn't a real notable accent, but at one point, Coyle said "we just have to be hahd on tha puck", like Ben Affleck's character from Good Will Hunting might say. I stifled the biggest giggle and looked around. Unfortunately no other reporter had picked up on it, because nobody else seemed to be repressing a laugh.
Coyle's accent led to a game on press row called "Charlie Coyle chirps". There was unfortunately only one good Charlie Coyle chirp:
Anyway, the Wild are a good enough puck-possession team that every forward on the top two lines start at least a third of their shifts in the offensive zone (compared to the neutral or defensive zones). The defensive heavy-lifting is generally done by Zenon Konopka, reprising a role he had in Tampa Bay back in the day. He's 94-49 on faceoffs so far this season.
Mike Yeo will probably go power-on-power tonight, matching Kyle Brodziak against the Leafs' top line in the odd spot, I'm guessing. Kessel should also expect a lot of Ryan Suter. This is going to be a tough game for Toronto.
Appears to be Jonathan Bernier vs. Niklas Backstrom. Always be careful when making trades involving Nik Backstrom or Nick Backstrom, and learn to tell the difference. A good way to spot the difference is to remember that the goaltender Backstrom is Finnish, like Niklas Hagman, who spells his name without the C. Nicklas Backstrom, the first line centre for the Washington Capitals, has a C in his name because he is a C.
The Leafs and Wild drop the puck at 7:30 tonight on TSN. Don't forget to Streakcred.