LGD - Game 33: Leafs @ Blues - Recovery

Cam Charron
December 12 2013 01:25PM

Counting shots and shots against for a single game can be somewhat misleading—late in games, when a team is trailing, they'll tend to shoot more. The best solution to this problem is to avoid counting shots during the parts of the game where it's in one team's interest to shoot the puck more than the other team's. We call this "score-close" or "close" situations: either the game is tied, or there's just one goal separating the teams in the first or second periods. 

The Leafs have just one game this season where they've earned a higher rate of the close shots than against Los Angeles, where they out-shot the Kings 30-16, or earning a 65.2% shots rate. That was the 4-2 win against Buffalo, where they had a 66.7% shot share (out-shooting Buffalo 8-4 in close situations. Hardly a large-enough sample size for this project). What I found amazing is not that the Leafs had a higher share of shots than their opponent, but that it happened against Los Angeles, one of the dominant shooting teams in the league. 

The question is… can they have a repeat performance, in St. Louis, on the road, on the second half of a back-to-back? Let's consult our magic 8 ball.

KEY STATISTICS

  Blues Leafs
Corsi Close % 55.1% (4th) 43.1% (29th)
5v5 GF/60 2.76 (3rd) 2.01 (21st)
5v5 GA/60 1.84 (4th) 2.01 (9th)
PDO 102.1 (3rd) 102.0 (4th)
     
  Blues Leafs
5v4 GF/60 8.66 (4th) 8.14 (5th)
5v4 SF/60 48.2 (22nd) 57.4 (7th)
4v5 GA/60 5.19 (9th) 7.47 (24th)
4v5 SA/60 40.0 (1st) 62.2 (26th)
Penalty Differential +6 (7th) -24 (30th)

via ExtraSkater and NHL

Sorry for the stats-heavy intro.

I mentioned in the game recap that with Carl Gunnarsson having the lowest Corsi on the Leafs among defencemen, there's no argument to make that Dion Phaneuf's absence is what helped the Leafs a night ago. I think the forwards played pretty well and kept the cycle game going. James van Riemsdyk and Phil Kessel still did most of their damage off of the rush, but Nazem Kadri was a bit more physical and kept plays alive.

On the powerplay you see situations where Kessel takes the puck from the goal line along the boards, out to the top of the circle, and fire. I think that he could be very dangerous in a cycle game and probably why he works with a bit more of a physical centreman like Kadri or Peter Holland than a skill guy like Tyler Bozak. David Clarkson had a pretty good game last night too, and Mason Raymond was good at keeping plays alive in Vancouver. Just create more multi-shot shifts that result in goals for or penalties. The Leafs did that and it just didn't fall in their favour last night.

Onto St. Louis. I can't remember the last time I wrote in a team as having a higher PDO (addition of shooting and save percentages) than the Leafs. Toronto last night lost half a percentage point in PDO last night, dropping from 102.5 to 102.0, which is really tough to do over a single game. The Blues have better statistics than the Leafs across the board, save for shots generated on the powerplay.

So the key to the Leafs for tonight may be to draw penalties. The Blues have a reputation as a tough team, but they don't often take penalties as a group. Here's hoping Kadri and David Backes match up, as long as Kadri stays relatively sane.

MAPLE LEAFS LINEUP

No morning skate today, so we'll presume it looks like last night's, but different. Dion Phaneuf is still out, and Randy Carlyle talked glowingly about Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly in his presser. My hope is that Mark Fraser sits in favour of John-Michael Liles, but I'm not exactly holding my breath for that.

For visiting Blues fans, here was the lineup last night:

James van Riemsdyk - Nazem Kadri - Phil Kessel
Mason Raymond - Trevor Smith - David Clarkson
Joffrey Lupul - Peter Holland - Nik Kulemin
Frazer McLaren - Jay McClement - Jerry D'Amigo

Carl Gunnarsson - Cody Franson
Jake Gardiner - Morgan Rielly
Mark Fraser - Paul Ranger

BLUES LINEUP

From DF:

Alex Steen - David Backes - T.J. Oshie
Jaden Schwartz - Vladimir Sobotka - Chris Stewart
Derek Roy - Patrik Berglund - Vladimir Tarasenko
Brenden Morrow - Maxim Lapierre - Adam Cracknell

Alex Pietrangelo - Jay Bouwmeester
Kevin Shattenkirk - Barret Jackman
Ian Cole - Roman Polak

Holy crap that top four.

The big story in St. Louis this year is Alex Steen. His 21 goals in 29 games is extraordinarily impressive (even if it's bound to fall off a little) but few people are talking about his 21 drawn penalties, which appears to lead the league.

Steen's line, with Backes and Oshie, also drives the play for the Blues. They start in their own end often, and finish at the other end, and sometimes score. They take on the tough minutes, per Extra Skater's quality of competition metric, and out-shoot the opposition.

The added benefit is that the younger guys, like Tarasenko, get some relatively easy minutes. Tarasenko leads the Blues in Corsi, with St. Louis recording 58.3% of the shots with him on the ice, but he does get to start in the offensive zone an awful lot, and plays against some of the lowest-ranked defensive competition. That's what depth does for a group: it means the skill guys on your third line have a much easier job since they don't have to check people often.

On D, Pietrangelo and Bouwmeester take the big minutes, and often find themselves on the ice at the same time as the Backes unit. You can be sure that the five of them will be shadowing Kadri, Kessel and JvR all night. It should be a fun matchup since both Kadri and Backes are JerkPuck players that can knock opponents off their game. Kadri will need to keep his temper tonight and not take any bad penalties, since he won't be doing his team any favours.

Stats via ExtraSkater

STARTING GOALIES

(and a paragraph as useful as most goalie statistics)

Looking like James Reimer versus Brian Elliott. Experimenting with some new scrambled egg recipes: my Dad always made some pretty good ones by mixing the eggs with fresh basil and green onion, but I don't use enough basil to justify buying fresh herbs every day. I instead go with dried basil flakes, pepper, chilis and a bit of tomato sauce. Pleased with the results. You can put tomato sauce on pretty much anything and it will taste delicious.

The Leafs and the Blues get underway at 8 Eastern on Leafs TV.

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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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