December 23 2013 12:09PM
Twas the night before the Christmas break when heard through the din
Some creatures called Leafs fans, all hoping for one more win
The jerseys were hung in the visitors locker room with care
Back home in Toronto, the streets were icy and bare
People snug in their houses, with hot chocolate and Leafs snuggies
Visions of a second regulation win in 18 games, be it pretty or ugly
And the Rangers the opponent, they've been struggling of late too
With 14 games on tonight's schedule, none more important for these two
Should the Leafs win, it will be a second in three for the blue and white
Stay safe and stay warm, Merry Christmas and good night
|Corsi Close %||51.1% (12th)||42.7% (29th)|
|5v5 GF/60||1.84 (25th)||2.12 (18th)|
|5v5 GA/60||2.38 (20th)||2.25 (16th)|
|PDO||97.7 (29th)||101.7 (5th)|
|5v4 GF/60||6.20 (13th)||7.94 (4th)|
|5v4 SF/60||51.5 (18th)||55.7 (7th)|
|4v5 GA/60||5.32 (8th)||6.86 (22nd)|
|4v5 SA/60||47.9 (7th)||61.4 (27th)|
|Penalty Differential||+12 (2nd)||-14 (26th)|
The New York Rangers haven't passed the eye test this year, but I don't see why they aren't a popular team in the analytical community for turning their season around. They have the advantage of playing in a weak division, have pretty good puck-possession numbers, and the 24th best 5-on-5 goaltending in the league despite having Henrik Lundqvist, one of the league's most efficient puck-stoppers over the last decade.
New York is a very mediocre 17-18-2, but worse, they are playing the final game of their nine-game homestand tonight. They have a 2-4-2 record so far during the stand, including an awful loss to the rival Islanders. Rangers fans I follow on Twitter are already questioning the coaching change in the summer, and folks in Vancouver are already in pre-emptive "I told you so" mode about Alain Vigneault, a coach universally despised here.
An interesting statistic is "penalty differential" which is marginal except for the teams that are a long way from the mean. During the Leafs slide from the end of November until the game against Los Angeles, the Leafs were on the bad end, taking far too many penalties, but they've halted that bleeding lately. That's part of the reason they're not getting out-shot to such a high degree anymore (the game against Detroit aside).
On the positive end, New York is tied for second at +12, but I can't think that 12 extra powerplays in 37 games is going to make a tangible difference. Where it does make a difference is the team right ahead of them: San Jose is at a remarkable +52 in penalty differential, and I have to think there's something going on organizationally there. They're four standard deviations from the mean. The Leafs are a little more than one, and they've been one of the worst.
Nazem Kadri's been doing a better job drawing, but not taking, penalties. Kadri is a +5 in differential since the game against the Kings, but was just +2 before that. He hasn't taken a penalty since then either. 41 penalty minutes in his first 27 games, and 0 in his last seven. That's been a big part of it. Paul Ranger and Mark Fraser sitting a lot also hasn't hurt Toronto, as they're two of the worst in penalty differential on the team, at minus-10 and minus-6, respectively. [ES]
I'll have a post tomorrow looking at some of what's changed for the Leafs since the Kings' game. They've played much, much better hockey lately, save two stinkers against St. Louis and Detroit, and have been unfortunate to not be winning more games. It's the Rangers' season in a nutshell, so tonight's game could be pretty interesting. Both teams really do need a win.
MAPLE LEAFS LINEUP
The scuttlebutt is that Paul Ranger swaps in for John-Michael Liles, and Colt Knorr may return. Liles and Morgan Rielly didn't look particularly good against Detroit, but it seems unfair to single out one guy when the whole team put together such a disappointing performance.
James van Riemsdyk - Nazem Kadri - Phil Kessel
Mason Raymond - Peter Holland - Joffrey Lupul
David Clarkson - Jay McClement - Nikolai Kulemin
Jerry D'Amigo - Jerred Smithson - Colt Knorr
Carl Gunnarsson - Dion Phaneuf
Jake Gardiner - Cody Franson
Morgan Rielly - Paul Ranger
Jerry D'Amigo was apparently practicing on the second line yesterday, and I hope that that was just a novelty thing. The Leafs have six top six wingers, which is excellent, because there are probably some teams where Clarkson and Kulemin would play on a second line, but they don't have to in Toronto. That's where depth comes from!
Point about Nazem Kadri: he's taken some heat for not "playing" as well as he did last season. Jonas Siegel has an excellent column up about how Kadri's luck has turned from last year. It was very predictable that Kadri's scoring would decrease, so stop trying to find reasons for it. He's been great lately, and can't be judged on one or two turnovers.
Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - Rick Nash
Brad Richards - Derick Brassard - Mats Zuccarello
Carl Hagelin - J.T. Miller - Benoit Pouliot
Brian Boyle - Dominic Moore - Derek Dorsett
Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
John Moore - Anton Stralman
Michael Del Zotto - Justin Falk
A couple of years ago, McDonagh and Girardi was probably the best pairing in the league, but Girardi is clearly being driven around by McDonagh on the ice. This year, the Rangers have a 57.0% share of shot attempts when McDonagh is on the ice without Girardi, and it's just 51.2% for Girardi without McDonagh.
That pairing still handles the toughs, as does Stepan's forward line. In Vancouver, Vigneault was known for matching lines based on faceoff zones, and that appears to be the same thing in New York. Richards has had very limited defensive responsibilities this year, while Boyle, Moore and Dorsett rarely see faceoffs in the offensive zone. I like that strategy to an extent, if your horses on the back-end are good enough.
Here are the Rangers at ExtraSkater.
(and a paragraph as useful as most goalie statistics)
We have Jonathan Bernier up against Cam Talbot. Not Lundqvist, but Talbot. Lundqvist's save percentage is .905 this year, and Talbot's is .936, so it's not like the Rangers are throwing some anonymous annoying rookie at the Leafs. But those numbers are awful for short-game samples, so let's talk Christmas baking. Highest demand Christmas goodie at my house growing up was my mother's "gumdrop bread" which was basically a loaf of sugar bread with gumdrops baked inside of it. I'd never seen anything like this anywhere else, but it was always the big draw when relatives dropped over.
The Leafs and the Rangers start at 7 Eastern on Sportsnet Ontario. I re-iterate, don't make me write more poetry.