LGD - Game 41: Hurricanes @ Leafs - The Bozak came back

Cam Charron
December 29 2013 11:50AM

When Tyler Bozak got hurt and Nazem Kadri got suspended, the Maple Leafs signed Jerred Smithson to replace him, but demoted Trevor Smith before Smithson played his first game. Toronto wasn't attempting to add a centreman as insurance, they were looking at add an aspect of Bozak's game that they thought they would miss.

The maddening thing is how players get shuffled around the depth chart without any sense of regularity. Peter Holland played on the second line a game ago, and will be pushed down the depth chart onto the fourth line. Trevor Smith has been the second line centre for the Maple Leafs on multiple occasions this year, but he also would never get a minute of Jay McClement's minutes. McClement is just locked into that checking line centre role regardless of his performance, or the production of consistently better players in the lineup like Smith and Holland.

It's anti-meritocratic, and against every virtue that Carlyle attempts to espouse. Smith's hurt now, but while a return for Bozak means a necessary shake in the lineup, the Leafs best points-per-60 player this season and one of the prime offensive catalysts over the last month will go all the way to the fourth line. No matter what he does, Carlyle will find minutes for Bozak and McClement, no matter how poor the results are.

KEY STATISTICS

  Hurricanes Leafs
Corsi Close % 48.5% (21st) 42.8% (29th)
5v5 GF/60 1.87 (25th) 2.10 (19th)
5v5 GA/60 2.27 (18th) 2.23 (16th)
PDO 99.1 (21st) 101.7 (4th)
     
  Hurricanes Leafs
5v4 GF/60 4.41 (28th) 7.76 (5th)
5v4 SF/60 48.6 (23rd) 56.1 (7th)
4v5 GA/60 6.37 (15th) 6.65 (19th)
4v5 SA/60 51.9 (18th) 62.0 (27th)
Penalty Differential +7 (7th) -12 (24th)

Via ExtraSkater and NHL.com

Anyway, Carolina's the opponent tonight, and they're also a good cure for a struggling team, as was Buffalo a couple of nights ago. The Hurricanes aren't a good possession team, have had trouble getting 5-on-5 offence this year and have an anemic powerplay. They don't have a team that can exploit Toronto's weaknesses.

Two things shock me looking at that chart though. The first is that despite two goalies in the top 10 in save percentage, the Leafs are now in the lower half of the league in 5-on-5 goals against per 60 minutes. I posted a chart on Twitter a little while ago that compared Jonathan Bernier's numbers this year to last, and what a good defensive team can do for a goalie's individual statistics. Despite a higher save percentage in Toronto this year, Bernier's goals against average has shot up and his win percentage has been broken:

The second thing I like from the chart is more positive. The Leafs were once two full standard deviations from the mean in penalty differential, but that's picked up since Morgan Rielly's re-insertion into the lineup. I'm not going to say that the Leafs recent (better) play is all because of Rielly. There's a lot of things going on here. The Leafs are playing more with the puck and getting a better share of penalties. They still need to turn that extra possession into shots.

MAPLE LEAFS LINEUP

Update from Jonas Siegel:

James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
Mason Raymond - Nazem Kadri - Joffrey Lupul
Nik Kulemin - Jay McClement - David Clarkson
Jerry D'Amigo - Peter Holland - Colt Knorr

Carl Gunnarsson - Dion Phaneuf
Jake Gardiner - Cody Franson
Morgan Rielly - Paul Ranger

The thing that bugs me about Holland dropping below McClement is that it's just another data point in the series of "Leafs think that a third line centreman should have a vastly different role and playing style than a second line centreman". Again, good depth is created by adding a good third centreman and shoving your current third centreman down to the fourth line, not by adding "the best" fourth line centre.

Fun fact: one of the first moves Dave Nonis made when re-shaping the Vancouver Canucks back in the summer of 2006 was acquiring a player that he called "the best fourth-line centre money could buy". That player was Tommi Santala. Who? Exactly.

There's no question that Holland has outplayed McClement so far this year. His points per 60 minutes rate (2.27—fourth on the team) is helped out by an 11.9% on-ice shot percentage that can't be maintained over a long stretch of games. That said, he's been an offensive zone catalyst and I think is a player worth giving more minutes, not less, to. It's a pity he never got an extended look on the top line. He can't possibly be any worse than Nazem Kadri on defence, and is definitely better than Tyler Bozak on offence.

HURRICANES LINEUP

via Daily Faceoff:

Jeff Skinner - Eric Staal - Tuomo Ruutu
Nathan Gerbe - Jordan Staal - Alexander Semin
Drayson Bowman - Riley Nash - Pat Dwyer
Radek Dvorak - Manny Malhotra - Zach Boychuk

Justin Faulk - Andrej Sekera
Ryan Murphy - Ron Hainsey
Tim Gleason - Mike Komisarek

Carolina is mostly healthy again, with just Jay Harrison and Jiri Tlusty the only injured holdouts. A big issue for Carolina has been a low on-ice shot percentage leading to pretty low goal totals. The Hurricanes have scored on 4.1% of shots with Jordan Staal on the ice, 5.5% with Nathan Gerbe, 5.7% with Alex Semin and 6.3% with Eric Staal.

Numbers below 7.0% can be attributed to luck, and there's not a lot of margin between the best and worst players in the league as far as driving on-ice shooting percentage goes. We know by watching that Staal, Staal, Semin and Gerbe should have higher offensive totals.

As for usage, on the road we know that Andrej Sekera and Justin Faulk still manage the highest forward competition faced. We can assume they'll see a steady diet of Phil Kessel. Not too sure about Jordan Staal. Kirk Muller would love to see him against Bozak for faceoffs, but last time around at the ACC it was brother Eric against the Leafs top line, while Jordan was against a line of Dave Bolland, Jay McClement and Josh Leivo. Just like in the first game, I expect Carlyle to work Nazem Kadri against Riley Nash, and try to keep his top line out against Eric, avoiding the more defensive Jordan.

Hurricanes page on Extra Skater.

STARTING GOALIES

(and a paragraph as useful as most goalie statistics)

Jonathan Bernier against Cam Ward. Side note about Tommi Santala, whom I mentioned above. Nonis signed Santala about a week or so before he traded for Roberto Luongo, so there was about a week where people were joking about Santala being "the key" to the Canucks' rebuild. What was "Canucks Internet" back then became a breeding ground for Tommi Santala-as-Chuck Norris jokes. Pass it to Bulis characterized Nonis' comments about Santala as "may have been the stupidest thing he ever said", and that statement probably holds true today even after Nonis' countless appearances on TSN 1050 over the last six months.

The Leafs and the Hurricanes start a little before the Seahawks game ends. I may not have any fingernails left to chew by the time 7 Eastern rolls around.

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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 Back in Black
December 29 2013, 01:54PM
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"Chemistry" is what happens when good players play together. There is very little about it that is unique to specific players.

McClement cannot contribute to offense, and putting him in between $8M-worth of wingers is a team-damaging waste of their talents. If a defensive specialist line is what you want, ice a fourth line of McClement-D'Amigo-Ashton. As Nonis might say, it would be the best fourth line money can buy.

And props to Cam for the graphic.

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#2 WesternDP
December 29 2013, 03:26PM
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Colton Orr should not be playing this game. Carolina is really soft. Westgath has played only 12 games and is unlikely to play. Clarkson could fight and beat the rest of the team, if that's needed

They should have taken the oportunity to re-jig some lines and given a Marlie a chance, because the Marlies don't play today and didn't on Saturday.

They could have given Abbott a shot. They could have given Lievo another look or even Ashton.

Even simpler...just take out Orr and insert Broll. The fourth line would be Jerry D'Amigo - Peter Holland - David Broll. I actually like that line...some speed, size and skill. They could actually score a goal and might give the Cane's fourth line lots of trouble.

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#3 Jordan
December 29 2013, 12:26PM
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Although I agree that Holland deserves more of a role than as 4th line Centre. At the same time, the Mcclement, Kulemin, Clarkson line has played well together and Carlyle probably doesn't want to break them up bc of this. As much as some people don't want to believe it, chemistry is a big part of hockey. I think the Holland situation should be seen as more of a positive than the writer outlines in this blog. When healthy, the Leafs have one of the deeper/more talented fw groups in the league. Perhaps it is time to trade a fw out for some stability on the back end.

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#4 Billy Bob
December 29 2013, 12:27PM
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Teams want more "d", rather than offense, from 3rd lines. While offense is needed from 3rd lines to win in playoffs, in regular season, these guys are needed as defensive zone specialists that can forecheck when required. In that light, McClement offers more (and better FO #s) than Holland. Surprised this wouldnt occur to you.

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#5 Mark H
December 29 2013, 12:47PM
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The problem with pushing Holland to the 4th line is that the Leafs feel the need to have one or two of the spots on that line occupied by a fighter. Whether you agree with Orr or McLaren's role or not, you have to believe the 4th line center has almost zero chance of generating offence or even looking good enough to earn spot duty elsewhere. Let's just hope Holland doesn't develop "chemistry" with Orr.

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#6 Jordan
December 29 2013, 03:18PM
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@Back in Black

Not quite accurate regarding chemistry in what you say. There are a lot of good players that have difficulty playing with each other for various reasons. This is pretty basic common knowledge.

I think Holland would be effective with Kulie and Clarkson, but I also understand Why Carlyle wants to keep Mcclement there, as that line has played well.

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#7 Back in Black
December 29 2013, 07:35PM
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@Jordan

Some player combinations have 'chemistry' and some don't, but it's less frequent and less important than many people think. Chris Kunitz isn't a high scorer because he has 'chemistry' with Sidney Crosby; he's a leading scorer because Crosby is the best player in the world and Kunitz is reasonably good. Any other reasonably good player would do very well beside Crosby.

Kulemin has been playing very well lately. He's a good player. It doesn't mean that he has any special bond with McClement that will cause him to stop playing well if he plays with Holland.

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#8 leaferfan
December 29 2013, 02:16PM
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I don't think Mclemment is the problem with the leaf defence as much as Phaneuf and overpaid and underperforming leaf blue line. And it is clear now that spending all your cap on great one dimensional offensive wingers and solid but overworked #2D dman, that the team is forced to ice a 4th liner as a checking centre because there is little to no defensive depth and shutdown talent on the leaf eam and blueline.

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#9 Jordan
December 29 2013, 08:56PM
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@Back in Black

It's not about a "special bond" as you say, it's more about player types adapting to similar or different player types more easily. Most good players would be reasonably effective playing with other good players, but there are often significant differences based on chemistry. Take Bozak and Kessel for example. Say what you want about Bozak, but they do play well together. One reason for this is bc Bozak gets Kessel the puck, Bozak barely shoots at all. Perhaps another Centre wouldn't be as willing to give the puck up to a legit sniper like Bozak is, and the line might not produce as much. This is just one example of many that plays into line chemistry, and it is often misunderstood and underrated by many of the overly stat. Focused crowd within the Blogosphere.

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#10 SchulzEricT
January 05 2014, 06:20PM
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@Billy Bob

His point was that you should play your best players more often. If you have 2 centers who are good enough to be on the 2nd line, then go ahead and have one center your 3rd line, then have a 4th line that is as good as most teams' 3rd line. Surprised that didn't occur to you.

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