December 03 2013 10:18AM
There are good hockey teams, and then there are the San Jose Sharks. For those of you unfamiliar with the Western Conference, the Sharks this season have cut through the rest of the West the same way the West has cut through the East. The Pacific Division is the strongest in hockey, and the Sharks have laid waste to it, with a 9-1-2 record.
The Sharks are in Toronto tonight, riding a five-game win streak (although two of those were shootouts) against a visibly struggling Maple Leafs team. The good news is that both Cody Franson and Jay McClement are available to Randy Carlyle to play tonight, after Franson missed the game against the Canadiens and McClement was shaken up twice. The bad news is that Nazem Kadri will not play due to personal reasons. Out of respect for him we'll stray from reporting on what those reasons may be.
|Corsi Close %||54.0% (4th)||43.0% (29th)|
|5v5 GF/60||2.89 (3rd)||2.14 (18th)|
|5v5 GA/60||1.91 (8th)||2.00 (10th)|
|PDO||101.7 (6th)||102.7 (2nd)|
|5v4 GF/60||7.99 (9th)||8.03 (7th)|
|5v4 SF/60||66.5 (1st)||58.5 (7th)|
|4v5 GA/60||5.20 (8th)||6.75 (19th)|
|4v5 SA/60||53.1 (19th)||64.0 (26th)|
|Penalty Differential||+36 (1st)||-21 (29th)|
"Penalty Differential" is the scariest one here. The Sharks have just the 14th most efficient powerplay in the NHL, but have scored the 5th most powerplay goals. Why? Because they draw a lot of penalties (they have a nine-opportunity lead on the next highest team, with 112 to Washington's 103) and have been shorthanded just 76 times, which is second in the league behind Colorado's 73.
Now, this doesn't mean "SAN JOSE IS BRIBING THE REFS" because it is in my view penalties should not line up perfectly. The Sharks' focus on puck-possession and their ability to stay composed and not retaliate has given them a higher penalty differential than any other team in the league, and by a very significant margin. 2nd place (Florida, of all teams) are at +16 in this category.
The Sharks have been less effective on the powerplay than in previous years, but they're still dangerous.
The Leafs should be in good shape if they stay out of the box and capitalize on a powerplay or two (the Sharks give up a lot of chances against) but they'll need a pretty good goaltending performance tonight to keep them even at 5-on-5. We'll see what happens. I neglect to write any one team off on any one day, and even if San Jose's strengths line up perfectly with Toronto's weaknesses, keep in mind Buffalo beat the Sharks this year.
The Leafs have beaten Buffalo. The Sabres have not. Ergo…
MAPLE LEAFS LINEUP
So Joffrey Lupul and Kadri are both unavailable. None of the reporters seem to be discussing lines, so let's speculate all over the place:
James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
Mason Raymond - Trevor Smith - David Clarkson
Carter Ashton - Jay McClement - Nik Kulemin
Frazer McLaren - Jerred Smithson - Colt Knorr
Carl Gunnarsson - Dion Phaneuf
Mark Fraser - Cody Franson
Morgan Rielly - Paul Ranger
This is just speculation. Also, I am assuming the worst.
Peter Holland should be in the lineup in Smithson's place, and Randy Carlyle probably will leave McLaren in, thinking he'll be "motivated against his old team" or something to that effect. Let's also assume that Jake Gardiner is again held out of the lineup, because you need toughness to counteract San Jose's skilled forwards… or something like that.
If Franson is available, I would assume he goes. Carlyle banked heavily on his left shot/right shot split last season and I wouldn't think he goes voluntarily with six left-handed shots.
Tomas Hertl - Joe Thornton - Brent Burns
Patrick Marleau - Logan Couture - Tommy Wingels
Martin Havlat - Joe Pavelski - Tyler Kennedy
James Sheppard - Andrew Desjardins - Mike Brown
Matt Irwin - Dan Boyle
Justin Braun - Marc-Edouard Vlasic
Scott Hannan - Brad Stuart
He's not a household name, but Marc-Edouard Vlasic is on my Team Canada list of six defenders for the Olympics. Essentially, him and Justin Braun play minutes similar to Dion Phaneuf's, but have an overwhelmingly positive Corsi.
The Sharks also employ Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau as a "tough minutes" line, facing the highest-minute forwards and getting the bulk of defensive zone starts among regular forwards. That opens up a lot of room for the Sharks' top line and third line, and Joe Pavelski has absolutely relished those minutes.
Also, yes, that's former Leafs facepuncher Mike Brown. The Sharks have trotted out different facepunchers over the years for some reason.
(And a paragraph as useful as most goalie statistics)
James Reimer for the Leafs, apparently, and probably Antti Niemi for the Sharks. It's always Antti Niemi. One of my oldest and lamest jokes I trot out on Twitter when Niemi allows a bad goal is that "I'm pro-goalie, but I'm anti-Niemi".
The Leafs and the SHORKS get underway at 7:00 Eastern on Sportsnet Ontario.