Preview: Game #13 Flyers @ Leafs - Schenn for JvR

Cam Charron
February 11 2013 11:16AM

Nobody wants to forget about the game that happened on Saturday, when Toronto wiped the floor with Montreal both on the scoreboard and on the judges scoreboards, but alas, with three quarters of the season left, and three more games against Montreal to boot, the 6-0 drubbing on Hockey Night in Canada will fade away until the summer when"remember when" posts pop up discussing some of the more fun moments of the season.

Traditionally, Philadelphia is a more aggressive rival than the Montreal Canadiens, but given one Maple Leaf had a phone hearing with NHL brass after the events of Saturday, chances are there's a directive for Toronto, whether internal or external, to be on their best behaviour.

Toronto plays the Flyers tonight after sweeping a three-game road trip that took them through two teams in the Southeast division and up the Atlantic coastline to Montreal. The Flyers are 5-6-1 and a beatable team. Not to "giveaway" one of the chief storylines of the game, but Philly will bring Luke Schenn back to Toronto for his first game since the trade…

The Flyers are a plus-possession team through the first 11 games, with excellent goaltending in Ilya Bryzgalov so far, but they can't seem to put the puck in the net. They're 22nd in the league in goal scoring at 2.42 goals per game even with a fairly average powerplay. Part of their problem is that they've been shooting 6.8% as a team at even strength, which is less an indication that they aren't taking quality shots as it is an indication that they've been getting unlucky to start the season.

Philadelphia are an interesting case study and while they're a perpetual playoff team, they're also a leading candidate to run the school of "How to Dismantle a Contender". A year after making the Stanley Cup Finals on the heels of a platooned goaltender duo of Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton, Philly traded two franchise players in Jeff Carter and Mike Richards to create space for Ilya Bryzgalov. Thankfully, two of the assets they got back in the Carter trade—Jakub Voracek and the pick that became Sean Couturier—are two of the teams' top players.

But it's not up front that they've really fallen off. They lost the rest of Chris Pronger's career and failed to replace him. They lost Matt Carle to free agency, and now Luke Schenn, who was eighth on Toronto in average time on ice per game last season, is now third on Philadelphia in 2013. The James van Riemsdyk trade was typical of a Paul Holmgren knee-jerk move, trading a player who had been struggling with percentages for a half season to any general manager offering a defenceman, presumably.

It really is too bad that Paul Holmgren is the only general manager who does bold and outrageous things, like sign players to offer sheets. I want Ryan O'Reilly back in the NHL at some point.

Broadcast Info:

Puck Drop: 7 PM EST

TV: Sportsnet Ontario

By The Numbers:

  Philadelphia Toronto
Fenwick Close 52.18% 42.55%
5v5 GF/60 1.8 2.5
5v5 GA/60 1.8 2.2
Team Shooting % 6.8% 9.3%
Team Save % 0.938 0.93
Team PDO 1.006 1.023

Special Teams:

  Philadelphia Toronto
PP Success 17.3% (17th) 15.0% (23rd)
5v4 GF/60 6.0 (16th) 4.9 (22nd)
5v4 SF/60 52.0 (9th) 46.6 (17th)
PK Success 77.4% (22nd) 77.5% (21st)
4v5 GA/60 10.1 (27th) 7.4 (20th)
4v5 SA/60 45.5 (15th) 48.1 (18th)

(Numbers via behindthenet.ca and NHL.com)

Setup:

Those numbers are going to make their way into the previews now that the sample size is good enough to learn anything from. The Flyers are a better puck-possession team (Fenwick Close) than their record would indicate, but they've had a pretty poor penalty killing performance, so they're a couple games back of .500 earlier in the season.

By contrast, the Maple Leafs are a poor puck-possession team and have made up for their poor special teams by getting timely shooting and are a couple of games above .500 in the early going. Both teams, despite the narrative, are getting good goaltending this season.

So what does Philadelphia's lineup look like? Left Wing Lock tells us something like this:

Claude Giroux - Danny Briere - Wayne Simmonds
Matt Read - Sean Couturier - Mike Knuble
Tye McGinn - Brayden Schenn - Jakub Voracek
Ruslan Fedotenko - Max Talbot - Zac Rinaldo

Brayden Coburn - Bruno Gervais
Luke Schenn - Kimmo Timonen
Kurtis Foster - Nicklas Grossmann

Ilya Bryzgalov
Michael Leighton
Brian Boucher

That defence looks very… porous.

By glancing at our pal @theninjagreg's Usage Chart, which updates throughout the season, you can see that Peter Laviolette plays his first and third lines offensively and deploys his second and fourth lines defensively. This isn't surprising—longtime fans of statistical analysis will know how rare of a player Sean Couturier is, and how uniquely a rookie was able to fit into the role of a two-way player last season. Him and Talbot at the middle of the defensive lines give Philly some good matchup options on the road.

The last time these two teams met at the Air Canada Centre, Laviolette was able to get one of the two out against Phil Kessel most of the time, otherwise Ron Wilson was content to let power run on power. If I'm Randy Carlyle, I think I keep those matches. This is a good chance for Mikhail Grabovski to shine. Both first and third lines are good at puck possession but neither one is absurdly dominant offensively, minus a stretch of games where pundits were declaring Claude Giroux to be the best player in the world. I expect Grabovski and Nik Kulemin will see a lot of minutes against that top line.

This will also be a big test for Nazem Kadri's line and could be his first real test against Brayden Schenn, a player picked in the same draft as him, one pick before. Kadri could see a lot of time against Schenn tonight and his line has been playing well—it's been four games since Kadri's line has had a negative scoring chance differential, and Carlyle is beginning to break him in with some less sheltered minutes. Here's a good post from Steve Burtch last year comparing the two.

Laviolette has been splitting the tough minutes somewhat evenly between his top two pairings, leaving Foster and Grossmann with the bulk of offensive zone starts (which isn't much) and somewhat easier competition. Carlyle gets to pick the matches and I don't think Laviolette will sweat too much whether he has Timonen or Coburn out against a particular line. May not matter for Carlyle either, but seeing van Riemsdyk victimize Schenn a couple of times could be funny.

Worth noting though in his defence, Schenn has actually played modestly difficult minutes, with an .856 Corsi Rel QoC so far and a 42.5% offensive zone start rate, indicating he's starting a lot more shifts in the defensive zone against first and second line players. His Corsi On rate is -3.58 per 60 minutes, which shows he's not getting killed too much out there. That said, most Flyers have been better possession players without Schenn on the ice as opposed to when he is, but he's not as bad as he was last season with the Leafs.

It could be a fun game, and given how open the Leafs have played recently, against Carolina, Washington and Montreal, there's a lot of potential for a track meet. Big test for Kadri and good test for Grabovski too. It's also one for James Reimer, who has been excellent, against one of the league's most potent offences in the last few years. Even if they've been cold to start the season, the team is always dangerous. Giroux, Read and Voracek each present a different threat on each of their first three scoring lines, and it's rare to see players of that offensive calibre spread out evenly throughout a lineup.

Game Day Notes

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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 Francis333
February 11 2013, 03:47PM
Trash it!
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Good article Cam, Why not expected leafs line combos though, and just the opposing teams?

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