Preview: Game #16 Leafs @ Panthers - Manage Your Losses

Cam Charron
February 18 2013 07:51AM


Screencap via the Florida Panthers' main page. You get get to this game for very cheap.

Here's a good mantra: "Manage your losses".

The Toronto Maple Leafs are one of two teams in the NHL without having suffered a defeat in overtime or the shootout this season, the other being Pittsburgh. About 25% of NHL games go to overtime, and that doesn't vary when there are more divisional or conference games.

Yet the Leafs have gone the distance just once: an overtime win against Buffalo much earlier this season, where Matt Frattin scored with about a second to go in the OT period to save the game from the agony of the shootout. The Florida Panthers meanwhile have managed to get past the regulation 60 minutes five times this year… and all five times have been in their last six games.

Not only that, but Florida's management got a lot of credit for turning around the franchise last season in a season that culminated in the team's first playoff appearance since 2000—and they took the Eastern Conference champion Devils to a seventh game overtime to boot.

That said, live by the overtime loss, die by the overtime loss, I believe the saying goes in hockey. The Panthers lost Games Six and Seven of their playoff appearance in overtime, which is fitting because they never would have made the playoffs in the first place if the NHL didn't give out points for losing games. No team ever benefit more from the rule that a tie at the end of regulation gave a team a point: Florida had 18 overtime and shootout losses, most in NHL history. Consider this: the 2012 Florida Panthers were 20th in the league in regulation wins, tied with Colorado and Buffalo, behind division rival Winnipeg, and behind Calgary. None of those four teams made the playoffs.

So, Manage Your Losses became the team's slogan. They have four this season. That somehow turns a 4-10 record into a record where you can say "they're two games below .500". But they really aren't, and the NHL has managed to water down the league so much that ".500" means nothing. 23 of 30 NHL teams were above .500 last season. 21 teams are above .500 this season.

Broadcast Info:

Puck Drop: 7:30 PM EST

TV: Sportsnet Ontario

Numbers Game:

  Florida Toronto
Fenwick Close 46.83% (24th) 45.02% (27th)
5v5 GF/60 3.0 2.7
5v5 GA/60 2.0 3.1
Team Shooting % 7.5% 10.1%
Team Save % 0.898 0.938
Team PDO 0.973 1.039

Special Teams:

  Florida Toronto
PP Success 17.9% (16th) 14.5% (24th)
5v4 GF/60 5.7 (15th) 4.5 (25th)
5v4 SF/60 48.2 (15th) 48.7 (13th)
PK Success 74.6% (26th) 80.0% (21st)
4v5 GA/60 7.5 (20th) 6.5 (18th)
4v5 SA/60 44.4 (12th) 50.7 (21st)

Numbers via Behind the Net's Team and Fenwick pages and NHL.com

Setup:

The Florida Panthers are not a particularly good hockey team. They are the worst team in the NHL by goal differential at minus-18. As of Sunday evening, they were the 7th worst team in the NHL by the puck-possession measure "Fenwick Close". They have not shot well this season, putting just 7.5% of their shots in the opposition's net and they have not gotten particularly good goaltending, with just an .898 save percentage at even strength.

Their goaltenders, Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen, were much better for them last season, but the thing about being Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen mean that eventually you will begin to play like Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen. That is to say neither goalie is bad, but Theodore is average, and Clemmensen is mediocre. There is a difference between that and "good".

Clemmensen last season had a .922 even strength save percentage and Theodore was a .928. They filled in well for Tomas Vokoun, who left his starting job in Sunrise to pursue his hopes of winning a Stanley Cup as a backup elsewhere.

I had to write this preview early, so as of Monday morning, there's no indication of which goalie will get the start. I presume Theodore. Here are the lines the Panthers ran with Saturday against Tampa Bay:

Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Tomas Kopecky
Jonathan Huberdeau - Drew Shore - Peter Mueller
Jack Skille - Shawn Matthias - Marcel Goc
Alex Kovalev - Jarred Smithson - George Parros

Dmitry Kulikov - Brian Campbell
Filip Kuba - Mike Weaver
Erik Gudbranson - Tyson Strachan

Jose Theodore
Scott Clemmensen

First thing I noticed was "that's the strangest-looking fourth line I've ever seen". Kovalev, yes, that Alex Kovalev, has also played recently with Marcel Goc and Tomas Kopecky, but it looks like Kevin Dineen decided to flip everything around last game, which was a 6-5 overtime loss to the Lightning.

Second thing I noticed was "woah, the Panthers run two pairings with guys on their off side. Even the Leafs never got that crazy." It's true. Kulikov and Campbell are both left shots, while Gudbranson and Strachan are right side shots. Indeed, those have been the pairings that Dineen has gone with in the last few games. Ed Jovanovski's been hurt, and they traded Keaton Ellerby, so that left them with about five reasonable NHL defencemen once you remember that Filip Kuba only got a contract because he:

a) was an All-Star with the Minnesota Wild in 2004 who hosted the game but didn't have anybody good on the team

b) played next to Erik Karlsson in Ottawa last season

When you look at Florida's player usage chart (via @theninjagreg) Kuba's name is in the middle of a big red dot indicating a very poor relative Corsi rate. Pucks seem to whiz past him when he's on the blue line:

The Panthers only guys in the blue who have played somewhat tough minutes are Jovanovski, Mueller, Huberdeau, Kovalev and Weiss. One weird trend is that they seem to force a lot of face-offs in the offensive zone (hence why so many players have an over 50% offensive zone start rate), which is counter to their poor Fenwick Close score. Eventually one number or the other will sort itself out.

They like to give the Huberdeau-Shore-Mueller line the prime offensive zone minutes, but realistically the line that's real dangerous is whichever one Shawn Matthias and Marcel Goc is on. Both players can hurt you. Stephen Weiss is also a dangerous scorer, usually cracking 20 goals and 40 points, but he got hurt earlier and has yet to find his groove this season. He has only 12 shots in 10 games.

The Leafs last game:

James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
Nikolai Kulemin - Mikhail Grabovski - Leo Komarov
Clarke MacArthur - Nazem Kadri - Colton Orr
Frazer McLaren - Jay McClement - Mike Brown

Dion Phaneuf - Korbinian Holzer
John-Michael Liles - Mike Kostka
Cody Franson - Mark Fraser

Ben Scrivens
Jussi Rynnas

Remember when Colton Orr played a bunch of minutes alongside Nazem Kadri and Clarke MacArthur and that line generated nothing? Here's hoping that Randy Carlyle doesn't try to catch lightning in a bottle and roll with those same lines. Sure, the Leafs won on Saturday, but escaped an Ottawa roster that was beset with rookies and AHLers replacing the Senators' best players.

The Leafs have been playing with some frightfully high percentages this season (more on that later this week) and unless they get better at controlling the shot-clock, the team won't win three out of every five games. The Leafs are producing beyond their means, stopping pucks beyond their means, and winning one-goal games at a disproportionate rate.

That said, Grabovski looked excellent Saturday. You get the sense Phil Kessel needs to have a breakout game against one of these Southeast Division opponents in the next couple of days: they're um, not good at goaltending. Unfortunately, the Leafs have yet to put up anything more than a three spot in any of the five games they've played against Southeast Division foes. Perhaps that changes tonight. Florida's roster isn't really deep and the Leafs should have at least two of their top three lines winning the possession battle, with Grabovski presumably losing his facing tough minutes against either Matthias or Weiss.

Puck drop is at 7:30. I will be by later with a recap.

Lines information from Left Wing Lock

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 leaferfan
February 18 2013, 09:13AM
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But Kessel played a bunch of top line minutes and produced nothing himself so we should bench Kessel with orr. That's not even the point. Kadri is a sheltered line. And so it is smart of Carlyle to put weaker defensive players on the same line. I think if the leafs were losing you would have a point. But if they win, it is more difficult to argue your point. And the reality is the last two games, the forth line has been instrumental.

That said I recall the bruins game were they gave up a goal. Or we could lay it on the defence but the point is how everyone brings that up but never credits the fourth line when they do well.

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#2 Darryl
February 18 2013, 03:33PM
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@leaferfan

There's a difference between "playing well" and "getting lucky".

The 4th line has had a couple decent shifts here and there, and Colton Orr occasionally makes a play here or there that can cause someone to forget for a few seconds that he's bad at ice hockey. That shouldn't distract the astute viewer from observing that actually, they are not good.

How good was the Kadri line with Frattin, and how good was the Kadri line with Orr instead of Frattin? The answer, unsurprisingly, is that the Kadri line was hot garbage when Orr replaced Frattin. The explanataion, also unsurprisingly, is that Orr is terrible, and not able to even remotely reproduce the hockey ability that Frattin - who is basically a slightly above average third-line - brings to the ice.

The 4th line has not been instrumental in anything except sucking up minutes from players who could actually provide potential added value to the team, and the occasional face-punching of other teams' opposing players bad-at-hockey-face-punchers.

The 4th line has been fortunate that the Leafs as a whole have gotten exceptional goaltending, and thus their 5 minutes or so a night have not led to many goals against despite their being bad. Given that the leafs have only give up 9 goals in their last 6 games means given their limited playing time, it was statistically unlikely for the 4th line to be on for many goals against.

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