March 16 2013 04:21PM
The Leafs get Joffrey Lupul back, but since scoring hasn't been Toronto's issue in his absence, the bigger story to tonight's game is that Toronto gets to set the line matchups in contrast to their two earlier games this season against Winnipeg in Winnipeg. Other than that, not a whole heck of a lot else changes, even if this game is stepped up in importance due to Winnipeg being a team competing for a playoff spot with Toronto, and that fact is a little more apparent:
*3rd - Carolina - 31 pts / 22 games remaining
5th - Ottawa 34 pts / 21 games remaining
6th - New Jersey 32 pts / 20 games remaining
7th - Toronto 31 pts / 20 games remaining
8th - Winnipeg 30 pts / 21 games remaining
9th - NY Rangers 28 pts / 21 games remaining
10th - NY Islanders 27 pts / 21 games remaining
11th - Philadelphia 27 pts / 19 games remaining
I'll get into more detail in all of those team's chances later this week, but those are the eight teams realistically competing for the final five spots barring a crazy run from the Lightning or Capitals. As much grief as the hockey blogosphere gives Winnipeg, they're a pretty good team, and I gave them a good shot to make the playoffs last season. Their issue was goaltending, but they're a very well-coached, even-possession team with two good lines.
By the Numbers:
|Fenwick Close||49.85% (19th)||45.05% (27th)|
|5v5 GF/GA Ratio||0.96 (15th)||1.00 (14th)|
|Team Shooting %||8.30%||10.00%|
|Team Save %||0.913||0.919|
Toronto's goaltending has hit a skid over this losing streak. I don't think goaltending was the major issue for the team in both losses to Pittsburgh, but now that Toronto isn't getting .938 goaltending anymore, nobody seems to be talking about the team's toughness levels. Funny how that works.
On Winnipeg's side, their PDO has increased. A month ago, they were shooting 6.9% and getting a .911 save percentage at even strength, and had just 11 points in 14 games played. It's really crazy just how big an effect PDO has on teams results over a small period of time. PDO is the simple addition of shooting and save percentages, and if it's well over 1, it should come down, and if it's well below 1, it should go back up. Generally, the idea is that the better teams aren't necessarily the ones that have scored the most goals, but the ones that have taken the most shots.
Winnipeg doesn't take a lot of shots, though. They're 19th in the league in puck-possession by our Fenwick Close rank. They would be perfectly even if we used one decimal place and not two. They are also 10th in the East, so need very good goaltending to push themselves into a playoff spot from here on out. They haven't exactly gotten good goaltending this season, that .913 is below NHL average, but have a pretty good record in one-goal games at 8-4-2. They should be closer to .500 in that regard.
Toronto are also doing well in one-goal games at 7-3-1, and that's another shaky aspect of their record. That game against Pittsburgh was symbolic of how the Leafs have actually won all their games this year. They outplayed the other team and lost, and they've won a lot of games this year, a lot of tight games in fact, despite being outplayed.
I'll start with the Leafs lines according to Jonas Siegel with Lupul back in the lineup:
James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
Joffrey Lupul - Nazem Kadri - Nik Kulemin
Clarke MacArthur - Mikhail Grabovski - Matt Frattin
Leo Komarov - Jay McClement - Colton Orr
Dion Phaneuf - Korbinian Holzer
Carl Gunnarsson - John-Michael Liles
Mark Fraser - Cody Franson
Randy Carlyle is usually secretive about his lineup decisions, so I don't know if Komarov is in or out. I'd prefer him alongside McClement since both guys can kill penalties and Orr and Frazer McLaren can't. That's also a line you can play a bit more since both guys can win draws in their own zone and move the puck out through centre. Kulemin alongside Komarov and McClement would be a good defensive zone combination, and open up space for Grabovski to be used offensively. Alas.
Blake Wheeler - Bryan Little - Andrew Ladd
Evander Kane - Olli Jokinen - Antti Miettinen
Kyle Wellwood - Nik Antropov - James Wright
Chris Thorburn - Patrice Cormier - Eric Tangradi
Ron Hainsey - Zach Bogosian
Grant Clitsome - Dustin Byfuglien
Mark Stuart - Derek Meech
Jim Slater, the team's primary defensive zone centreman, is out, which slightly changes the complexion of the team. They're also sitting former No. 8 overall Alex Burmistrov and I haven't the foggiest why. Again, not sure on the combinations, but that's what they ran out last time around, and their top nine has been deployed consistently like that over the last two weeks, so if there are any changes, it'll come to the fourth line.