March 28 2013 03:51PM
So now that we've established that the Leafs need to buy a few pieces, and established that the Leafs have a few pieces to sell, all before becoming a true "playoff team" it's time to turn our attention to a playoff race. That is a stretch of games that typically comes at the end of March and beginning of April where teams that are in the top ten or so jockey for position and try and win games and hope opponents nearby in the standings lose games.
As it happens. the Leafs are playing Carolina, one of the many teams fighting for one of the few playoff spots available in the East. The Hurricanes have played very well against Toronto this season, although they have produced not very well lately, losing three straight and going 3-6-1 in their last ten. They have fallen three points out of the race, but may not be that bad.
I'll have a brief analysis of the Canes after the jump, and urge any of you on Twitter to follow @ShutdownLine, a Hurricanes blogger who does some very good microstatistical work. He'll have some interesting numbers throughout the game.
For a refresher of the last time these teams met:
Puck Drop: 7 PM EDT
TV: Leafs TV
By the numbers:
|Corsi Tied %||50.8 (13th)||44.8 (27th)|
|5v5 GF/GA Ratio||1.09 (12th)||1.02 (15th)|
|Team Shooting %||7.92%||10.37%|
|Team Save %||0.927||0.924|
|PP Success||13.4% (28th)||18.5% (13th)|
|5v4 GF/60||4.43 (27th)||6.36 (13th)|
|5v4 SF/60||51.1 (10th)||47.3 (15th)|
|PK Success||76.6% (29th)||85.6% (5th)|
|4v5 GA/60||9.36 (30th)||5.07 (5th)|
|4v5 SA/60||69.2 (29th)||40.9 (4th)|
|EV SV%||Quality Start Rate||Starts||Quality Starts|
A couple new statistical categories today to show off starting goalie matchups. Carolina has been in a bind this year with both Dan Ellis and Cam Ward, their two experienced guys, ending up on the injured reserve. Ellis has otherwise been fantastic in Carolina and they're still getting a .927 team save percentage, but otherwise the team has yet to produce like their shot differential totals suggest they ought to. Despite being a top-half team in Corsi Tied %, Carolina's goal-differential minus-4, 17th in the league.
Special teams is a big reason why. The Leafs have been average on the powerplay this season and excellent on the penalty kill. The Hurricanes have been mediocre on the man advantage and truly awful on the penalty kill, at 29th in success rate, 30th in goals against rate and 29th in shots against rate. The powerplay has been better, although it is still coming up lame despite a good number of talented shooters generating a lot of shots. Other than Jeff Skinner, Tim Brent and Jordan Staal, not an awful lot of goals going around.
Here are the lines the Hurricanes had in their last game:
Alexander Semin - Eric Staal - Jiri Tlusy
Chad LaRose - Jordan Staal - Jeff Skinner
Patrick Dwyer - Tuomo Ruutu - Riley Nash
Adam Hall - Tim Brent - Kevin Westgarth
Tim Gleason - Joe Corvo
Jamie McBain - Joni Pitkanen
Jay Harrison - Brett Bellemore
I have no idea who their 6D or their backup goalie are.
With the return of Tuomo Ruutu from injury and the usability of Tim Brent, I'm beginning to see why the Hurricanes didn't feel they needed Jussi Jokinen anymore. The usage chart produced some fairly interesting results, and a lot of blue circles in the "tougher minutes" area of the grid. Jordan Staal, Jeff Skinner, and Patrick Dwyer, a player assumed to have had a successful 2011 thanks to playing alongside Brandon Sutter appears to have done just as well alongside Jokinen this season, and now Ruutu I guess.
Ultimately, Kirk Muller has a lineup that he doesn't like to specialize. The top two lines both see a good portion of the offensive minutes the team gets and the third line has had success holding the fort when they're on. At the start of the season, I was wary about balanced lineups against a Randy Carlyle team but with the emergence of Nazem Kadri, the Leafs can say they have three good lines who can play with top sixers.
One problem, of course, is that the first line has been quiet of late. Carlyle put Joffrey Lupul back with Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel last game and has moved James van Riemsdyk back alongside Nazem Kadri and Nik Kulemin. I'd expect that line to be trotted out against Jordan Staal, while Mikhail Grabovski's unit should handle Ruutu and the first line will play power-on-power:
Joffrey Lupul - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
James van Riemsdyk - Nazem Kadri - Nik Kulemin
Matt Frattin - Mikhail Grabovski - Jay McClement
Frazer McLaren - Ryan Hamilton - Colton Orr
Carl Gunnarsson - Dion Phaneuf
Jake Gardiner - Mike Kostka
Mark Fraser - Cody Franson
Fourth line sees a shakeup too, with Ryan Hamilton and Jay McClement switching spots. I'd feel better about this experiment if Frattin were moved back up to play with Kadri and Kulemin took his position back alongside Grabovski's wing. Should things go south tonight, Carlyle may make that switch.
I'm comfortable having Frazer McLaren and Colton Orr on the ice as long as Jay McClement is there, but don't know how I feel about a fourth line winger centering two fifth line players. Paul Hendrick also called John-Michael Liles a "possibility" so the shell game begins.
Predictions? Comments? Complaints? Can the Leafs start up another streak with a second win in a row? They do have points in the last six...
Lines via Left Wing Lock