January 23 2014 01:39PM
I may have been wrong about Toronto's game against Colorado. The data I'd looked at showed that the Leafs would get crushed in puck-possession against the Avalanche, being on the road and on the second half of a back-to-back. While they were beaten decisively in "close" situations, I didn't anticipate just how good the team would be in the second period. Check out the ExtraSkater game graph linked here: the Leafs had 18 unblocked shots to Colorado's 11 from the time it was 2-0 Leafs to 4-1 Toronto.
So a pretty good performance, all things considered. The win against Colorado has to rank as one of the best ones of the year, not just owing to opponent but also circumstances, and (for the critics like myself) begrudgingly accepting the Leafs were full value for that W.
Last time the Leafs played the Stars, they busted a five-game losing streak with an overtime goal by Trevor Smith. Game is in Dallas now. Numbers and lineups below.
|Corsi Close %||52.2% (7th)||42.9% (29th)|
|5v5 GF/60||2.43 (8th)||2.22 (17th)|
|5v5 GA/60||2.41 (22nd)||2.39 (20th)|
|5v5 Diff/60||+0.03 (14th)||-0.17 (18th)|
|PDO||99.8 (17th)||101.5 (5th)|
|5v4 GF/60||5.05 (23rd)||8.02 (4th)|
|5v4 SF/60||54.3 (9th)||55.9 (6th)|
|4v5 GA/60||7.30 (26th)||6.61 (17th)|
|4v5 SA/60||61.0 (27th)||62.4 (29th)|
|Penalty Differential||+16 (3rd)||-14 (24th)|
I'd characterize Dallas as a pretty good 5-on-5 team that has been killed in special teams. They've somehow turned a +16 advantage in powerplay opportunities into a -5 disadvantage in special teams' goal differential. They also have a league-low -6 differential in 4-on-4 situations, which is perplexing considering all the speed and skill they have up front.
Their 5-on-4 issues look to be more because of bad luck and shooting percentages than just general issues, but they're getting full value for their lousy penalty kill because Kari Lehtonen hasn't been able to bail them out of it. The other problem with the Stars is that while the rest of the West are killing the East this season, the Stars are a perplexing 6-10-1 against the lesser Conference, one of just four of the West's 14 teams that has lost more games than they've won against the East.
The Leafs powerplay moves up a couple of spots from last game to today with a good performance against Colorado. Given their problems at 5s and on the penalty kill, I can't imagine where the team would be with a league average powerplay. It's won them at least three games on the season for sure.
Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Valeri Nichushkin
Antoine Roussel - Cody Eakin - Ryan Garbutt
Erik Cole - Vernon Fiddler - Ray Whitney
Rich Peverley - Shawn Horcoff - Alex Chiasson
Alex Goligoski - Trevor Daley
Jordie Benn - Brendan Dillon
Aaron Rome - Sergei Gonchar
Worth noting that I cheer for the Stars in the West. I have irrational levels of appreciation for Jamie Benn, Roussel, Eakin and Dillon. Roussel, one of those odd "do-it-all" players, has 18 points and 118 penalty minutes for me, which is a fantasy hockey gold mine. A little less valuable is Brendan Dillon, who has cut his penalties taken rate and has instead matured into an under-appreciated defensive defenceman. He's really helped the team shake off the injury to Stephane Robidas.
Up front you have four lines that play often. The lowest-used regular forward is Vern Fiddler, playing a little over 20% of the Stars' even strength ice time. Compare that to Colt Knorr or the rotating Marlie winger in the Leafs lineup that play closer to 10-15%. There are some good things to say about Dallas, and I think they're on the right track even if they won't make the playoffs this year.
James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
Nik Kulemin - Nazem Kadri - Joffrey Lupul
Mason Raymond - Peter Holland - Troy Bodie
Carter Ashton - Jay McClement - Colt Knorr
Carl Gunnarsson - Dion Phaneuf
Tim Gleason - Cody Franson
Jake Gardiner - Morgan Rielly
While Kessel has been glued to Tyler Bozak when Bozak is healthy, Randy Carlyle has started to play him the occasional shift with either Peter Holland or Nazem Kadri, probably to up Kessel's minutes total. It's paid off—The Thrill has a couple of goals off of his normal line during this win streak.
Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly have a 51.4% Corsi rate together, which is probably the only positive possession pairing Toronto have that has played significant time together. It took Rielly 20 games or so to get his NHL legs (at the expense of Cody Franson, if you read my earlier post) but it's paying off with Gardiner. Jake makes the odd error, but the number of good plays he makes outweigh the bad, and he's also been excellent for my fantasy team recently.
Jonathan Bernier versus Kari Lehtonen, an excellent goaltender with a particularly punnable name.