January 07 2014 01:27PM
Well, the Olympic announcement is over and done with. No Maple Leafs made Team Canada, but that was probably to be expected. Beyond some late buzz for Jonathan Bernier there was never any for Dion Phaneuf and he's about as less offensive you could get as a choice among the skaters. A part of me would have liked to see James Reimer land the third spot, and I thought he might have had a shot had Bernier not taken the net away from him this year, but whatever. Most of the Leafs will get a couple of weeks off in February, while James van Riemsdyk, Phil Kessel and Nik Kulemin go off to represent their respective countries.
So that's done with, and it's time for NHL Hockey, and the least good of the three disappointing New York teams that came into the season with so many expectations they have yet to meet. The Islanders are in town, fresh off a smackdown of the Dallas Stars the previous night. This is a very winnable game for Toronto as the rested team facing a team on the road half of a back-to-back, and also a game they could probably manage to out-shoot the opposition.
What will happen? Will the Leafs win or lose? You will know the answer if you click "Read Article" and if you don't, your power will go out and you won't be able to watch the game. Better take no chances.
|Corsi Close %||48.3% (24th)||42.6% (29th)|
|5v5 GF/60||2.14 (19th)||2.15 (18th)|
|5v5 GA/60||2.62 (25th)||2.33 (18th)|
|PDO||98.6 (23rd)||101.7 (5th)|
|5v4 GF/60||5.95 (16th)||7.41 (6th)|
|5v4 SF/60||48.9 (20th)||56.0 (9th)|
|4v5 GA/60||10.20 (30th)||6.50 (18th)|
|4v5 SA/60||49.3 (14th)||64.0 (28th)|
|Penalty Differential||+11 (5th)||-16 (26th)|
Several things tilt the scales in the favour of the Maple Leafs tonight:
1 - The Leafs have two days of home rest and the Islanders have zero days of road rest. Historically, those home teams have earned a 53% Corsi, without accounting for score effects. "I suspect if I re-ran this using close numbers, we'd see that the edge is even bigger"
2 - It's no secret that the Maple Leafs have had problems scoring goals this season, but the New York Islanders' biggest problem is preventing them. Their defence is reasonably above awful, but their goaltending is not. While the Leafs can only win games when the goalie steals one, the Islanders can only win games contingent on the goalie not throwing it away, which happens quite often.
3 - The biggest key for me, as usual, is for the Leafs to stay out of the box and let the Islanders take their penalties. Look at the rate of goals and shots the Islanders give up at 4-on-5, compared to what the Leafs produce 5-on-4. This is a good chance for the offence to pop off after a tepid month.
MAPLE LEAFS LINEUP
David Clarkson appears to be out. Carl Gunnarsson confirmed he will be out. Thankfully, it's not like Frazer McLaren is that much of an offensive drop off from David Clarkson. Lines from Daily Faceoff:
James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
Mason Raymond - Nazem Kadri - Joffrey Lupul
Jerry D'Amigo - Jay McClement - Nik Kulemin
Frazer McLaren - Peter Holland - Colt Knorr
Tim Gleason - Dion Phaneuf
Jake Gardiner - Cody Franson
Morgan Rielly - Paul Ranger
I'm not sure about the defence. The Leafs didn't have a full skate today so we'll know in the seconds before puck drop whether Mark Fraser draws back in. No pressure on Gleason, being thrown in against John Tavares for his new team.
Also, some #fun #facts about the first line crunched after the New York game, via a Twitter account run by handsome people:
The Leafs' Corsi tonight (shot attempts for minus shot attempts against) was -27. Tyler Bozak was a PLUS-7.— The Leafs Nation (@TLNdc) January 5, 2014
The Leafs were out-shot 41-24 at 5-on-5. When Tyler Bozak was on the ice, the Leafs out-shot New York 13-10.— The Leafs Nation (@TLNdc) January 5, 2014
I was going to put those into a post, but Twitter is more fun. For those that don't speak stats, Bozak has been an elite possession centreman for the three games since his return. WILL IT CONTINUE?
Thomas Vanek - John Tavares - Brock Nelson
Josh Bailey - Frans Nielsen - Peter Regin
Michael Grabner - Ryan Strome - Cal Clutterbuck
Matt Martin - Casey Cizikas - Colin McDonald
Thomas Hickey - Andrew MacDonald
Calvin de Haan - Travis Hamonic
Matt Carkner - Brian Strait
Speaking of top pairings that don't work, MacDonald is also among one of the worst possession players in the league. Him and Hickey are a 38.5% Corsi together, while Hickey away from McDonald is a 54.0% over 473 minutes. There's definitely some evidence there is no synergy there, but Jack Capuano keeps throwing them over the boards against first lines.
Basically, if the Leafs get the matchups they want, and Bozak keeps playing as well as he has, the Leafs are going to get all the shots.
Kyle Okposo returns to the lineup after sitting out a night due to the birth of his child. Smart money is he takes back his spot on the first line Brock Nelson commandeered for last night's game, Grabner returns to second line duty, and Nelson finds himself at third centre spot with Ryan Strome out of the lineup. Okposo is in "post-Olympic snub show everybody they were wrong" mode. After Okposo scored an OT goal versus Chicago the other night, Tavares said "I don't know if [Okposo] thought David Poile's head was in the net and he was aiming at it" which was an early nominee for Quote of the Year.
There's no real rhyme or reason to the Islanders deployment other than Tavares getting the big minutes on offence. This is a good team that's held back somewhat by coaching and a lot by goaltending and should be way higher in the standings than they are.
(and a paragraph as useful as most goalie statistics)
Left Wing Lock lists Kevin Poulin as "probable" and Jonathan Bernier as "confirmed". Randy said a strange thing in regards to Bernier last night, saying "when you're bucked off the horse, I'm sure every cowboy wants to get back and ride that same horse". Objectively, there's no real difference in starting either goalie, but a year ago I could say my favourite Leafs were Mikhail Grabovski, Clarke MacArthur and James Reimer. The team is making it awfully hard to not actively root against them.
The good news is that with Carolina-Buffalo wiped out and Washington not in action, the Maple Leafs aren't in danger of losing their playoff spot tonight. It's a cause for celebration.
The Maple Leafs and Islanders are on at 7 p.m. tonight on TSN. If this game goes late, it'll run into Penguins-Canucks, which will piss off some people in Vancouver, which is always funny.