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Photo Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Maple Leafs Pregame #20: 5 Things to Watch for against the Islanders

It’s game 20, that world point when we stop complaining about sample size and can start embracing the stats we’ve seen throughout the year. It’s like nerdy Christmas, so I hope you all enjoy reading about High Danger scoring chances and the Leafs struggles with expected goals, because we’ll be churning out a lot more of that content now that we’re at 20 games.

Frankly the debates around team toughness were a great way to fill the void, but now it’s Stats SZN.

Oh yeah, and John Tavares is playing against the Islanders and Zach Hyman is returning. Fun.

Lineups

LW C RW Forwards
Andreas Johnsson
ANDREAS JOHNSSON

Rating: 73.9#44 LW

Auston Matthews
AUSTON MATTHEWS

Rating: 80.1#7 C

William Nylander
WILLIAM NYLANDER

Rating: 73.5#44 RW

FL1 Rating
Rating: 75.83#14 FL1
Zach Hyman
ZACH HYMAN

Rating: 73.6#61 LW

John Tavares
JOHN TAVARES

Rating: 78.7#11 C

Kasperi Kapanen
KASPERI KAPANEN

Rating: 72.8#54 RW

FL2 Rating
Rating: 75.05#10 FL2
Ilya Mikheyev
ILYA MIKHEYEV

Rating: 74.4#34 LW

Alexander Kerfoot
ALEXANDER KERFOOT

Rating: 72.7#92 C

Trevor Moore
TREVOR MOORE

Rating: 70.9#110 RW

FL3 Rating
Rating: 72.66#12 FL3
Nic Petan
NIC PETAN

Rating: 72.0#113 LW

Nick Shore
NICK SHORE

Rating: 70.8#138 C

Frederik Gauthier
FREDERIK GAUTHIER

Rating: 68.8#114 RW

FL4 Rating
Rating: 70.50#26 FL4
DEFENSIVE PAIRINGS Defense
Morgan Rielly
MORGAN RIELLY

Rating: 76.8#8 LD

Cody Ceci
CODY CECI

Rating: 71.7#83 RD

DL1 Rating
Rating: 74.24#17 DL1
Jake Muzzin
JAKE MUZZIN

Rating: 75.2#18 LD

Tyson Barrie
TYSON BARRIE

Rating: 75.5#20 RD

DL2 Rating
Rating: 75.38#1 DL2
Travis Dermott
TRAVIS DERMOTT

Rating: 72.9#65 LD

Justin Holl
JUSTIN HOLL

Rating: 73.2#49 RD

DL3 Rating
Rating: 73.03#14 DL3
LW C RW Forwards
Anders Lee
ANDERS LEE

Rating: 73.8#45 LW

Mathew Barzal
MATHEW BARZAL

Rating: 76.8#25 C

Jordan Eberle
JORDAN EBERLE

Rating: 74.4#32 RW

FL1 Rating
Rating: 75.01#20 FL1
Anthony Beauvillier
ANTHONY BEAUVILLIER

Rating: 72.1#75 LW

Brock Nelson
BROCK NELSON

Rating: 74.7#46 C

Josh Bailey
JOSH BAILEY

Rating: 73.8#38 RW

FL2 Rating
Rating: 73.53#18 FL2
Michael Dal Colle
MICHAEL DAL COLLE

Rating: 71.0#108 LW

Derick Brassard
DERICK BRASSARD

Rating: 70.1#105 C

Leo Komarov
LEO KOMAROV

Rating: 69.1#133 RW

FL3 Rating
Rating: 70.08#29 FL3
Ross Johnston
ROSS JOHNSTON

Rating: 71.5#93 LW

Casey Cizikas
CASEY CIZIKAS

Rating: 71.4#123 C

Cal Clutterbuck
CAL CLUTTERBUCK

Rating: 70.1#106 RW

FL4 Rating
Rating: 70.99#15 FL4
DEFENSIVE PAIRINGS Defense
Adam Pelech
ADAM PELECH

Rating: 73.9#41 LD

Ryan Pulock
RYAN PULOCK

Rating: 75.4#21 RD

DL1 Rating
Rating: 74.66#14 DL1
Nick Leddy
NICK LEDDY

Rating: 75.1#19 LD

Johnny Boychuk
JOHNNY BOYCHUK

Rating: 74.0#31 RD

DL2 Rating
Rating: 74.55#10 DL2
Devon Toews
DEVON TOEWS

Rating: 75.5#13 LD

Scott Mayfield
SCOTT MAYFIELD

Rating: 73.1#51 RD

DL3 Rating
Rating: 74.34#2 DL3

Somehow this Islanders lineup is one of the top teams in the league. I’m starting to think Barry Trotz knows what he’s doing.

The total has gone OVER in 5 of Toronto’s last 6 games on the road. – From our friends at OddsShark.com

Here are five things to watch for…

1. Hyman Returns!

Apparently a Hyman can return. Anyways, Hyman brings a lot of elements in his game that have been missing from the Leafs this year, both as a special teams player, puck retriever, and as a plucky try hard guy who *extreme hockey cliche voice* never takes a shift off.

He’ll be a nice addition to the Tavares line, although after an extended absence it remains to be seen how effective he’ll be in his early games of the season.

2. Tavares Returns… to Long Island, again.

Anyone who thinks Islanders fans got it out of their system last year have no idea the depth of pettiness of a New York sports fan. This will never go away and Tavares will once be subjected to ridicule from the unwashed masses.

Unfortunately this return is coming at a time when arguably you could say that Tavares could be a whole lot better, and you could argue that the Islanders can’t really do much better than they’ve been doing. Those “we don’t need you” chants might ring a bit more true this go around, but hopefully Tavares lights them up anyway.

3. It’s been a while since we’ve pointed out that Kapanen and Johnsson need to be better

Yeah, basically just that. Kapanen probably has been a bit better of late, and adds a lot of value on his individual efforts, but remains a difficult piece to place on a regular line. Blinding straight forward speed makes up for a lot of other issues though, and he’s getting his shot with Hyman and Tavares. Perhaps Hyman was the missing piece to make Tavares-Kapanen work, but the lack of a playmaker definitely changes the style of play of that line. I think it can work, but it definitely involves a strategic overhaul from what they were doing with Marner.

As for Johnsson, well, perhaps I just want to set the bar higher than what the Leafs have been getting from him. He’s in an ideal situation with Matthews and Nylander, and only has 2 points in the past 5 games, when you could argue that Matthews and Nylander have been playing their best hockey of the season.

I wouldn’t rule out a couple of things with Johnsson:

  1. He might get a shot with Tavares if Kapanen doesn’t work out.
  2. He might get flipped with Moore on the third line, so the Matthews line can upgrade on puck retrieval and own zone play at the expense of some offensive talent.

There was a reason I had a sell high attitude on both Kapanen and Johnsson over the summer, and I can’t help but think I’d like having a talented defenseman more than either of them at the moment.

4. Will this be the game where Cody Ceci makes the correct coverage decision

Death, Taxes, and Cody Ceci going where the puck won’t be. This is the lesson that Leafs fans are learning this year and one that Senators fans were only too happy to share with us while Toronto insisted a stronger partner would make a difference.

The problem seems to be on any given zone entry Cody Ceci will either pick up the wrong player, arrive late, or just simply be caught out of position and it’s frustrating as hell. Oddly enough, it’s the eye test that is telling us this because statistically he hasn’t been bad, though a lot of that comes from being the passenger on the top pairing and frequently playing with the top line.

5. Will Komarov burn the Leafs tonight?

With Matt Martin injured, a returning from injury Leo Komarov will carry the heavy burden of being the former Leaf who has to light up Toronto. There’s the small issue of Komarov not being any good, but hey, that didn’t stop Par Lindholm.

Game time is at 7:00 PM ET and can be seen on Sportsnet.