I don’t find the New York Islanders a particularly interesting organization to follow, so some of this preview will be dedicated to posting some data from last night’s excellent hockey game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Most of this will be an attempt to comment on how much I’ve enjoyed the way Randy Carlyle has used his bench so far in the season.
I wrote in my preview that unless Carlyle was sheltering the piss out of Nazem Kadri, his line would get steamrollered by the offensive starts of the Penguins. Not only did Carlyle shelter Kadri and keep him and Leo Komarov off the ice for a single Pittsburgh scoring chance against his line, but he managed to get a good defensive performance out of Mike Komisarek to boot.
Our friend Draglikepull made a good point on Twitter after the game. While the scoring chances at even strength were 13-7 for Pittsburgh, it wasn’t as bad of a steamrollering as it appears. The Pens got four chances off of direct rebounds, off that one sequence where Colton Orr got caught out against Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and had James Reimer had to make a truckload of saves. That sequence accounted for four chances. There was another rebound with 5:36 to go in the third, where a Matt Cooke shot from in tight rebounded off Reimer’s pad up to Simon Despres at the point. Reimer get across and smothered the puck, but the shot was taken right from the top of the circle.
Count both those sequences as a single chance, assume that James Reimer played Vesa Toskalesque and allowed the goal off each first chance. That reduces the scoring chances to 9-7. It’s a little intellectually dishonest to be analyzing numbers based off what “could have” been, since I think it’s the job of the skaters to retrieve loose pucks and not allow the offence to keep getting chances. That said, it shows that Carlyle’s matchups were working, and other than getting caught twice with Orr out against Crosby and Malkin, the Leafs sheltered who they had to, and played the toughs where they had to.
Tonight the play the New York Islanders, the team with no toughs.
Puck Drop: 7 PM EST
TV: Leafs TV
Here are the Leafs’ scoring chance numbers from last night:
|Chances For||Chances Vs.||Chances +/-|
Here are their offensive and defensive zone starts:
Yes, you are reading that correctly… Mike Komisarek and Nazem Kadri were the lone Maple Leafs in plus territory against Pittsburgh. Komisarek didn’t even need sheltered minutes, starting nine shifts in the defensive zone. Three of those times, he was lining up against Malkin. One of those times against Malkin, Crosby was with him. Komisarek was on the ice for just one surrendered chance, and three in Pittsburgh’s end, all of which ended up behind Marc-Andre Fleury.
You can also see that Clarke MacArthur benefit from the Joffrey Lupul injury, taking his spot on Toronto’s top line, and the extra defensive spots.
Also used primarily on offence… Dion Phaneuf. That’s an early season trend that we’ll see continue or not. It shows the trust that Carlyle displays in young Carl Gunnarsson, keeping those two separate, Gunnarsson in a primarily defensive role with Komisarek.
Anyway, enough of that. How do the Leafs set up against the Islanders?
Matt Moulson – John Tavares – Kyle Okposo
Michael Grabner – Frans Nielsen – Brad Boyes
David Ullstrom – Keith Aucoin – Colin McDonald
Matt Martin – Marty Reasoner – Eric Boulton
Andrew MacDonald – Travis Hamonic
Brian Strait – Mark Streit
Joe Finley – Matt Carkner
Keith Aucoin makes his much-anticipated return to the Toronto Maple Leafs, to play against his old linemate in Nazem Kadri. Carlyle gets to set the matchups tonight, but Jack Capuano’s Islanders were fairly good at zone matching last season, just like Carlyle was against Pittsburgh. Jon Tavares started 58.7% of his shifts in the offensive zone and Frans Nielsen just 43.8%. Marty Reasoner was 43.4%. I expect Carlyle will try to get Grabovski out on Tavares and leave Kessel and the power line for Frans Nielsen.
Tavares is just sort of the guy Grabovski matches up well against. The Leafs’ two-way centre has held Tavares to a 45.8% possession rate over the last two seasons. That’s about 50 minutes of play, the bulk of it in New York’s end. Tavares is this season without playmaking winger P.A. Parenteau, who went to Colorado for a pile of money. The two had some good synergy together and, as the link above shows, Tavares was a minus-possession player without him.
New coach, new system in Toronto so you can’t really look to history for match ups, and the Islanders have added a whole new third line, complete with players even I haven’t heard of. Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald are a sneaky good defensive pairing, treading water last season despite tough competition on a bad team, and if previous games are any indication this could mean a lot more point shots on the Leafs’ powerplay if they can’t work down low.
This may be the only team the Leafs will get to play where the Leafs have an advantage on every single line, so enjoy it. Their question is in how to replace Joffrey Lupul, for now. MacArthur might be a good bet, but depending on how Carlyle judged their performance for half a game, maybe he slots in James van Riemsdyk. First on the call-up wagon is Matt Frattin, but I don’t see him fitting next to Mikhail Grabovski and Nik Kulemin in this lineup. The option I’d prefer is for Colton Orr to sit in favour of Dave Steckel, and he and Jay McClement can share face-off duties, but I’m not holding my breath on that one.