The last time the Toronto Maple Leafs hosted the most recent No. 1 pick was February 6, 2012. The Maple Leafs won that game 6-3, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins went minus-3. The Leafs had won three straight at that point and were 28-19-6, comfortably within striking distance of the playoffs. The only win they’d have in the next 11 games would come, curiously, on the road against the same Edmonton Oilers.
The 2014 Colorado Avalanche have begun their season with two excellent and oddly-watchable games at home against the Anaheim Ducks and the Nashville Predators. They changed around their executive in the offseason more than any other team. Short of firing the general manager Greg Sherman, they surrounded him with Joe Sakic brought in as the new Executive VP, promoted Craig Billington to assistant general manager, and hired Patrick Roy as head coach and also as VP of hockey operations. Sherman is all but a speck of dust in the distance, with the Avalanche organization having placed an anvil above his head to be dropped if the team ever loses three straight games.
More importantly, the team is bringing along Nathan MacKinnon, who is pretty good.
Given how many centremen the Avalanche had, it was curious that the Avs sprung for MacKinnon at first overall when they could have had Seth Jones. Instead, they added MacKinnon to a group composed of Paul Stastny, Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly. If there’s an organization that understands the value of having a lot of centremen, it may be the Avalanche, who put up one of the best teams hockey has ever seen back in the late-90s and early-00s, employing Sakic, Peter Forsberg and Chris Drury. The alternative to taking a player that was not the “best available” was to simply move one of their centres to wing, creating depth down the lineup.
So far it’s worked. On a line with Jamie McGinn and P.A. Parenteau, MacKinnon has three assists in his first two games, while McGinn and Parenteau each have a couple of goals. The team is bound to hit a valley soon, and that line will probably be split up from time-to-time this season. McGinn is a career 10.5% shooter and Parenteau is 12.6%. Both are converting at 40.0% to start the season, so don’t go picking up either in your pool based on two games.
There isn’t enough of a sample size to bring out all the statistics we pulled last year, but it’s worth noting that, while the Avalanche are 2-0, they’ve also managed a 50.5% Corsi Close in two games, per Extra Skater. Their record is probably due to the .958 save percentage they’ve earned at even strength, which is the 6th highest in the league.
The Leafs are once again doing poorly at puck-possession at even strength, but their 5-on-5 PDO isn’t particularly high. .934 goaltending at evens is 14th in the league and 8.8% shooting is 10th. Special teams is driving the bus for the Leafs here, including having drawn 5 penalties per game to the opposition’s 4. The Avalanche, for the record, are up 9-5 in powerplay opportunities this season thus far.
MAPLE LEAFS LINEUP
van Riemsdyk – Bozak – Kessel
Lupul – Bolland – Raymond
McClement – Kadri – Bodie
Ashton – Smith – Orr
Gunnarsson – Phaneuf
Rielly – Franson
Ranger – Gardiner
Defence will be the same as last game with Mark Fraser still out, I presume. Trevor Smith will get his first crack with the Leafs lineup today, and Jamie Devane may squeak into the picture if Jay McClement isn’t back in time for puck drop with his wife in labour. No sense for Carlyle to yet break up that second line until he has good reason to, but it’s really time we saw more out of Nazem Kadri and the third line. Not that Troy Bodie is the world’s greatest linemate, but Kadri’s been invisible at even strength so far this season other than that one goal against Philly.
Gabriel Landeskog – Paul Stastny – Alex Tanguay
Ryan O’Reilly – Matt Duchene – Steve Downie
Jamie McGinn – Nathan MacKinnon – P.A. Parenteau
Cody McLeod – John Michell – Patrick Bordeleau
Erik Johnson – Jan Hejda
Tyson Barrie – Nate Guenin
Cory Sarich – Andre Benoit (Balls)
Stastny as the first line centre is interesting. He was much like Mikhail Grabovski last season, used in a defensive role and his offence suffered as a result. His 0.60 points per game was a career low, as was his 0.23 goals per game. Landeskog is a two-way player, and the Avs have three lines good enough that none of them really has to be a dedicated checking unit, which makes matchups all the tougher.
I would assume that Bolland sees the ice against the Duchene line, if only because Randy Carlyle will want to counter Downie with Bolland and mix up those two styles. Considering this is a really new roster with a new coach, and we haven’t seen yet exactly how Carlyle is going to use his forward group this season matchup-wise, I can’t do anything better than guess, today.
Semyon Varlamov against Jonathan Bernier. Both goaltenders were traded as restricted free agents with limited NHL experience, and both eventually signed contracts that, if signed as offer sheets, would have yielded a smaller return than the actual trading pieces.
Damn NHL convention.
The Avalanche and the Leafs will begin at 7:00 p.m. Eastern and will be shown on TSN. Click here to sign up for Streakcred.