I didn’t think it would take this quick for such an obvious rift to develop between Randy Carlyle and Dave Nonis, but you can sort of tell what’s happening based on some of the things Darren Dreger says on the radio. This morning, Dreger re-assured listeners that Morgan Rielly’s exodus from the lineup was a coaching decision, and that Carlyle had better get used to Peter Holland.
One of the best Twitter accounts in Toronto has been @Hope_Smoke, who listens to the radio so the rest of us don’t have to. The sense I’m getting is that management and coaching disagree on some of the personnel. Nonis may have assumed David Clarkson would get more powerplay time than he has. Nonis wants Jake Gardiner in the lineup every night. Nonis is probably behind the apparent decision to sit Mark Fraser and Paul Ranger tonight.
Have you opened your Badvent calendar today? It’s the Leafs and the Blackhawks tonight, on lousy ice tonight at the Air Canada Centre due to a support staff strike.
|Corsi Close %||57.8% (1st)||42.9% (29th)|
|5v5 GF/60||3.14 (1st)||2.07 (20th)|
|5v5 GA/60||2.10 (13th)||2.15 (15th)|
|PDO||101.8 (6th)||101.9 (4th)|
|5v4 GF/60||8.69 (3rd)||7.86 (6th)|
|5v4 SF/60||56.3 (9th)||56.8 (7th)|
|4v5 GA/60||10.10 (29th)||7.27 (24th)|
|4v5 SA/60||51.7 (16th)||61.6 (26th)|
|Penalty Differential||+16 (3rd)||-24 (30th)|
The Chicago Blackhawks are a good team. A very good team. Top puck possession team in the National Hockey League. That doesn’t mean they’re good at shooting the most, it means they’re good at doing the things on the ice that result in them taking more shots. Both teams are rested, so any wild shot swings like the game against the Kings or against the Blues will be thanks to one team playing much better than the other, not because one team had the misfortune of playing a night ago.
Where the Maple Leafs have a clear advantage is on special teams. The powerplays are about equal, and the Blackhawks penalty kill looks to be just a bit worse than the Leafs. Chicago, however, has a +2 special teams goal differential while the Leafs are at minus-3, just because of the number of penalties they take. Chicago doesn’t take a lot, so the Leafs are going to have to make them count.
MAPLE LEAFS LINEUP
This is always the most fun section of the whole post. Randy Carlyle is extremely tight with his line combinations and who dresses prior to puck drop. David Clarkson is out for tonight with his second suspension on the season, so that opens up a forward spot.
The defence is interesting. Conventional thought after practice was that John-Michael Liles would finally come in and play over Paul Ranger and/or Mark Fraser (finally!). Dion Phaneuf is back after serving his own suspension and will re-join Carl Gunnarsson on the top pairing. With Liles back, I figure the Leafs are still another top pairing guy away from having a real strong core.
Here’s my projection of the lineup:
James van Riemsdyk – Nazem Kadri – Phil Kessel
Joffrey Lupul – Trevor Smith – Mason Raymond
Carter Ashton – Peter Holland – Nik Kulemin
Frazer McLaren – Jay McClement – Jerry D’Amigo
Carl Gunnarsson – Dion Phaneuf
Jake Gardiner – Morgan Rielly
John-Michael Liles – Cody Franson
I don’t mean to “relegate” Franson to the third pair with Liles, but the two played together in their first season in Toronto. I’m suspecting management was behind the Gardiner-Rielly pairing, and I’d hope they stay together. Morgan Rielly has been very, very good since re-entering the lineup and the Leafs need to get that defence scoring some goals and contributing offensively. Just glancing up at the “key statistics” section, the Leafs are better at preventing goals than scoring them. I agree with Steve’s take from his last LFR: try and win 7-6. Chances are, you’ll have the better goalie in any given game, and you have more speed. There’s no point in playing a restrictive, conservative system. The Leafs are a better team when they embrace their skill.
Patrick Sharp – Jonathan Toews – Marian Hossa
Kris Versteeg – Michal Handzus – Patrick Kane
Brandon Saad – Andrew Shaw – Jeremy Morin
Brandon Bollig – Marcus Kruger – Ben Smith
Duncan Keith – Brent Seabrook
Niklas Hjalmarsson – Johnny Oduya
Nick Leddy – Sheldon Brookbank
First thing to note is how many hockey players the Blackhawks have in their bottom two lines. Saad, Shaw, Morin, Bollig, Kruger and Smith have combined for 33 goals, plus you have to consider they’re without Bryan Bickell (5 goals in 22 games) and Brandon Pirri (6 in 24). None of them are goal-less.
Defence is also excellent. While Keith and Seabrook will get the customary Team Canada looks, it’s Super Nintendo Hjalmarsson and Oduya that get the tough defensive minutes, opening things up for Keith and Seabrook to provide some offence against weaker competition.
The Leafs probably won’t win at even strength barring a big night from their goalie.
(and a paragraph as useful as most goalie statistics)
Antti Raanta and Jonathan Bernier. The Blackhawks made a minor deal for Jason LaBarbera today, since both of their goalies coming into the season, Corey Crawford and Nikolai Khabibulin, are out injured. The Oilers get “future considerations” which will probably have ever minor prospect in the Blackhawks system scared they’ll going to be going to the Oilers in the summer.
The Leafs and the Blackhawks get underway at 7:00 Eastern on CBC. Probably won’t have a recap until tomorrow morning because all of the writers are busy tonight, so talk amongst yourselves in the comments until then.