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Photo Credit: © Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Rachel Doerrie’s Pre-Game: 5 Things to Watch For vs Philly

As they say in the dressing room, the boys are buzzing!

The Maple Leafs enter the final game of their homestead on a three-game win streak, which happened to start against these very Flyers. For everyone’s sake, let’s hope tonight’s game doesn’t require an 11-round shootout where only three goals are scored.

According to DailyFaceOff, here’s how the teams are going to line up:

Forwards: 

Defence: 

Frederik Andersen is expected to grab the start.

1) Praying for Fun Hockey

The last time these two teams played, the result was high-scoring and fun. Special teams played a prominent factor and the game was free-flowing. A week later, the Leafs have played two of the most boring hockey games in recent memory.

I’m sure Mike Babcock loves it because it is low event, but the people who pay ~$500 to sit in the Scotiabank Arena seats probably don’t feel the same way. I wouldn’t have faulted fans for dozing off during either of the game against LA or Vegas, because it was genuinely boring hockey.

The Flyers, similar to the *regular* Leafs, don’t seem capable of playing boring hockey. In their last five games, either the Flyers or their opponent has scored a minimum of three goals. The Leafs are averaging 3.35 goals a game this season, so let’s hope both teams are using their speed and skill to have a fun game filled with scoring chances and goals.

2) November Freddy

I am pleased to inform you that the calendar has changed and like clockwork, so has Frederik Andersen. He’s 3-0 in the month of November so far and is a combined 20-5-1 since November 2017. I don’t think any actual science lies behind this, so maybe it is a function of him finding his groove and the Leafs starting to tighten up on the scoring chances after October.

Nevertheless, it’s November 9th, and Andersen is looking for his fourth win of the month.

In the last week, Andersen has controlled his rebounds far better than early on. There have been fewer rebounds off of shots, and when there are, he directs them to the non-danger areas of the ice. He has a calmness about him, covering pucks to get changes for his teammates and making key saves against the run of play. Against the Flyers, he’ll need to be good, as the Flyers have the talent to generate and convert scoring chances.

Have no fear, November Freddy is here.

3) Penalty Problems

It is very much not a secret that the Leafs’ penalty kill has not been great. It isn’t that the structure is poor, its that the Leafs take far too many penalties. After 17 games, the Leafs have taken the 6th most penalties in the NHL, which is way too many. If your penalty killers are consistently going out there, naturally, they’re going to be tired. The Leafs get in trouble in games where they take three or more penalties. It gets compounded when the Leafs shoot themselves in the foot by taking bench minors — they took two against Philly last weekend.

A week ago, it was a penalty-filled affair by league standards. The Leafs took SEVEN (!) minor penalties against Philly. SEVEN! The League average is 1.5 penalties per team, per game. Yes, the Leafs gave up two power-play goals, but when you take seven penalties and only draw three, you’re sort of asking for that outcome.

Tonight, look for the Leafs to be much cleaner with their “lazy” penalties — hooking, holding, tripping, high sticking.

4) Will Travis Dermott Play More?

I thought it was an error when I saw that Dermott only played 8:45 against Vegas. It was not. I don’t know why that is, considering he’s been one of Toronto’s top D since coming back.

Dermott has yet to play 14 minutes in a game this season, and has been sheltered in his sparse usage. The sheltering makes sense to me because Dermott needs to adjust mid-season to the game speed, but when he’s been better than half the D corps on any given night, he needs to play more.

Here are some numbers, just for fun: Dermott has been on for four goals for and…zero against. Zero. His Shot For% ranks first on the Leafs at 55%, and it seems relatively sustainable. He ranks highest in xGF% (65.9%), Scoring Chances For% (64.5%), and High Danger Chances For% (80%).

Dermott is playing against lower quality of competition, but he’s dominating. Other Toronto D are getting shelled against tougher competition in their own right, and with a back to back this weekend, giving Dermott ~17 minutes of ice will take the load off the rest of the blueline.

Dermott has proven he’s very capable; he has arguably the best gap control on the team along with Jake Muzzin. It’s time to start trusting him a little bit more, and increasing the minutes.

5) The Flyers Top Six

The Leafs are going to have their hands full tonight with the Flyers top six.

When you remove the fact that JvR is essentially a lock to score — because of course — the Flyers have a really solid top six. Couturier and Giroux is a good one-two punch, with the former being one of the best two-way forwards in the game. He’ll likely be given a shutdown role, and based on the Leafs top six’s play of late, dominate his matchup. That line has dominated possession and expected goals this season, and I’d expect that to continue.

The Giroux line boasts JvR and rookie, Joel Farabee. Farabee has started to find his footing the NHL, registering two points in the last 4 games. That line is generating a ton of scoring chances at even strength and is a nightmare on the Flyers power play. Look for both lines to be good in transition, but more dangerous in prolonged offensive zone time. Both lines have big bodies and puck possession players who can create off the cycle with a presence (JvR, specifically) at the net front.