When Tyler Bozak got hurt and Nazem Kadri got suspended, the Maple Leafs signed Jerred Smithson to replace him, but demoted Trevor Smith before Smithson played his first game. Toronto wasn’t attempting to add a centreman as insurance, they were looking at add an aspect of Bozak’s game that they thought they would miss.
The maddening thing is how players get shuffled around the depth chart without any sense of regularity. Peter Holland played on the second line a game ago, and will be pushed down the depth chart onto the fourth line. Trevor Smith has been the second line centre for the Maple Leafs on multiple occasions this year, but he also would never get a minute of Jay McClement’s minutes. McClement is just locked into that checking line centre role regardless of his performance, or the production of consistently better players in the lineup like Smith and Holland.
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It’s anti-meritocratic, and against every virtue that Carlyle attempts to espouse. Smith’s hurt now, but while a return for Bozak means a necessary shake in the lineup, the Leafs best points-per-60 player this season and one of the prime offensive catalysts over the last month will go all the way to the fourth line. No matter what he does, Carlyle will find minutes for Bozak and McClement, no matter how poor the results are.

KEY STATISTICS

 HurricanesLeafs
Corsi Close %
48.5% (21st)
42.8% (29th)
5v5 GF/60
1.87 (25th)
2.10 (19th)
5v5 GA/60
2.27 (18th)
2.23 (16th)
PDO
99.1 (21st)
101.7 (4th)
 
 
 
 HurricanesLeafs
5v4 GF/60
4.41 (28th)
7.76 (5th)
5v4 SF/60
48.6 (23rd)
56.1 (7th)
4v5 GA/60
6.37 (15th)
6.65 (19th)
4v5 SA/60
51.9 (18th)
62.0 (27th)
Penalty Differential
+7 (7th)
-12 (24th)
Anyway, Carolina’s the opponent tonight, and they’re also a good cure for a struggling team, as was Buffalo a couple of nights ago. The Hurricanes aren’t a good possession team, have had trouble getting 5-on-5 offence this year and have an anemic powerplay. They don’t have a team that can exploit Toronto’s weaknesses.
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Two things shock me looking at that chart though. The first is that despite two goalies in the top 10 in save percentage, the Leafs are now in the lower half of the league in 5-on-5 goals against per 60 minutes. I posted a chart on Twitter a little while ago that compared Jonathan Bernier’s numbers this year to last, and what a good defensive team can do for a goalie’s individual statistics. Despite a higher save percentage in Toronto this year, Bernier’s goals against average has shot up and his win percentage has been broken:
The second thing I like from the chart is more positive. The Leafs were once two full standard deviations from the mean in penalty differential, but that’s picked up since Morgan Rielly’s re-insertion into the lineup. I’m not going to say that the Leafs recent (better) play is all because of Rielly. There’s a lot of things going on here. The Leafs are playing more with the puck and getting a better share of penalties. They still need to turn that extra possession into shots.
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MAPLE LEAFS LINEUP

James van Riemsdyk – Tyler Bozak – Phil Kessel
Mason Raymond – Nazem Kadri – Joffrey Lupul
Nik Kulemin – Jay McClement – David Clarkson
Jerry D’Amigo – Peter Holland – Colt Knorr
Carl Gunnarsson – Dion Phaneuf
Jake Gardiner – Cody Franson
Morgan Rielly – Paul Ranger
The thing that bugs me about Holland dropping below McClement is that it’s just another data point in the series of “Leafs think that a third line centreman should have a vastly different role and playing style than a second line centreman”. Again, good depth is created by adding a good third centreman and shoving your current third centreman down to the fourth line, not by adding “the best” fourth line centre.
Fun fact: one of the first moves Dave Nonis made when re-shaping the Vancouver Canucks back in the summer of 2006 was acquiring a player that he called “the best fourth-line centre money could buy”. That player was Tommi Santala. Who? Exactly.
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There’s no question that Holland has outplayed McClement so far this year. His points per 60 minutes rate (2.27—fourth on the team) is helped out by an 11.9% on-ice shot percentage that can’t be maintained over a long stretch of games. That said, he’s been an offensive zone catalyst and I think is a player worth giving more minutes, not less, to. It’s a pity he never got an extended look on the top line. He can’t possibly be any worse than Nazem Kadri on defence, and is definitely better than Tyler Bozak on offence.

HURRICANES LINEUP

Jeff Skinner – Eric Staal – Tuomo Ruutu
Nathan Gerbe – Jordan Staal – Alexander Semin
Drayson Bowman – Riley Nash – Pat Dwyer
Radek Dvorak – Manny Malhotra – Zach Boychuk
Justin Faulk – Andrej Sekera
Ryan Murphy – Ron Hainsey
Tim Gleason – Mike Komisarek
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Carolina is mostly healthy again, with just Jay Harrison and Jiri Tlusty the only injured holdouts. A big issue for Carolina has been a low on-ice shot percentage leading to pretty low goal totals. The Hurricanes have scored on 4.1% of shots with Jordan Staal on the ice, 5.5% with Nathan Gerbe, 5.7% with Alex Semin and 6.3% with Eric Staal.
Numbers below 7.0% can be attributed to luck, and there’s not a lot of margin between the best and worst players in the league as far as driving on-ice shooting percentage goes. We know by watching that Staal, Staal, Semin and Gerbe should have higher offensive totals.
As for usage, on the road we know that Andrej Sekera and Justin Faulk still manage the highest forward competition faced. We can assume they’ll see a steady diet of Phil Kessel. Not too sure about Jordan Staal. Kirk Muller would love to see him against Bozak for faceoffs, but last time around at the ACC it was brother Eric against the Leafs top line, while Jordan was against a line of Dave Bolland, Jay McClement and Josh Leivo. Just like in the first game, I expect Carlyle to work Nazem Kadri against Riley Nash, and try to keep his top line out against Eric, avoiding the more defensive Jordan.
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STARTING GOALIES

(and a paragraph as useful as most goalie statistics)

Jonathan Bernier against Cam Ward. Side note about Tommi Santala, whom I mentioned above. Nonis signed Santala about a week or so before he traded for Roberto Luongo, so there was about a week where people were joking about Santala being “the key” to the Canucks’ rebuild. What was “Canucks Internet” back then became a breeding ground for Tommi Santala-as-Chuck Norris jokes. Pass it to Bulis characterized Nonis’ comments about Santala as “may have been the stupidest thing he ever said”, and that statement probably holds true today even after Nonis’ countless appearances on TSN 1050 over the last six months.
The Leafs and the Hurricanes start a little before the Seahawks game ends. I may not have any fingernails left to chew by the time 7 Eastern rolls around.
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