Three games of giving up four or more goals, and to stem the bleeding, the Leafs have brought John-Michael Liles into the lineup to replace Mike Kostka. I think a lot of fans would want more, but there are better things to do than respond to player personnel issues in the middle of a losing streak. The Leafs do have the tools to recalibrate and optimize their lineup to win more games, and I’d rather they do that than pick up players to fill certain roles via the trade market.
The opponent tonight is Pittsburgh, not the best team to meet in the middle of a slump. The Leafs will also start backup goaltender Ben Scrivens, not the best guy to start considering James Reimer has played the Penguins pretty well this season. The Leafs are 1-0-1 against Pittsburgh despite getting out-chanced 36-20 in two appearances. Lot of that is thanks to goaltending.
The Penguins most dangerous player to the Leafs is not Sidney Crosby, but Evgeni Malkin. Luckily for the Leafs, Malkin, who has been a thorn in the side of Toronto throughout both games this season, will not be in the lineup for Pittsburgh. He sustained a hit against James van Riemsdyk in the teams’ last games out against each other and will be out another week or so with an upper body injury.
Puck Drop: 7:00 PM EDT
TV: Sportsnet Ontario
No special team’s numbers today because Behind the Net hasn’t been updated in a couple of days. Hockey Analysis tells us that Pittsburgh have the 13th highest Fenwick Close % in the league at 51.5%, which doesn’t seem like much considering that squad. The Leafs are 26th at 45.1%.
Toronto’s PDO continues to drop, today at 1.025 according to Hockey Analysis while the Penguins are right there at 1.018. They’ve been on a good tear lately, despite some shaky goaltending, winning all six of their games in the month of March. They had a late rally in their last game against Boston after having dominated most of the first 52 minutes, they finally got three goals in the last 8 for a 3-2 win over the Bruins.
With Malkin out, here’s how the lineup shakes down via the Pens Twitter feed:
Chris Kunitz – Sidney Crosby – Pascal Dupuis
Beau Bennett – Dustin Jeffrey – James Neal
Matt Cooke – Brandon Sutter – Tyler Kennedy
Tanner Glass – Joe Vitale – Craig Adams
Brooks Orpik – Paul Martin
Simon Despres – Kris Letang
Matt Niskanen – Deryk Engelland
If you look at the Penguins usage chart, you’ll see that Evgeni Malkin’s line primarily got the offensive zone starts. With Dustin Jeffrey taking his spot, that’s now been given to Sidney Crosby, who actually has a pretty low offensive zone start % this season relative to how good he is offensively, at 47.9%. Last two games though, he’s taken 24 of the 41 face-offs for the Penguins in the offensive zone, while Jeffrey has taken 7.
Brandon Sutter continues to be an absolute force on the third line. Last time around in the first period, Dan Bylsma completely shut down Nazem Kadri by sitting out Sutter and letting Carlyle play Mikhail Grabovski and Tyler Bozak against Crosby and Malkin. All told, it was pretty funny because Carlyle is such a stickler for player matchups sometimes he’ll restrict the shifts of his best players. There’s nothing wrong with having a matchup in mind, but by going to it so often, sometimes you can shut down your own guys.
I’d like to see Grabovski skate against Crosby, and leave Sutter for Bozak & Co. and let Kadri out against the Penguins second line.
To give you a sense of how tough Leafs’ minutes are, check out where Mikhail Grabovski and Dion Phaneuf are in the usage chart for all NHL players. The vertical axis is quality of competition, and the horizontal axis is offensive zone start rate. Basically, the further to the upper left you are, the tougher the minutes. Here’s the chart for forwards, and for defencemen. Grabovski, Nik Kulemin and Phaneuf are playing tougher minutes than any other players in the league. Worse, it’s not even opening up space for the Bozak line, because the Leafs constantly refuse to deploy four lines.
James van Riemsdyk – Tyler Bozak – Phil Kessel
Clarke MacArthur – Nazem Kadri – Nik Kulemin
Leo Komarov – Mikhail Grabovski – Matt Frattin
Frazer McLaren – Jay McClement – Colton Orr
Dion Phaneuf – Korbinian Holzer
Carl Gunnarsson – John-Michael Liles
Mark Fraser – Cody Franson
Pretty major one, minutes before game time. Appears Grabo and Kulemin will be split:
Grabovski and Kulemin look to be finally split. Grabovski joined by Komarov and Frattin, Kulemin with Kadri and MacArthur.
— Jonas Siegel (@jonasTSN1050) March 14, 2013
If you have Nik Kulemin in a Fantasy league, I’d suggest you start him tonight. Much easier minutes alongside Nazem Kadri. Not sure what the thought process here about flipping Frattin back to the Grabovski line, considering they lasted half a game in Winnipeg.
I’ve bolded the changes above.
- Let the Gardiner grow (Stephanie Taylor-Baptiste, A Canadian girl’s hockey blog)
- Leafs trying to crack the Grabovski riddle (Jonas Siegel, TSN)
- Why the Leafs should #FreeJakeGardiner (James Mirtle, Globe & Mail)
- Leafs make minor trade (@mirtle, Twitter)
- Good details here: Realignment plan approved by Board of Governors (Dan Rosen, NHL.com)