(via National Geographic – Read all about emperor penguins here)
Pittsburgh and Toronto both played last night—not against each other—and wound up with disappointing losses against inferior opponents. The Leafs were curbstomped on the shot clock by a bad Columbus team, while the Penguins gave up a late winning goal against the New York Islanders in a game they probably should have won. They went 0-for-5 on the powerplay despite 11 shots on goal and were beaten by Evgeni Nabokov in a 4-3 loss.
One man’s “the Penguins are coming into the game hungry” is another man’s “the Penguins are coming into the game cold.” I don’t think that the results of previous games affect a team emotionally or change their desire to win in any way. I do think that playing the night before can impact your legs and being tired means you’re more prone to mental mistakes, but unlike NHL players I didn’t have access to nutritionists and sleep experts when I was playing sports.
Second week in a row the Leafs are thrown to the wolves against the league’s elite on Hockey Night. Here’s hoping they make a game of it this time.
If the Leafs want to draw inspiration from a team that won despite poor possession numbers and high shooting rates, turn to the Pittsburgh Penguins:
|Year||Fenwick Close %||Sh%||Result|
|2008||46.4%||8.95%||Lost in 4th Round|
|2009||50.1%||9.76%||Won Stanley Cup|
|2010||53.6%||8.58%||Lost in 2nd Round|
|2011||53.4%||7.54%||Lost in 1st Round|
|2012||55.1%||8.92%||Lost in 1st Round|
|2013||49.8%||9.65%||Lost in 3rd Round|
(Numbers via Hockey Analysis)
Except for the years that they put together a competent bottom six, the Penguins have generally been a pretty mediocre possession club. In 2009, they really got their act together after Michel Therrien was fired and Dan Bylsma took over and the team became very good.
Look at those individual shooting percentage numbers by season though. Keep in mind the Penguins, at 8.82%, have the highest shot percentage at 5-on-5 as a team over the full six-year period, yet never benefit from a year shooting higher than 10%. They were in the high 9%s a couple of times, but the Penguins, who win with obvious offensive talent, are the reason I don’t think that the Leafs can sustain a 5-on-5 shot rate of above 10%.
Other fun numbers bit: last year the Penguins Corsi rate when neither Sidney Crosby nor Evgeni Malkin was on the ice was 43.5%. You have to think putting together a good bottom six would be the easy part of team building. You already have two of the best players in the league.
MAPLE LEAFS LINEUP
Josh Leivo down to Ricoh, and Carter Ashton recalled from Ricoh, per Jonas. I think I’m cool with that trade. Ashton was probably the Leafs best fourth line player in the early season and I never quite got why he was sent down.
James van Riemsdyk – Tyler Bozak – Phil Kessel
Jay McClement – David Bolland – David Clarkson
Mason Raymond – Nazem Kadri – Carter Ashton
Frazer McLaren – Trevor Smith – Colton Orr
Carl Gunnarsson – Dion Phaneuf
Morgan Rielly – Cody Franson
Paul Ranger – Jake Gardiner
I really liked the 11-63-71 line against Columbus, so here’s hoping they stay together against Pittsburgh. Will probably be used by Randy Carlyle to try to shut down the Malkin line, with Bozak out there to go head-to-head against Sidney Crosby.
Will Tyler Bozak win more than 25% of his faceoffs tonight? He struggles hard against elite faceoff guys.
Chris Kunitz – Sidney Crosby – Pascal Dupuis
Jussi Jokinen – Evgeni Malkin – Chuck Kobasew
Tanner Glass – Brandon Sutter – Jayson Megna
Craig Adams – Joe Vitale – Deryk Engelland
Rob Scuderi – Kris Letang
Brooks Orpik – Paul Martin
Olli Maatta – Matt Niskanen
See what I was saying about the bottom six?
The Penguins defence is interesting. So far the best part of it has been the bottom pair of Olli Maatta, a 19-year-old, and Matt Niskanen. With James Neal out, Niskanen is the piece acquired from Dallas for Alex Goligoski a couple of seasons ago.
Niskanen’s Corsi is 58.7% and Maatta’s is 50.7%. Maatta’s really been the only sheltered player, as the other five guys generally see similar level forward competition. Last season Orpik and Martin were run as Bylsma’s definite shutdown unit but he appears to have balanced out the comp in the early going.
Remember, since teams don’t run a full morning skate on back-to-backs, all these lineups are subject to change. The Penguins roster is basically lifted from last night.
Jeff Zatkoff and Jonathan Bernier each played last night, giving a pretty good indication it will be James Reimer and Marc-Andre Fleury tonight. Fleury has a .933 even strength save percentage through 8 games, which doesn’t look like a real appealing sample size, but he had a .927 in 31 games last season. He had a very rough 2010, a slightly above average 2011 and a pretty poor 2012, but outside of that Fleury has generally been a pretty good goalie at evens. Some of the abuse he takes is probably unfair (and I’m not innocent in that regard) and while I don’t think Fleury is worth his contract, he’s been an above average goalie much of his career.
Toronto and Pittsburgh play at 7:00 Eastern on CBC.