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Preview: Leafs welcome P.K. Subban and the Predators to Toronto

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Nashville had a bad start to the season, so naturally Toronto sees them just as they are on an upswing.

Ottawa Senators v Nashville Predators
Even a uniform the colour of a bowl of KD can’t stop him.
Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Toronto Maple Leafs at Nashville Predators: Game number 16

Time: 7:30 pm Eastern Time

Location: ACC

Broadcast/Streaming: TVAS, SNO, FS-TN

Opponent SBNation Site: On the Forecheck

Toronto gets their first look at P.K. Subban in golden yellow, as the Predators come to town. Subban has needed a little time to settle into his new team. People always do, but other than the great trade of the century that brought him to the team, the Preds are almost the identical bunch to last year’s playoff team. But they are not playing like last year’s team; they are second last in the Central division and have the same number of points as the Leafs.

What’s wrong with them?

Travis Yost dug into that a little after their first eight games, which were very poor. Since then, they’ve improved their record a little, but I’m not sure that isn’t just the ups and downs of playing a season. They’ve won four of six games in November, including their last game which was a 5-0 stomping of the Ducks, but the other three wins were against Colorado, Ottawa and St. Louis, so only one to be very proud of. They also lost to Carolina and Arizona in shootouts. A lot of the teams they have played lately are very good at getting outshot.

Do you know who else is good at being bad in that way?

You’re right: The Nashville Predators.

Historically, the team has been middling at shots against and very, very good at shots for, with the added nuance that they allow very few high-danger chances against, and therefore get away with a fairly average to poor goalie.

This year, they are very bad at shots against and high-middling good at shots for. They aren’t in Toronto’s range for offensive power at all, while their shots against are almost as bad. They are maintaining a stingy amount of high-danger shots against, however, but this is not a winning formula.

Why, though?

It seems like the problem is in the neutral zone. Where once they reigned unchallenged, now they aren’t building up to their fast and skilled offensive attack. The standouts at not being offensively active are Kevin Fiala, the only new forward of note who was promptly sent back to the AHL again, along with Filip Forsberg and Calle Jarnkrok. They have really enviable shots against. Toronto would love to have an offensive-minded set of forwards who could do that, but their actual offence makes Peter Holland look exciting.

If you watched the World Cup of Hockey, you saw Forsberg with Nicklas Backstrom and Patrik Hornqvist, and it raised questions about an alt-universe Washington Capitals team that we will never have answered. They were exciting, and the most offensively dangerous looking-line not on Team Canada or Team North America. But now Forsberg is, at best, dull. Although he has had some very recent success, he is playing on one of their dullest lines still.

It will be interesting to see how the Leafs handle this team. Forsberg is a lot of potential trouble to ignore in favour of the lines that have been producing offence. Viktor Arvidsson and Mike Ribeiro are who the Leafs need to contain, so Kadri will likely be matched up against the Johansen line.

The Preds run three lines largely undistinguished in deployment, unlike the Leafs. They have a largely defensive fourth line who have been eaten alive on the shot clock, and have put up results as bad as the infamous Ben Smith. The rest of them are clumped together taking an even share of the offensive zone time—such as it has been.

In a battle of their top nine against the Leafs top nine, the weaknesses will show up. It’s just a question of who exploits them the best.

Expected Lineups:

Toronto Maple Leafs

Forward Lines

Zach Hyman - Auston Matthews - William Nylander

James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Mitch Marner

Leo Komarov - Nazem Kadri - Connor Brown

Matt Martin - Ben Smith - Peter Holland

Defence Pairings

Morgan Rielly - Nikita Zaitsev

Jake Gardiner - Roman Polak

Matt Hunwick - Martin Marincin

Goaltenders

Frederik Andersen

Jhonas Enroth

Nashville Predators

Forward Lines

Viktor Arvidsson - Ryan Johansen - James Neal

Colin Wilson - Mike Ribeiro - Craig Smith

Filip Forsberg - Mike Fisher - Calle Jarnkrok

Cody Bass - Colton Sissons - Austin Watson

Defence Pairings

Roman Josi - Ryan Ellis

Mattias Ekholm - P.K. Subban

Matt Irwin - Yannick Weber

Goaltenders

Pekka Rinne

Juuse Saros

Marek Mazanec


You may have noticed the three Predators goalies. On Monday, after they were in Toronto for the start of their week-long, three-city tour, they called up Mazanec from Milwaukee. The Admirals play tonight, Thursday and Saturday, so doing without their usual starter in Saros, and now without his replacement in Mazenec, is no small issue for them.

Pekka Rinne did not practice on Monday in Toronto, and it was announced as a maintenance day for him. But you don’t run with three goalies on a road trip for no reason. That reason might be an excess of caution, or there might be something up with Rinne.

Meanwhile Toronto practiced without Zach Hyman on Monday, but he is expected to play, and the old forward lines without the right wing juggling that Babcock has been doing lately were back in action.

The defensive pairings, however ... listed above is what was run in Monday’s practice with Connor Carrick and Frank Corrado as the extra pair, so Carrick’s play has clearly not impressed the coach lately, and not even the most die-hard fans of Frank Corrado found much in his performance against the Penguins to be happy about.

The Leafs play three games in five days beginning tonight and have a back-to-back next week. Somewhere in there Jhonas Enroth is getting a start or two. It is just a question of when, but it is unlikely to be today.

We might not know until warmup who is really playing for either team tonight.

The official word today is that Mazanec is getting the start. He is, generally, not very good. He played 25 NHL games in 2014-15, and had a save percentage of .902. He’s played four NHL games since.

Should the Leafs be insulted, do you think? Are the Predators saving promising prospect Saros (who’s only ever played 2 NHL games, to be fair) for the Ottawa Senators on Thursday? I think they are!