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Maple Leafs at Arizona Coyotes Preview: Let’s talk about penalties

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Matthews back home yadda yadda -- but Leafs should take advantage of the 3rd most penalty-laden team.

NHL: Arizona Coyotes at Toronto Maple Leafs John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Leafs at Coyotes: GAME 33

Time: 9:00 PM Eastern Time

Location: Gila River Arena

Broadcast/Streaming: FS-A, SNO

Opponent SBNation Site: Five for Howling

This week, Katya wrote an interesting exploration of the Leafs' statistics at the mid-point of the season. One part that caught my eye was this:

On the penalty kill, however, the picture isn’t as rosy. The Leafs have the sixth worst Corsi Against per 60 minutes. And yet their percentage is 83.2, the tenth best in the league. That is Frederik Andersen, the best penalty killer on the ice at work, and it is also likely some luck and other factors, but they are worse than they appear when you measure by shots.

In terms of Scoring Chances Against per 60 minutes, they are at 17th best in the league, so there is some truth to the idea that the penalty kill units are keeping the shots out of the danger areas. The problem is that those chances can score too, and when you allow too many, you will get burned.

The Leafs are making their penalty killing woes worse by taking a lot of them. They are the eight highest penalized team in minutes per game.

Because I'm a Nazem Kadri fan, I had to look into these numbers a little more closely. If you can recall, last season Kadri became one of the league's examples of a player who was so good at drawing penalties that the referees decided to start ignoring him, and when that didn't work, they fined him. Kadri began to consciously work on drawing penalties after being encouraged to by Mike Babcock, because Babcock loves it when he has someone on the ice who can give him a man advantage.

Babcock’s explanation of penalties is that there isn’t anything special involved in drawing them. His description goes like this (quote from the National Post): "You skate, you work and you have the puck. If you skate, you work and have the puck and keep your feet moving — most guys when they get touched their feet stop working — you’re going to draw penalties."

To clarify, Brooks Laich described drawing penalties to Sportsnet thus: "Guys that don’t give up on pucks, move their legs, drive through a check and make the other guy pull or tug or trip, just for a second, just because of the extreme work ethic. The other guys are agitators who can get under your skin and make you lose control of your emotions for a second and take a rough or a cheap shot.”

If all of this is confusingly worded, in short, penalties are simply a byproduct of skating quickly and hard — things that the Maple Leafs are increasingly good at doing.

Kadri's numbers this season show that either the refs are done with his s***, or that he isn’t as good at drawing penalties as he used to be -- he was 18th in the league in penalties taken last season, and 6th this season. These numbers should be the other way round.

Making up for Kadri, the rest of the Leafs have gotten better and better at the Babcock style of drawing penalties. Last season, the team was 6th in the League in penalties taken, and 21st in penalties drawn. These numbers have more or less flipped. In 2016-2017, the Leafs are 7th so far in penalties drawn, and 19th in penalties taken — which is good, given the description Katya gave, above, of the Leafs’ penalty kill. Despite Kadri's decreasing ability to piss people off and make the refs care, the team as a whole has picked up the slack.

Arizona should be a perfect target for drawing penalties. They are currently 3rd in the league in penalty minutes at 157 (to the Leafs' 131), and at last place in the Pacific, are in a desperate place at the turn of the year. I hope Kadri’s warming up his skates.

Coming in to explain more about this is our fellow SBNation writer Sarah of Five for Howling.

Four questions with Sarah of Five For Howling

PPP: It's Shane Doan's 1500th game this Friday night vs. the Toronto Matthews. He's the captain, and he's a third-line guy. What does he mean to the team, and how has he contributed to the team this season?

Sarah: Shane Doan is the backbone of the Arizona Coyotes, the face of the franchise. He has been for a long time. He is everything to the team as being Captain Coyote, the last Original Winnipeg Jet. He is the Coyotes. But Shane Doan is also 40 years old now.

He had 28 goals last season, this year he is struggling sometimes to keep up with his linemates, who at times have been Dvorak and Crouse. The Captain has started to slow down and sometimes had a hard time keeping up with the kids. He has been less productive than last year, but with Vrbata back with the Coyote, he doesn't have to be the production for the team now. With being one goal from 400 and playing his 1500th game tonight, there isn't much more they can ask out of Doan. He already holds all the skater records for the Winnipeg/Coyotes franchise. This may he be his last ride, but the Coyotes will let him end his career in his own way.

PPP: Chayka came into the team as GM and immediately made a few smart moves. These moves don't seem to have translated to immediate winning on the ice. Is the team considered "in a rebuild"? How do you feel the new stats-based front office is doing so far this season?

Sarah: The Coyotes, at the start of the season, had the mission of being a playoff team. I have thought the team has been in a state of rebuild since the 2014-15 season.

The Stats based front office has brought the team some amazing players that no one would have considered. The best example is Brad Richardson being brought in last season. Goligoski is still looking to be a slam dunk.

PPP: What types of coaching decisions does Tippet do well? What does he do poorly?

Sarah: Tippett deploys his defense well, using the strengths of his star defenseman and his puck movers. The Coyotes use stretch passes to enter the zone, many from the defense or the goalie.

The Power play is struggling and they need to retool it. The set up as they have it right now is not working.

PPP: Who are you happiest with in your lineup right now? Who is the biggest liability?

Sarah: I am very happy with Radim Vrbata. He came back to the Coyotes after two horrible years in Vancouver and has shown he is back to his scoring ways. Oliver Ekman-Larsson is struggling this season, perhaps due to pressure or an injury, but he is always a highlight to watch. Mike Smith has found his 2011-12 self, but the team in front of him seems to not be able to help him.

The entire RHD corp they have is a liability. Connor Murphy, Michael Stone, and Luke Schenn are either good or really really bad. With the defensive lapses they have, the Coyotes are letting too many shots on goal. This is forever going to the be bane of the team this season.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Forward Lines

As deployed last night:

Zach Hyman - Auston Matthews - Connor Brown

James van Riemsdyk - Nazem Kadri - Mitch Marner

Leo Komarov - Frederik Gauthier - William Nylander

Matt Martin - Byron Froese - Nikita Soshnikov

Defence Pairings

Morgan Rielly - Nikita Zaitsev

Jake Gardiner - Connor Carrick

Matt Hunwick - Roman Polak

Goaltenders

Antoine Bibeau

Frederik Andersen

Arizona Coyotes

Forward Lines

Lawson Crouse - Martin Hanzal - Radim Vrbata

Jamie McGinn - Peter Holland - Anthony Duclair

Tobias Reider - Jordan Martinook - Shane Doan

Josh Jooris - Christian Dvorak - Ryan White

Defence Pairings

Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Connor Murphy

Alex Goligoski - Michael Stone

Jakob Chychrun - Luke Schenn

Goaltenders

Mike Smith

Louis Domingue