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Preview: Maple Leafs are off to see the Flyers

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How will they do against a team hungry for a playoff spot?

Toronto Maple Leafs v Philadelphia Flyers
Right where you want him.
Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

Team vs Team: Game # 47

Time: 7:00 p.m. Puck drop scheduled for after 8 p.m.!!!

Location: Philadelphia, where they will love us like brothers.

Broadcast/Streaming: Sprortsnet Ontario, TVAS, NBCSP

Opponent SBNation Site: Broad Street Hockey

At the end of November, the crowd in the arena in Philly chanted, “Fire Hakstol!” at the end of a game. This had to be a fun experience for the boss, since that sounds remarkably like “Fire Hextall!” The Flyers had lost a lot of games, and during that time, their power play had no power. They replaced the battery in it since then, and they’ve won quite a few games, and now they’re in the hunt for the wildcard spots. A hunt that might go to the last day.

The coach’s hot seat is a weird phenomenon that is in a small part real, and in a large part a fantasy of the sports media. There’s been a lot of talk lately that everything Mike Babcock does with his lineup is wrong. Everyone has some carefully hand-carved stats to show you to prove who plays too much or too little. There is huge concern about who plays in overtime.

I think you can solve the overtime question with this one neat trick: regulation wins.

Babcock himself doesn’t think there’s all that much wrong with the Leafs play right now. Neither do I. But he does focus in on some areas where they can improve in the discussion from yesterday:

Now, if you follow the theory that Babcock nerfed the Leafs offence by demanding they play defence, you might be surprised that he thinks the cure for their current situation is to get in the offensive zone more (which essentially does means defend better, in the sense of getting the puck back some way other than Freddie kicking a rebound out to the halfboards after yet another rush chance against). He also thinks in the offensive zone they need to shoot the puck more. I would add: get into scoring position and pass to a good shooter, not the defender out at the point or the grinder on your line.

For a man obsessed with defence, he’s pretty offence focused.

The Blues very effectively disrupted the Leafs offensive zone time, but they had a lot of it. The Flyers won’t do that as well, so the key to beating them is to play as well as the Leafs did for all but the first couple of minutes of the Blues game, and they will be in the game. Playing it more effectively will win the game if the puck bounces in their favour.

Another very trite cliché Babcock trots out is that you’re never as good as you think you are when you’re winning, and you’re never as bad as you think you are when you’re losing. It’s true, though. The hazy glow of fond memory people cast over the first few weeks of the season when the Leafs’ shooting percentage was off the charts (Connor Brown and Dominic Moore were shooting 30%) is as unreal as the doom cloud being drawn over the team now.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Lines from yesterday’s practice.

Forward Lines

Zach Hyman - Auston Matthews - William Nylander

Patrick Marleau - Nazem Kadri - Leo Komarov

James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Mitch Marner

Matt Martin - Dominic Moore - Connor Brown

Defence Pairings

Morgan Rielly - Ron Hainsey

Jake Gardiner - Connor Carrick

Travis Dermott - Roman Polak

Goaltenders

Frederik Andersen

Curtis McElhinney

Philadelphia Flyers

Lines from leftwinglock.com

Forward Lines

Claude Giroux - Sean Couturier - Travis Konecny

Michael Raffl - Valtteri Filppula - Jakub Voracek

Jordan Weal - Nolan Patrick - Wayne Simmonds

Taylor Leier - Scott Laughton - Jori Lehtera

Defence Pairings

Ivaon Provorov - Shayne Gostisbehere

Robert Hagg - Andrew MacDonald

Brandon Manning - Radko Gudas

Goaltenders

Brian Elliott

Michal Neuvirth


The defence rotation we were expecting hasn’t happened yet, and Travis Dermott stays in and Andreas Borgman stays in the press box. That is likely because Dermott played very little in a close game two nights ago, and it wasn’t really much of a look at his play.

The numbers on him from that game look horrible: He was on the ice for 15 shots against (Corsi) and 9 shots for. All of that in only 11 minutes.

But a deeper dig shows that he was hemmed in for some mysterious reason on a very strange line change against the Blues top line with Morgan Rielly. For some reason, Polak went off and Rielly came on, not Ron Hainsey. If you slice that out, Dermott was about even, which is really not good enough for a super carefully deployed third pairing guy, but not as horrible as the game looked. A road game will be more telling of his true ability at this point in his development.

We should also see the return of Dominic Moore, and that might make a difference to Dermott’s results, since he will share a lot of ice with fourth lines tonight.

EDITED TO ADD: never mind, then.

I think we could all use a regulation win tonight. I’ll even take one of those undeserved ones. But whatever happens: Go Leafs Go!