Team vs Team: Game # 51
Time: 8:30 p.m.
Location: Dallas, Texas
Broadcast/Streaming: Fox Sports Southwest, TSN 4
Opponent SBNation Site: Defending Big D
One game down, one to go, and the Leafs get another break, all but Auston Matthews who has to go to Tampa to play with the Lighting for a weekend.
The first game of the new lineup, with Mitch Marner playing with Nazem Kadri and Connor Brown playing with Tyler Bozak, was a win, albeit not a stirring outright domination we might have wanted. Some of the new lines were very good, some were okay, and Matthews really struggled for much of the game.
Meanwhile the defence is also struggling, and the question of who to play more minutes to support the top pair isn’t as obvious as everyone wants to believe. Travis Dermott, who has played better than we truly had a right to expect, has been kept completely away from other teams’ top lines in his seven games. He also played mostly with Roman Polak in the last game, although he’s nominally on the second pair with Connor Carrick. Dermott has had positive results, but he’s not really ready for prime time top four usage. Not yet.
Carrick, meanwhile, who played mostly with Andreas Borgman in Chicago, is also kept right away from top forwards. He’s had some good results overall, but even when he’s listed as a second pairing defender, he’s not playing as one. In his last stretch of games, he’s played fairly poorly in terms of shot differentials and has had some intermittent success with the opportunity of some power play time.
Borgman is still very, very much a raw rookie, who gets good results most of the time when even more carefully used. This state of affairs boxes the Leafs coaches into a situation where only a very careful rotation keeps them from using the wrong defenders at the wrong time too often. Somehow, they managed to keep Roman Polak’s minutes to nearly exactly his season average last night. Which was too many, he was terrible, but the alternatives aren’t really as attractive as they seem from a superficial look at some Corsi stats.
This too shall pass, and Nikita Zaitsev and Morgan Rielly will be back, likely both after the All-Star break.
Assuming no changes, as none have been announced.
Zach Hyman - Auston Matthews - William Nylander
Patrick Marleau - Nazem Kadri - Mitch Marner
James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Connor Brown
Leo Komarov - Dominic Moore - Kasperi Kapanen
Jake Gardiner - Ron Hainsey
Travis Dermott - Connor Carrick
Andreas Borgman - Roman Polak
Curtis McElhinney - Starter
From Defending Big D, as of the last game
Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Alexander Radulov
Remi Elie - Jason Spezza - Mattias Janmark
Antoine Roussel - Radek Faksa - Tyler Pitlick
Devin Shore - Jason Dickinson - Brett Ritchie
Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Dan Hamhuis - Greg Pateryn
Dillon Heatherington - Stephen Johns
Ben Bishop - starter
What of Dallas? I’ll confess I never believed in Dallas’s system of outscoring their problems, and my disquiet with the Leafs following in the skate ruts is one reason I’m really okay with an emphasis on improving the Leafs overall defensive execution, even if improving their shot share seems impossible with their current personnel.
But Dallas this year has improved their shot share, and has done that with a cooling off all over the ice of shooting rates. They have a less high-event offence than the Leafs, but they allow a lot fewer shots. Their expected goals ratio is also very good, and they’d likely be out of the wild card spot their in and top two in the Central if they had better than average goaltending. They don’t. Ben Bishop is famous, he’s huge, but he’s not doing them any favours.
Lately Dallas has been keeping a lot of the offence to point shots, and that’s helping them out. So the Leafs need to bust through that, get traffic at the goalmouth, lose a few interference reviews, and score two extra goals. Simple, right?
They can do it, they just need to play the whole game like they did the third period last night.