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Preview: Zach is back as the Leafs take on the Panthers

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The band is back together. They’ve crossed the state of Florida, and it’s time to herd some cats.

2010 NHL Draft Portraits Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Toronto Maple Leafs vs Florida Panthers:

Time: 7:00 p.m,

Location: The BB&T center, and I have no idea what those letters stand for.

Broadcast/Streaming: CBC, SN1, CITY, Fox Sports - Florida, CBC.ca free but geoblocked to Canada

Opponent SBNation Site: Litter Box Cats

Zach Hyman is back in the lineup, and that means everything settles out into its near-optimal configuration given the players on the roster right now.

I wonder if Hyman ever thinks about what could have been — a career in Florida, far away from his family in Toronto, and never to have played for the coach who keeps arguing with reporters about how much he loves him. Sometimes the universe gives you what you need, and Hyman seems to have needed the Leafs very much.

If you look up the Leafs stats like we did in olden times, and use the last three years of data combined for the Leafs, Hyman sits comfortably in the top echelon of forwards by Corsi For percentage. If you ignore the creatively used Tyler Bozak line, and just look at Hyman and his current teammates, he’s sixth, and of course, he’s ranked right in with John Tavares and Auston Matthews, his centres. Such a life he has! Well worth giving up the Florida lifestyle for.

I think the Leafs need Hyman too. I have no illusions about his scoring ability, but I also have no illusions about his smarts. He knows he’s got whatever the opposite of sick hands is. Over these three years of his Leafs career, he is tops in expected shooting percentage (Offside Review) behind only one man. And that man is Ben Smith. OMG!! What Smith and Hyman understand — and Dom Moore who is third before we get to the shooting master, Auston Matthews — is that they really needed every damn scrap of shot quality they could get by bulling their way to the net. Zach Hyman is brilliant at getting in there and fighting for the net front. Luongo is gonna love him tonight.

Of course, Hyman doesn’t convert at league average. He does not shoot at the expected rate, which is just an average shooter’s rate. Matthews overshoots expected by rather a lot because he has whatever the extreme version of sick hands is called. Hyman normally undershoots by two or three percentage points, but so far this year, he’s in a slump as his expected has reached the highest it’s ever been. Hmmm. The John Tavares effect? Or the Mitch Marner effect? Or a little of both? Whichever it is, if Hyman rebounds in shooting just a little, he won’t need to rely on his classic empty-net goals to pad his stats back up to his normal.

In the meantime, he’s helping drive that Tavares line right into the offensive zone and then keep them there where they belong.

Glad you’re back, Zach.

Maple Leafs

From yesterday’s practice

Forward Lines

Andreas Johnsson - Auston Matthews - Kasperi Kapanen
Zach Hyman - John Tavares - Mitch Marner
Patrick Marleau - Nazem Kadri - William Nylander
Tyler Ennis - Par Lindholm - Connor Brown

Defence Pairings

Morgan Rielly - Ron Hainsey
Jake Gardiner - Nikita Zaitsev
Travis Dermott - Igor Ozhiganov

Goaltenders

Frederik Andersen - starter
Garret Sparks

Florida Panthers

From morning skate

Forward Lines

Huberdeau - Barkov - Hoffman
Vatrano - Borgstrom - Dadonov
Brouwer - McCann - Malgin
Haley - Lammikko - Hawryluk

Defence Pairings

Yandle - Ekblad
Matheson - Pysyk
Petrovic - Weegar

Goaltenders

Roberto Luongo - starter
James Reimer


I don’t understand the Florida Panthers; let’s just get that out of the way. They are terrible, they shouldn’t be this bad, and even accounting for goaltending troubles, of which they’ve had a tonne, they should not be the team making Ottawa look good.

They have 28 points from 11 wins, and their goal differential is -13. Their Corsi is fine, right about the same as the Leafs, their Expected Goals differential is a little worse, just like the Leafs. They play a slower pace offence to the Leafs, but most teams do, but it’s still good, though. They counter that with much better defensive numbers.

In short the two teams have arrived at the same percentages, more or less, by much different paths. The Leafs run down their path at breakneck speed. The Panthers amble like it’s hot out.

The problem isn’t just the goalies. Their Expected Save Percentage is really low, third lowest in the league, which means that their defensive execution is terrible. Their goalies are underperforming that as well. They also have very poor quality of shots for, and are underperforming that.

It’s the why that’s the mystery, because they have a lot of good players; enough, they should be converting their decent Corsi to something better than they are. Oh, well, if they want to be bad, that’s fine with me.

The Leafs can’t be let down after the Pyrrhic loss to the Lightning. They have to go out and win this one on the scoreboard.

Go Leafs Go!