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Preview: The Lightning come to test the new-look Maple Leafs

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It’s all very well and good to roll over Ottawa like they aren’t even there (and allow three goals doing it), now it’s time for a real stress test of the new Leafs roster.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Tampa Bay Lightning Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

Tampa Bay Lightning at Toronto Maple Leafs: Game # 58

Time: 7:00PM

Location: ACC

Broadcast/Streaming: TVAS, NHLN-US, TSN4, SUN

Opponent SBNation Site: Raw Charge

Here’s the truth: The Maple Leafs are one of the worst teams in the NHL for allowing shots against. You can look at Corsi, Fenwick or Shots on Goal if you really want to. You can rate it out per 60, use five-on-five, score adjust it or look at per game, and anyway you present that information, the Leafs allow more shots than almost any team in the NHL.

They keep company with Anaheim, New York (either flavour), Florida, Arizona and Colorado.

You can try Expected Goals Against (weighted shots) if you want to make a shot quality argument, and the answer comes up the same. The only teams that have a higher total xGA (Corsica flavour) are the New York teams.

You can’t hide from this. The Leafs are terrible at this aspect of defence. The Leafs must rely on their goaltending and must outscore their terrible defensive zone play to win games. They do this a lot.

They are managing this with a really high rate of shots for — measured however you like — that sits just outside the league’s top 10. If you apply the shot quality weighting of Expected Goals, the Leafs are second (to Edmonton, in case you needed reminding that offence isn’t everything).

The Lightining have a higher Corsi For rate than the Leafs by a small, not significant amount, but their Corsi Against rate is top ten in the league. In real terms the Lightning shoot the puck on average five times per game more than they face shots. For the Leafs, that number is less than one per game. (This is score and venue adjusted from Natural Stat Trick.)

And that is not a dramatic difference in shot share between the two teams. That is parity in the NHL, and that is why any team in the NHL, even the Coyotes, can beat any other team on any given night. The Leafs are good enough to beat most teams most nights.

The effect of the difference between the Lightning and the Leafs is that the Lightning have a really good goalie they don’t actually need. They outshoot their not all that bad defensive shortcomings to such a degree, they aren’t relying on Andrei Vasilevskiy. They can, though. If a game demands it, Vasilevskiy can be the difference maker, and he is a better goalie than Frederik Andersen, who is above average this season, but not dramatically so.

Tampa will rely on their very, very good top scoring lines to do most of their damage, and they’ve rejigged them to be less concentrated on one line. The Leafs can counter with their own newly arranged top nine.

The key to this game is to score early, score often. Just like every other game.

Toronto Maple Leafs

from the morning skate

Forward Lines

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

Defence Pairings

Morgan Rielly - Ron Hainsey
Jake Gardiner - Nikita Zaitsev
Travis Dermott - Roman Polak

Goaltenders

Frederik Andersen
Curtis McElhinney

Tampa Bay Lightning

from our spies in Lightning fandom

Forward Lines

Yanni Gourde - Steven Stamkos - Tyler Johnson
Alex Killorn - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov
Adam Erne - Vladislav Namestnikov - Cory Conacher
Chris Kunitz - Matthew Peca/Cedric Paquette - Ryan Callahan

Defence Pairings

Victor Hedman — Anton Stralman
Mikhail Sergachev — Dan Girardi
Braydon Coburn — Andrej Sustr

Goaltenders

Andrei Vasilevskiy - starter
Louis Domingue


The Maple Leafs are bringing their usual lineup to the game tonight, and there is no sign of Nikita Soshnikov. We don’t know what’s going on, but the Leafs have 24 men right now. The obvious answer here is that the lineup as it is with Kapanen and Dermott on it is what Mike Babcock wants, and one way or another, that’s what he’s going to have.

Roman Polak is drawing in over Connor Carrick, and it won’t be a surprise if that just keeps happening. Carrick has neither worn out his welcome or won the last defensive roster spot conclusively. He just has to keep trying. For tonight’s game, with Polak in, Dermott doesn’t have to play against the fairly scary Tampa power play.

When we know the Soshnikov situation, we’ll update it, but for now, we’ll just assume there’s a rule somewhere we’re unaware of that lets you do this: