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Leafs vs. Bruins Preview: Big Bad Bear

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The Leafs face off against their likely playoff opponent, without their best player.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Boston Bruins Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Boston Bruins: Game 64

Time: 7:00 PM

Location: ACC

Broadcast/Streaming: Sportsnet, NESN

Opponent SBNation Site Preview: Stanley Cup of Chowder

Now pull your socks up.

We’re pretty familiar with these guys by now. The Bruins are a dynamite possession team and have arguably the best line in the NHL. The Leafs have a lot of dazzling offensive skill...but unfortunately, they’re missing their best weapon.

Toronto Maple Leafs Line Combinations

Forward Lines

Zach Hyman - William Nylander - Connor Brown

Patrick Marleau - Nazem Kadri - Mitch Marner

James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Kasperi Kapanen

Leo Komarov - Dominic Moore - Josh Leivo

Defence Pairings

Morgan Rielly - Ron Hainsey

Jake Gardiner - Nikita Zaitsev

Travis Dermott- Roman Polak

Goaltenders

Frederik Andersen

Curtis McElhinney

Auston Matthews is day-to-day with a shoulder injury. [breathes]

Okay. These lines are based on Kristen Shilton’s report from practice on Friday, so they are subject to change (stares at Josh Leivo’s name). Still, Mike Babcock has made clear that William Nylander is going to get some run at centre; this may be the beginning of a chance to show he should be a centre full-time next year, instead of a 1RW. If you can do it against Boston, you can do it against anybody.

Boston Bruins Line Combinations

Forward Lines

Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - David Pastrnak

Jake Debrusk - David Krejci - Ryan Spooner

Danton Henein - Riley Nash - David Backes

Tim Schaller - Sean Kuraly - Noel Acciari

Defence Pairings

Zdeno Chara - Charlie McAvoy

Torey Krug - Brandon Carlo

Matt Grzelcyk - Adam McQuaid

Goaltenders

Tuukka Rask

Anton Khudobin

So if you look at 5v5 adjusted CF%, the Bruins don’t have a regular player who’s a possession negative. Like, every skater in that lineup is winning the shot battle. (The Leafs’ lineup, if you’re wondering, features eleven players who are negatives, albeit mostly not by much.) The Leafs are a fantastic team at generating expected goals, but they give a lot of that benefit back on the defensive side (2nd in expected goals for, 28th in expected goals against.) The Bruins rank 13th and 4th in those numbers respectively, so they skew defensive, but they’re still respectable offensively.

Insofar as the Bruins have a weakness, it’s that they depend on their top line (and Danton Henein, who is riding a PDO wave) to generate the bulk of their offence; they have entirely respectable depth, but the Leafs have the better second line when healthy, and possibly the better third. Normally this means that if one of the Leafs’ lines can play against Bergeron’s line and fight them to a draw, the Leafs win.

Last game against the Bruins, we tried this with Auston Matthews, and to put it bluntly, he got crushed. Nazem Kadri has had some success playing heads-up against Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak in the past, and I’d expect Mike Babcock to chase that matchup tonight.

And then? Well, if Nylander is going to have a sparkling offensive showing at centre, now would be a good time.

Go Leafs Go!