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Gameday: Hurricanes look to blow away the Leafs

It’s not a zamboni driver this time, it’s someone much worse.

2022 NHL All-Star Skills
I apologize for nothing, not the picture, the headline, nor the zamboni line.
Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images

Carolina Hurricanes at Toronto Maple Leafs
7PM on Sportsnet, TVAS and BSSO

Freddie’s back.

I’ll brook no nonsense about the evil media being evil for (saying something you don’t want to hear) mentioning that Frederik Andersen had a terrible, injury plagued year last year, and is rocking the house in Raleigh this season. That there’s a revenge tour component to tonight’s game is simply true, and you’ll have to buck up and face it that it’s the story of this game.

Fresh off a deserved trip to the All-Star Game, Andersen is handily winning the head to head with Jack Campbell this season. He’s going to really, really want to win this game.

From Moneypuck.com:

Andersen in All-Situations for 30 games played has 22.4 goals saved above expected. Only Igor Shesterkin has more. Campbell, in 32 games, has 11.9. That’s very good goalie territory, but not Vezina numbers, not elite. It’s also somewhat bitterly amusing that Campbell has played more than the famously hardest worked man in the goal crease, given all the Leafs have done to avoid that. The Leafs continue their plan to try to mitigate Campbell’s workload now that Petr Mrázek (formerly of the Hurricanes) is healthy, and he gets the start tonight.

Rating out these stats, which does not help Campbell at all, and setting a 10 games played minimum, Ville Husso (on a hot streak at 15 games played) is first with an unsustainable 1.14, Shesterkin is the real leader with .874, and Andersen is right behind him with .764. Campbell is ninth with .391. Again, this is excellent, and he’s tied with John Gibson and ahead of Connor Hellebuyck, but Andersen, Shesterkin and Sergei Bobrovsky are the elites so far this season. Removing the games minimum so Mrázek’s seven game set shows up, and he’s in the lower end of the middle at -0.278. There are approximately 30 goalies in the positive so far this year, and big mass just below zero where the backups usually live.

Shopping for a different answer, I went to Evolving Hockey and limited results to even strength with 300 Fenwick Against (unblocked shots) as the minimum. Looking at the delta of actual Fenwick save percentage over expected flattens out the volume of xGA and looks more at just the goalie’s rate of success. GSAX can look inflated on teams that allow a lot of xGA.

By this measure, Husso is first with 2.16, Andersen is second with 1.64, and the bad team star Shesterkin is now third with 1.62. Jack Campbell is 27th with 0.09. Mrázek shows very poorly here at -1.02 on just over 200 FA. Adding in shorthanded saves as with the Moneypuck data I used above, makes all Leafs goalies look much better.

What have we learned? Campbell is just slightly above average at five-on-five and is really cooking on the PK where he is better than Andersen. If you watched Andersen over the years, or the Leafs PK lately, you might not be surprised by this. Mrázek has played very little in games that were not difficult, and has struggled during injury recovery, but shows the same pattern as Campbell.

Andersen’s weakest event is the Leafs’ best, that’s really the only wedge the Leafs have to exploit tonight as they hope Mrázek is on an upswing.

Them

From their last game pre-break, this is the Hurricanes’ lineup via Daily Faceoff:

Andrei Svechnikov - Sebastian Aho - Jesper Fast
Jordan Martinook - Vincent Trocheck - Seth Jarvis
Nino Niederreiter - Jordan Staal - Steven Lorentz
Derek Stepan - Jesperi Kotkaniemi - Martin Necas

Jaccob Slavin - Tony Deangelo
Brady Skjei - Brett Pesce
Ian Cole - Ethan Bear

Frederik Andersen
Antti Raanta

Kotkaniemi is in Covid protocol now, so some change will happen on the fourth line. The Hurricanes have called up Josh Leivo from the AHL, so... it could be his night!

The Hurricanes’ defence is better than the Leafs right now. You might want to believe the world works on movie logic and that Tony Deangelo is bad because of real and also rumoured transgressions, but it doesn’t, and he’s not bad at hockey. Okay, he’s actually pretty bad defensively, but Jaccob Slavin isn’t, so it works out. Deangelo is absolutely a force on this team offensively and on the power play, which is very dangerous.

The Carolina offence is more of a piece, and although Aho is a stunning talent, they work as a four-line unit where only Jordan Staal is having a weak season. Niederreiter isn’t, so again, it works out for them.

As for that rather weird fourth line, I think they are faster than the Leafs, and the old men better look out or they’ll be left in the dust.

Bottom line: The Hurricanes are top five in the NHL this season, maybe top three, and there’s no soft spot to exploit other than Brady Skjei.

Us

The Maple Leafs continue to keep Jake Muzzin out of the lineup until he is very ready to return, and that gives them the opportunity to look at Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren in bigger roles. Yesterday’s practice lines were:

Michael Bunting - Auston Matthews - Mitch Marner
Alexander Kerfoot - John Tavares - William Nylander
Ilya Mikheyev - David Kämpf - Ondřej Kaše
Pierre Engvall - Jason Spezza - Wayne Simmonds

Morgan Rielly - T.J. Brodie
Rasmus Sandin - Justin Holl
Travis Dermott - Timothy Liljegren

Petr Mrázek
Jack Campbell

The Game

This game is a test for the Leafs, one where they show that those points and player point-streaks against weak teams lately weren’t just picking apples off the bottom branches while the sun shines. It’s also a test for Mrázek who is coming off a good game against New Jersey.

Try not to get blown away Leafs. Win this one.