Toronto Maple Leafs host the Colorado Avalanche: Game #45

Time: 7:00

Location: Scotiabank Centre

Broadcast/Streaming: TSN4 and Altitude Sports

Opponent SBNation Site: Mile High Hockey

The randomness of the NHL schedule has given the Leafs an opportunity tonight: They can take the template they used against the one-line Boston Bruins and apply it to the one-line Colorado Avalanche and give themselves more opportunity to refine it.

The Leafs (and the Lightning) are the perfect teams to beat the sort of team that puts all their scoring players in one top line, have one good power play unit, and send out mediocre depth the entire rest of the game. The method employed against Boston, where John Tavares and Auston Matthews kept the top two lines honest (Boston has some skill on their second line, just not all that much) and opened the floor to Nazem Kadri, Patrick Marleau and William Nylander to easily outmatch the depth, worked.

The result was a close game that the Leafs lost, but the Leafs are a process team, not a results team. Which is easy to say if you’re the GM, fairly easy if you’re the coach, and harder to feel if you’re the guys who lost doing everything right.

Against the Avs, the Leafs get to go back, Jack, do it again, and if they win, they get a little reinforcement that the process is working. To be honest, I think the only people who think it isn’t are some fans and those media outlets who realize there’s easy money in saying the Leafs are bad and it’s all [whoever’s] fault.

Maple Leafs

Forward Lines

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

Defence Pairings

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


Frederik Andersen
Garret Sparks

Well, would you look a that? The regular tandem is back in action, just in time to get in a game before they head off to Tampa.

Colorado Avalanche

from their most recent game

Forward Lines

Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - Mikko Rantanen
Tyson Jost - Alexander Kerfoot - JT Compher
Matt Nieto - Carl Soderberg - Matt Calvert
Sven Andrighetto - Sheldon Dries - Colin Wilson

Defence Pairings

Samuel Girard - Erik Johnson
Ian Cole - Tyson Barrie
Ryan Graves - Mark Barberio


Semyon Varlamov
Philipp Grubauer

That is a hell of a top line the Avs have. But then the talent all dries up. The Avs have done well to crawl up out of the hole that bad drafting and trading away of picks and players left them in, but it’s a slow process. They’ve chosen to augment their roster with NCAA free agents and other team’s tweeners (like Sheldon Dries, a great player in the AHL last year for the Texas Stars), where the Leafs have gone shopping in Europe.

The result is that the Avs are struggling to find defenders after their top three, and while I’m sure a lot of Leafs fans want Travis Dermott to play top pair, the Leafs haven’t been in a hurry to put him there. Although, considering he played the most five-on-five minutes last game, you should watch him closely tonight. The Avs have to play Girard big minutes because they have no one else.

The Avs also struggle to find goals from anywhere but their big three. Their goal-scorers with 10 or more goals are:

  • Landeskog: 27
  • MacKinnon: 26
  • Rantanen: 20
  • Soderberg: 12
  • J.T. Compher: 10/

Yes, that’s right, Carl Soderberg is their number four goal-scorer. His line, lurking down the lineup one place from where it likely belongs (the Avs believe hard in their college-boy second line) could be sneakily effective.

The Leafs have seven players with 10 or more goals, and Nazem Kadri is idling along at nine, seemingly unable to score even though his line has played very well. Listen to this week’s Back to Excited if you want more depth on that idea:

Back to Excited Episode 45: Bearing down

At five-on-five, Kadri has the third highest personal shot rate, the winger with the best Corsi percentage on the team, a personal shooting percentage around Zach Hyman’s, expected goals around Auston Matthews’ (albeit in more games), and if he was any better with any worse results, I’d say he should be playing for Carolina. Someone needs to shout at him that he’s gotta produce. That’ll fix it.

Kadri is the picture of process not results in judging a player. He’s not as good as the top two centres on the team, but he’s better than nine goals in 44 games implies. It would just be really nice if he started getting lucky right about tonight!

But Freddie’s back! All is well again, and no one will find anything to complain about in tonight’s game.

Go Leafs Go.