Toronto Maple Leafs at Vancouver Canucks: 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time
Watch on: Sportsnet Pacific and Sportsnet Ontario
The Maple Leafs practised yesterday and the lines for tonight are set. Trevor Moore practised, but he’s not eligible to play yet, and when he is, someone is going to be cut from this team to make room. But that’s tomorrow’s problem.
Today’s problem is the commitment to making the Morgan Rielly - Tyson Barrie pairing work. They’ve had one game where they were really, somewhat astonishingly bad, and one where the stats had them better, but the most high-event hair-raising pairing on the ice.
Meanwhile, the guy everyone had started to turn on, Jake Muzzin, is looking pretty good with Justin Holl. Holl is a little too willing to be active, and he can be very, uh, how to put this... mentally sluggish in the defensive zone, but Muzzin seems a better foil for him than he ever was for Barrie. Muzzin/Barrie made sense in the abstract, but it was obvious long before Sheldon Keefe took over that it didn’t on the ice.
This is a late one, so go have a nap before game time.
Maple Leafs Lines
From Monday’s practice
Pontus Aberg - Auston Matthews - William Nylander
Zach Hyman - John Tavares - Mitch Marner
Ilya Mikheyev - Alexander Kerfoot - Kasperi Kapanen
Nic Petan - Pierre Engvall - Jason Spezza
Morgan Rielly - Tyson Barrie
Jake Muzzin - Justin Holl
Travis Dermott - Cody Ceci
From DailyFacoff.com with an assist from CapFriendly as there’s some confusion about the injury status of a few depth players.
Tanner Pearson - Bo Horvat - Josh Leivo
J.T. Miller - Elias Pettersson - Brock Boeser
Antoine Roussel - Adam Gaudette - Jake Virtanen
Tim Schaller - Jay Beagle - Micheal Ferland
Quinn Hughes - Tyler Myers
Oscar Fantenberg - Chris Tanev
Jalen Chatfield - Troy Stecher
Jordie Benn is a possible
Who is this Canucks team? Read that list and you’ll be saying that guy is a Canuck?? over and over. The most interesting change on the Canucks is behind the bench, and if you want to find a model the Leafs should be hoping to mimic, maybe look here and not St. Louis, where they are currently back to bad, and maybe the coach wasn’t the entire reason they were great for six months.
The Canucks fired Willie Desjardins at the end of their 2016-2017 season and they installed their AHL coach from the Utica Comets without even considering anyone else in April of that year. They waited two days after the Comets season was over, so this was planned in advance, and Green’s presence hung over Desjardins’ last season as a portent of doom. Everyone who had seen him (like Marlies fans) consistently turn the Comets into something better than they had a right to be knew he was destined for the NHL.
The problem with looking at Green’s tenure on the Canucks for inspiration is that they were bad for his first two years as head coach, and Leafs fans don’t have the patience for that. Cinderella turnaround, or get out, that’s what we want. But Vancouver had a terrible roster, weighted down with bloat, and it’s taken some trades and the arrival of a pair of high-draft picks in Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson to give Green something to work with.
Green’s done things like give up on the meme that Brandon Sutter is a good player or that Jake Virtanen is anything but a good grinder, and he’s just not playing Loui Eriksson much at all despite his $6 million in AAV.
For a time early this season, the Canucks were on fire and looked like one of the best teams in the NHL, but we don’t call the Pacific Division playing on easy level for no reason. Faced with a little more varied competition and hit with some injuries, the Canucks dropped a little in the standings, but this is not the bottom-five team of last year.
The Canucks are a hard team to judge because they have some excellent results and not a lot of points. Their five-on-five offensive results are dramatically better than the Leafs, and they sit sixth in the League right now in Expected Goals For per 60 minutes. They’re getting that with a very good Corsi % and a slightly worse Expected Goals %, which is what we call Leafs Disease this season. So, one should suspect their defending is a bit iffy. It is, but it’s not Leafs-level bad.
What’s holding the Canucks back is a Shooting % at five-on-five that’s been bad. What’s floating them up is a Shooting % on the power play that’s almost as impossible to believe in as the Oilers, the only team better. Although there’s no reason to think some of that isn’t earned, the full number is not guaranteed to last.
Their five-on-five woes are at least in part a talent gap. No matter how much the narrative demands that Josh Leivo be a great player, having him on your top line is a sign of what’s wrong with your team, not what’s right. The trade for J.T. Miller (a favourite of mine) has been excellent for the Canucks, though. Bo Horvat leads the team, and they’ve worked some magic on Tyler Myers to make him more than just tall.
But the cliff comes quickly when you look at their depth, so they’re vulnerable on the ice a lot of the time, and not really able to make their good results show up on the scoreboard enough.
At the moment, they’re fighting for a wild card spot, but they’ve got a goal differential of +12 to the Flames’ -10. The Flames are currently in third in the Pacific and two points ahead of the Canucks, and that seems likely to change.
The Canucks are trapped in the land of mediocre with the Leafs, and both teams want to break out, but on paper the Leafs have the better team to do that with, and it shouldn’t take three seasons under Keefe to get to real improvement. Meanwhile the Canucks are making the most of what they have, and can beat the Leafs more times out of 100 in imaginary games on home ice than they lose.
Now, let’s go play on the ice and see what really happens this one time.