Toronto Maple Leafs @ Ottawa Senators
07:00 PM at Canadian Tire Centre
Watch on: RDS2, TSN4, TSN5
TSN 4 in the Leafs region, TSN5 in the Sens.
The Leafs last played ages ago on December 2 at home to the Bruins. Toronto lost in overtime. Their record is 12-6-4 so far this year.
The Senators last played on Tuesday, December 5 at home to the Rangers, where they won 6-2. Their record is 10-10-0.
This is year two of the constant questioning about the Senators. Are they any good? Is DJ Smith a bad coach? Is the roster just not good enough?
Yes is the answer to all of those. The Senators, despite their dead on .500 record, are not horrible. Their Corsi % is one point behind Toronto's in mediocre land, and they are not the worst team in the Atlantic. That honour is being decided by a contest between Buffalo and Montréal. The Sens should be muddling along in the so close to bubble team zone, they fool themselves into thinking they have a chance.
Their team offence is extremely bad at a systemic level, and they are only okay defensively – that's likely the roster, and by the way, Thomas Chabot is out tonight. Both of their goalies are saving below expected, so they aren't helping.
Projected via Daily Faceoff from last game.
Brady Tkachuk - Josh Norris - Claude Giroux
Vladimir Tarasenko - Tim Stützle - Drake Batherson
Dominik Kubalik - Ridly Greig - Mathieu Joseph
Parker Kelly - Rourke Chartier - Zack MacEwen
Jake Sanderson - Jacob Bernard-Docker
Jakob Chychrun - Travis Hamonic
Erik Brännström - Artem Zub
Are you optimistic? Then stop at the win record. Pessimistic? Well, frankly even the points have stopped looking all that good.
The Leafs played well against Boston, pulled out to a commanding lead by Expected Goals, and by the end of the game were only a half an Expected Goal ahead. A lot of that was a deeply dreadful overtime performance, which isn't meaningful in the long term, but it wasn't just that.
This followed an absolutely terrible performance against Seattle, that ended in a shootout. The Kraken, meanwhile, routinely look like fools playing bad teams. And that followed an undeserved win in overtime against the Panthers.
It's hard not to have watched those three games and be very alarmed by quite a few disparate parts of this team.
Once again, we are in debt, heavily, to William Lagesson and Simon Benoit and the clever scouts and player evaluation people the Leafs employ who picked them out in the summer to sign. But the "defenders are all injured" has long since become an excuse, not exculpation.
You can look at forward lines by several metrics at Moneypuck here:
Toronto's worst line by xG%, 266th out of 284 forward lines that have at least 30 minutes is Knies, Domi, Kämpf. But that original third line isn't what's really driving the bus closer and closer to the cliff.
Bertuzzi, Marner and Tavares are at 172nd and Knies, Matthews, Nylander are at 141st. The new top six aren't working yet. Do they look interesting? Sure. Is it great that the coach did a thing instead of just waiting for Mitch Marner to not be really bad? I mean... sure. I guess. And these new lines are a little shy on minutes, so their results are heavily influenced by who they've been matched up to. But, aren't they meant to be able to play and succeed against anyone?
The main beneficiary of all of this is the third line, who now have excellent numbers with Nick Robertson and Calle Järnkrok at wing and Max Domi at centre. But the caveat on matchups applies here as well.
The formula, be it personnel, systems or individual play isn't returning a result that can be expected to get regulation wins in bulk. The Leafs have played like a fourth-place team. And yet, because it's the best players, in part, who are performing below their own individual norms, it is a lot more likely solutions can be found.
In non-solution news: Reaves, benched for a half the game the last time out, is back in the lineup it seems.
David Alter via Daily Faceoff
Matthew Knies - Auston Matthews - William Nylander
Tyler Bertuzzi - John Tavares - Mitch Marner
Nicholas Robertson - Max Domi - Calle Järnkrok
Noah Gregor - David Kämpf - Ryan Reaves
Morgan Rielly - T.J. Brodie
William Lagesson - Jake McCabe
Simon Benoit - Conor Timmins
Joe Woll - confirmed starter
Martin Jones or Ilya Samsonov
The Senators either win or lose in regulation in equal proportion, and the Leafs never do either. Somebody has to go against type tonight.
Go Leafs Go, play like a third-place team!