Toronto Maple Leafs @ Boston Bruins: Game #66
7:00 p.m. ET at TD Garden
TV/Streaming: Sportsnet Ontario, NESN
Opponent’s SB Nation Site: Stanley Cup of Chowder
After 65 regular season games, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins get set to face each other with identical 41-19-5 records and share third place in the Atlantic Division. The two teams are tied in points, regulation wins, regulation and overtime wins, total wins. The fifth tiebreaker in the NHL is season series, of which the Leafs hold the only win between themselves and the Bruins, a 5-2 win back in November many moons ago. The Leafs also have the edge in goal differential, which is the sixth tiebreaker.
This is only the second of three games between the two teams in the regular season, which I thought was odd considering this is an inter-divisional rivalry. The third and final matchup is Game #82 on April 29th in Toronto. Considering all that, this game could decide the season series for the Leafs if the rest of the regular season pans out the way it has so far. And could potentially decide home-ice advantage.
Because these two teams have identical records, and are potential first round opponents, I thought I would have a look at their seasons up to now.
Leafs vs Bruins 5v5 (adjusted)
|Per 60 minutes
|Toronto Maple Leafs
Leafs vs Bruins Special Teams
|Per 2 minutes
|Toronto Maple Leafs
At 5v5, the Leafs and Bruins are very similar in the number of shots they give and take. The Leafs have the advantage offensively when it comes to their quality of chances. That means they’re getting to the front of the net a lot. Meanwhile the Bruins have a better defense thanks to their highly sought after under two xGA/60 (1.95). The Bruins net out a little better in the rate categories, but it’s very close.
The big difference is the Leafs shooting ability and the Leafs lack of goaltending. The first part of 2022 did a number on the Leafs goaltending. Is it a blip, or a reflection of what they are on the whole? Considering how high they were flying at the start of the season, I think this is a relatively accurate description. It’s important to never cut up data sets unless a significant change has occurred (a new goalie, a new coach, a star player coming in or out).
On special teams, I rated the stats down to what they would be every two minutes, or the length of a standard power play. I wanted to do this to show the impact special teams really has than inflate it by a factor of 30. Shorthanded stuff makes a very small difference in the grand scheme of things, but the Leafs are much better at creating offense while down than the Bruins.
The Leafs power play is also much better — best in the league, in fact — thanks to their strong shot locations and shooting percentage. There’s a lot of good research into whether shooting percentage can give a good indicator for pre-shot movement on the power play, so the Leafs having a strong one probably says they have Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner on their top unit.
The Bruins get the most shots on their power play in the league, but they trail down to 10th in expected goals and real goals. So they’re high volume, low quality relative to the Leafs.
Getting to the game itself, the Leafs are going to be running about the same lineup they had in the last game, except Kyle Clifford stepping in for Wayne Simmonds. Nick Abruzzese is on the roster, but having only had one practice (this morning) with the team so far, it’d be reckless to throw him right into the lineup on his first day.
The discussion one could have instead is why Clifford was the one to be called up instead of someone like Alex Steeves. Leafs fans have seen what Clifford brings, and frankly it’s not much. However, the Toronto Marlies are out west right now, so it’s possible Clifford stayed back the whole time and it was easier to bring him up than fly Steeves over from Abbotsford where the team is now.
The defense stays the same, with Carl Dahlström coming up to be the spare. Petr Mrázek is expected to start tonight.
Michael Bunting - Auston Matthews - Mitch Marner
Ilya Mikheyev - John Tavares - Alexander Kerfoot
Pierre Engvall - David Kämpf - William Nylander
Kyle Clifford - Colin Blackwell - Jason Spezza
OUT: Wayne Simmonds (scratched), Nick Abruzzese (scratched), Ondřej Kaše (head)
Morgan Rielly - Ilya Lyubushkin
TJ Brodie - Justin Holl
Mark Giordano - Timothy Liljegren
OUT: Carl Dahlström (scratched), Jake Muzzin (concussion), Rasmus Sandin (knee)
Petr Mrázek - projected starter
OUT: Jack Campbell (ribs)
The Bruins got Patrice Bergeron back on Saturday after about two weeks out of the lineup. His team has found a way to balance their top six with Jake DeBrusk, Taylor Hall, and Erik Haula joining the Big Three. The bottom six doesn’t provide any offense, but they can at least play their opponents to even. The Leafs have a better forward group than the Bruins thanks in large part to their third line.
The defense for the Bruins was very good before they got Hampus Lindholm, now it looks better.
At the end of the day, I think a playoff battle between these two teams is going to come down to which goalie falls apart first.
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Jake DeBrusk
Taylor Hall - Erik Haula - David Pastrnak
Trent Frederic - Charlie Coyle - Craig Smith
Nick Foligno - Tomas Nosek - Curtis Lazar
OUT: Marc McLaughlin (scratched), Jack Studnicka (scratched), Anton Blidh (scratched)
Hampus Lindholm - Charlie McAvoy
Matt Grzelcyk - Brandon Carlo
Derek Forbort - Connor Clifton
OUT: Mike Reilly (scratched), Josh Brown (scratched), Jakub Zboril (knee)
Jeremy Swayman - confirmed starter