Tonight, the Toronto Maple Leafs (6-8-1-2) will look to build on their win against Nashville on Tuesday by winning their second in a row (first time since their four game unbeaten streak to start the season) against the New Jersey Devils (5-11-1-1) at the Air Canada Center. The Leafs are coming off a character win against the Predators, a game in which many mistakes were made in the first period, setting the leafs back 3 goals, only to win the game with 4 power play goals in the second period, and stellar goaltending by Jonas Gustavsson in the third period.
While Leafs nation is relieved that the Leafs were capable of pulling out a win against the Predators, they should not get too excited. After all, the Leafs played incredibly poorly in the first period, and they were incredibly lucky to be handed so many power play opportunities by an undisciplined Nashville Predators team. This is still a team that is sorely lacking in skill and defensive prowess. In order for them to win, they will need to be incredibly tight as a team every single night. The dramatic come-from-behind win on Tuesday will do wonders to improve their confidence, but only time will tell how consistent this team will become.
Jonas Gustavsson will get the start tonight in relief of the injured J.S. Giguere. Giguere injured his groin in the third period of Tuesday night’s game, and will sit out at least 1-2 weeks. Backing up Jonas Gustavsson will be James Reimer, recalled from the AHL Marlies.
The line up from Tuesday night is likely to remain in tact for the Leafs, however there will likely be changes on the blue line. Brett Lebda was absolutely terrible on Tuesday night, finishing a minus 2 on the night, but more importantly, was responsible for the shorthanded goal given to Nashville when Lebda was unable to handle a pass at the blue line on the power play. Lebda finished the night with 7 minutes 25 seconds of ice time. I would be very surprised to see him in the line-up tonight, and if he is, don’t bite your lip too hard. Aulie will also be replaced tonight with Gunnarsson. Aulie played well on Tuesday, but I suspect the Leafs want to relieve some of the pressure on Aulie and allow him to develop more in the AHL.
In terms of past matchups, the last ten games have been split between the Leafs and Devils. In the past four games, the home team has won. The New Jersey Devils come into Toronto as a team which is severely underachieving. After the horrendous Ilya Kovalchuk signing, the Devils were expected to be an extremely offensive threat, but have thus far proved to be anything but. The Devils sit dead last in goals for, and in the past 10 games, have been shutout 3 times (same as the Leafs!). Both the Leafs and Devils have struggled to score goals this year, however New Jersey has much more skilled forwards than the Leafs do, and it’s only a matter of time before their goal scoring gets back on track.
The graphic provided below gives a breakdown of the goal scoring for both teams for each period.
The Devils appear to have given up the most goals in the second period, whereas they score the most goals in the first period. The Leafs, in comparison, give up the most goals in the first period, and score the most in the second period. If the Leafs want to win this game, they must, as always start off strong and not let themselves fall apart like they did on Tuesday against Nashville. New Jersey will likely not yield as many opportunities for the Leafs to get back into the game as the Predators did, so it is essential for the Leafs to weather any early storms by the Devils and grab the lead. They may stand their best chance of scoring goals in the second period, where they are strongest in goals for, and the devils are weakest in goals against.
In terms of proportion of times where the Leafs and Devils score first, the following graphic is provided
Both teams seem to have very comparable stats in terms of scoring first in a game. The graphic provided below gives an idea of each team’s ability to win after scoring first, or being scored on first.
The Leafs tend to win close to 60% of the time when scoring first, as compared to the devils ~40% of the time. Both teams do not tend to win very often when scored on first (both approx 20%). The first goal will be absolutely imperative tonight.
With regards to each team’s top point getters, the following graphics provide a breakdown of each team’s respective scoring distribution
Remarkably, both teams feature very similar scoring distribution. The Devils are slightly better in point distribution, but both teams have the same number of points attributed to the non-top 4 scorers per team.
In terms of “Leaf Killers”, the following graphic gives an idea of which players the Leafs really need to focus on
The two players on the Devils whom are historically good against the Leafs are Jason Arnott and Ilya Kovalchuk. Kovalchuk sticks out in my mind as always being a true Leaf killer, and the Leafs will need to be sure to watch both of these players closely and not allow them to get many opportunities.
In terms of goaltending, Jonas Gustavsson has very limited experience playing against the Devils, however Brodeur has played the leafs many times and has come out with a winning record as shown below.
One can compare the goals against and save percentage for both goalies, and these statistics are provided below.
Note above that Gustavsson has a very strong goals against average at home, whereas Brodeur has a relatively poor goals against average on the road. Expect Gustavsson to have an incredibly strong game tonight as he now has the opportunity to take the #1 goaltending job away from J.S. Giguere. The same thing happened last year when J.S. Giguere suffered an injury in Anaheim, and Jonas Hiller took over the reigns permanently. This is Gustavsson’s chance to shine.
Finally, in terms of specialty teams, the Devils appear to have a very poor road powerplay percentage around 3%! Nevertheless, the Devils sport an offense that is ready to burst at any time, and the Leafs will need to limit their penalties to avoid that burst occurring tonight.
All in all, tonight should be a solid win for the Leafs, but nothing is ever certain, and if the Leafs can not maintain some level of consistency, they are bound to lose. They will need to build off their character win on Tuesday, and Gustavsson needs to show that he is the future #1. It all begins tonight, and perhaps the Leafs fans out there will have something to smile about (finally) tomorrow morning when the winning streak hopefully resumes.