Tonight could prove to be quite painful for the Leafs, as well as their fans. Having come off a weekend which saw the Leafs (8-11-1-2) drop two games (both of which the Leafs exhibited very little effort or interest), they now face an offensive powerhouse in the form of the Tampa Bay Lightning (13-8-2-1), who are led by an explosive Steven Stamkos. This is the sort of match-up that could spell disaster for the Leafs.
Stepping back slightly, the Leafs have provided their fans with many reasons for concern. They were virtual no-shows on Friday night when facing the Buffalo Sabres and, on the following night, the Leafs continued to show their disinterest in games as of late by allowing the Senators to shut them out. The Leafs have now been shut out five times this season, and it could have easily been a sixth time had Phil Kessel not been given a “gift” goal by Jordan Leopold on Friday against the Sabres.
Aside from the lack of scoring, the Defense for the Leafs has not been very solid as of late. Beauchemin and Komisarek continue to have brain farts, with Komisarek being the most obvious blunder maker. The only bright spot for the Leafs over the last two weeks has been Jonas Gustavsson, who has been solid in every outing he has played for the Leafs this season.
We now flash forward to tonight’s game, where the struggling Leafs face a team full of offensive weapons. Steven Stamkos is second overall in points in the NHL, and first overall in goals. He has been a pest for every team he has faced this season, including the Leafs on November 9th of this season, when he scored two goals in a 4-0 Tampa Bay win. Martin St. Louis is also having a tremendous year, amassing 29 points already! With the Leafs current defensive woes, combined with their lack of scoring, one can already predict the outcome of tonight’s game. One has to wonder what the fallout will be if (and by if, I almost want to say “when”) the Leafs lose tonight, and if they lose handily. Will Wilson lose his job? It’s completely possible.
The Leafs are expected to make several lineup changes tonight. For the first time this season, Nazem Kadri will be slotted into his natural center position. This can only be viewed as a desperation move by the Leafs to hopefully improve the offense. Kadri has shown in the pre-season his defensive deficiencies at the center position, so one can only hope that he has somehow improved in this area. I highly doubt it. Kadri will be centering Phil Kessel and Clarke MacArthur.
The second line will consist of Joey Crabb (called up from the Marlies for an energy boost) and Nikolai Kulemin. Grabovski will be centering the two.
The third line will feature a demoted, and under performing Tyler Bozak centering Sjostrom and Versteeg.
The fourth line will consist of Orr, Brent, and Brown.
The line up changes will likely do little to improve the Leafs chances tonight. If anything, they may have decreased their chances by moving the more defensive-deficient Kadri into the center position. One can only hope that I am very wrong.
In terms of the match up itself, the Leafs face a Lightning team that is 5-4-0-1 in their last ten games, are currently riding a two game losing streak. As we all know, teams that are looking to break out of their ruts always seem to click when facing the Leafs. You can almost use this fact as a measuring stick as to how well the Leafs will likely play tonight.
In the past ten meetings, the Leafs are 3-4-3-1. Five of the past ten meetings have ended in overtime or shootouts. The Leafs home record is their only “semi” bright spot. They are 6-4-1-1, and Tampa Bay is 7-6-1-0. As mentioned previously, the Leafs biggest troubles are their offense. Another huge problem for them is their lack of energy at the beginning of games. The following chart is provided which depicts the scoring per period for both teams. The Leafs are tremendously lousy in the first period, as can be seen here:
In contrast, the Lightning score the majority of their goals in the first period, so this could potentially spell disaster for the Leafs. All season I have been preaching the importance of getting off to a good start in the opening period, and the Leafs have failed to do this in nearly every game they played. As always, provided below are graphs which show how often each team scores the first goal.
The Leafs are often times scored on first, whereas the Lightning have scored first and have been scored on first an even amount of times. However, where the real story comes out is when you look at the winning percentage when scoring first, or trailing first.
As can be seen above, when the Leafs score first they win approximately 66% of the time, compared to Tampa Bay’s near 75% of the time. The big difference is revealed when you examine each team’s winning percentage when trailing first. When trailing first, the Leafs win only approximately 13% of the time, whereas the Lightning win around 33% of the time. It is almost certain that, based on previous results, if the Leafs fall behind first, they will likely stay behind.
In terms of scoring for each team, those of you who read my blog will note that the graphic below has barely changed. Since the Leafs continually get shut out, I find the need to update this graphic is fleeting.
The Lightning are led by Stamkos, who shares an astonishing number of the points scored for Tampa Bay. Following Stamkos is St. Louis, who also shares a large number of the points scored for this team.
With regards to “Leaf Killers” on the lightning, the following graphic is provided, where one can gauge the total number of points attained for each player in total number of career games played against the Leafs.
Stamkos is beyond a point a game player when playing the Leafs, and St. Louis is very close to point a game. If the Leafs have any inkling of winning tonight, they must stop these two players. This will be nearly impossible, and I can only assume that one or both will get goals tonight.
In terms of the Goaltending match up, Jonas Gustavsson will get the start for the Leafs, whereas Dan Ellis will get the start for Tampa.
Gustavsson has only played 3 career games against Tampa. Two of those games ended in overtime losses. Ellis has played only two games against the Leafs, with 1 win and 1 loss.
In terms of goals against average and save percentage for each goalie, the following graphics are provided.
Gustavsson sports a strong home ice goals against average and save percentage with 1.25 GAA and a 95 SA. In games against the Lightning, Gustavsson has a higher goals against average and correspondingly lower save percentage. Ellis has a high goals against average on the road (3.5) and a lower save percentage on the road, however his save percentage against the Leafs is quite high. I don’t suspect that the Leafs will be shut out this game, but I don’t see them scoring many goals either. Expect to see Tampa Bay pot at least three goals.
In terms of specialty teams, the Leafs have been absolutely atrocious. Their power play stutters around 15%, with their home power play reaching around 22%. Tampa Pay’s power play on the road is slightly lower than the Leafs home power play, but is nonetheless very dangerous. Their penalty kill on the road is strong at around 88%.
If you are looking for any predictions tonight, I can only say that I believe the Leafs will have an incredibly difficult night. I really don’t see them improving much since Saturday, and if they are going to win, it will have to be based on an incredibly improved defense and specialty teams. If the Leafs do win, expect a score of 3-2, but in all likelihood Tampa Bay will smoke Toronto at the tune of 4-1 or 4-2.
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