Tonight, the Toronto Maple Leafs (10-12-2-2) will slide into Pittsburgh to face the Penguins (19-8-2-0), and one has to wonder: “What version of the Leafs will we see tonight?”. If anything, the Leafs’ season thus far has been marked with the word “inconsistency.” Personally, I’m finding it rather frustrating that this team can not seem to settle into the category of bad or good. On the majority of nights this year, they haven’t been very good at all, but every once in a while, they pull off a miracle. The Leafs are coming off a two game winning streak (consecutive wins against the Bruins and Capitals), both of which occurred after a thrilling come-from-behind effort for the Leafs, and consequently shootout wins. As stated previously, the Leafs have done this twice before the past two games this season: Once against Nashville, and another against the Capitals.
The Leafs are likely to stick with a similar line-up to that which was seen against the Capitals on Monday. The top line will see Kessel continue playing center between Armstrong and Versteeg. Grabovski will center the second line between MacArthur and Kulemin. Bozak will center a line between Kadri and Sjostrom, and Brent will center a line between Orr and Rosehill.
The defense will feature the pairing of Kaberle with Schenn, Beauchemin with Aulie, and Gunnarsson with the god-awful Komisarek. In net, the Leafs will ice Jonas Gustavsson, who played relatively well on Monday night against the Capitals. I’ll have more on his numbers further down.
Tonight’s meeting will be second meeting of the season against the Pens. The last meeting came on October 13th, where the Leafs won 4-3 in Pittsburgh. On that night, MacArthur scored two goals, and will be looked to again tonight to continue to aid the Buds in stealing a win against a far superior team. MacArthur has played relatively well against the Penguins in his career, amassing 11 points (3 goals, 8 assists) in 14 games against the Penguins. MacArthur also has scored the majority of his goals this year on the road (6 goals).
Tonight’s game will mark the third game in a grueling stretch of games for the Leafs. After already playing Boston and Washington, the Leafs face the Penguins tonight, Philadelphia tomorrow, and Montreal on Saturday. This will be a true test of the Leafs. Can they actually get a third win in a row against a team which should, by all accounts, dominate them? In the past ten meetings, the Leafs are 5-4-0-1 against the Penguins. The home team has won just as many times as the road team in the past ten meetings between the two, however the Penguins have a relatively strong home record (9-5-1-0) as compared to the Leafs road record of 3-7-0-1.
What’s even scarier for the Leafs is Sidney Crosby’s amazing 16 game point streak. Crosby is a dominant force for the Penguins thus far this year, and leads the league in scoring. It will be the second game in a row for the Leafs in which they need to shut down an absolutely elite NHL player. I am not all that confident that they will be able to keep him off the score sheet. If the Leafs have anything going for them, it’s that the Penguins are on a 10 game winning streak, which will have to end at some point in time. In the past two games, the Leafs have shown that they are capable of playing well against elite teams. Perhaps they can put a stop to the Penguins winning machine…
In terms of the match-up itself, I’ll start as always with the scoring for each team, broken down on a per-period basis:
The Leafs let in the most goals in the first period, with successively less goals in the second and third. The Penguins score the majority of their goals in the second period. The Penguins allow the majority of their goals in the second period, whereas the Leafs score the majority of their goals in the third period (however the second period is also quite a high scoring frame for the Leafs).
In terms of proportion of games in which each team scores the first goal, the following charts are provided:
The Leafs have allowed the opposition to score the first goal more often than not, and surprisingly the Pens have done so as well. The big difference comes in the winning percentages (see below).
When the Leafs score first, they win 60% of their games, and when scored on first, they win 25% of their games. The Penguins are quite impressive in their numbers, winning 87% of the games in which they score first, and shockingly winning more than 50% of the games in which they trail first. The Leafs can not count this team out at any time, and if they get the lead, the Leafs will need to continue to press the Pens to ensure they don’t get back into the game.
In terms of scoring for each team, the following charts are provided:
Crosby leads all Penguins with a disgusting 48 points! The remaining team outside of those listed in the chart account for 131 points, compared to the Leafs 82 points.
In terms of goaltenders, the following charts are provided:
Gustavsson is an even split with wins and losses against the Pens, whereas Fleury has an overall winning record against the Leafs. In terms of goals against average and winning percentages for both goalies, the following charts are provided:
Gustavsson’s away goals against average and save percentage are not all that great, and his career numbers against the Penguins are slightly worse. In comparison, Fleury has a relatively decent goals against average and save percentage, but tends to do slightly worse against the Leafs.
Finally, in terms of specialty teams, the following chart is provided:
The Leafs still sport a relatively bad road power play (around 90%). The Penguins have a 15% power play at home, and a very good penalty kill at home (approx 85%). The Leafs penalty kill on the road is terrible, sitting in the mid 60% range.
Overall, do not get too excited about tonight’s game in terms of the Leafs chances of winning. Lets be frank, they may have won two games against the Bruins and Capitals, but the Penguins are not stupid. They know the Leafs have the ability to come back, and if they get the lead, they will not let off the pedal. The Leafs will need to strike first, and not fall behind if they want to win tonight. Good things can happen in threes, but don’t count on the Leafs making another comeback for a third time in a row against a team as good as the Pens.
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