Canadiens vs Maple Leafs - Know your opponent

Why are you giving a thumbs up, Carlyle? Your team sucks. - Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Maple Leafs are a sad franchise, current holders of the longest streak of not making the playoffs. What underlies this streak of futility?

Forwards:

van Riemsdyk-Bozak-Kessel

McClement-Grabrovski-Kulemin

Frattin-Kadri-MacArthur

Orr-Komarov-McLaren

The Leafs forwards get a lot of flack, but its not like the are terrible as individuals. Their biggest problem as far as I can see is that their top forward for his position is Phil Kessel, who is far more Alex Mogilny than Mats Sundin. That said, they suffer greatly from Mikhail Grabrovski being their only established two-way centre at even strength. The Bozak-Kessel combination is notable for being very good at scoring at even strength and not at all good at defense, resulting in a line that usually gives up more than they earn. This year they were 49.1% in corsi events and 42.9% in goals together 5 on 5, which is not dissimilar to their 47.7% in goals and 48.8% in corsi last season. A good deal of bad results can be blamed on a weak blue line and goaltending but its not like the Leafs are any different their this season.

Grabrovski is a solid player, at the Leafs real leader in 5 on 5 situations. In the last two seasons he has consistently been a plus player in both possession and in goal differential. This year he is negative in both but I'd expect that to change in his favour over the long haul. He and Kulemin have a good history of being decent players together.

Kadri and Frattin have been an early bright spot for the Leafs faithful. They are the sole Leafs forward unit winning their matchup as a soft minute 3rd line.

The insistence on carrying multiple goons makes the Leafs another team with a weak 4th unit. Despite the best efforts of a pretty decent centre, Colton Orr, Mike McClaren and Mike Brown aren't very good hockey players. They rotate a number of players like Komorov, McClement and MacArthur from the top nine to provide some hockey playing ability to this unit, with minimal success.

Defense:

Phaneuf-Kostka

Liles-Holzer

Franson-Fraser

The Leafs D-core looks like it could use the services of zombie Tim Horton and Carl Brewer. An AHLer on every pairing. Zombies tend to be weak on mobility, but probably have a better breakout pass than this group and would be pretty intimidating while guarding the net.

Phanuf-Kostka has been one of the most bizarre usage stories of the young season. Dion Phaneuf, the Leafs best defender by a mile is paired with a 27 year old guy they promoted from the AHL and plays absolutely massive minutes. The result being a hilarious -7 on 5 on 5 combined with possession number far in the red for the Leafs top blue liner, who formed a credible first pairing last season when playing with Gunnerson.

John-Michael Liles is pretty much a pure offensive defenseman who hasn't aged well in Toronto Blue. He gets paired with rookie Korbinian Holzer, who I quote one Leaf follower "Isn't good at anything." In their limited time together they have been 36.2% in puck possession events. Last game they were the Leafs top pairing. I'll let you guys do the math on that.

The only Leaf pairing that has been getting good results is their third one, with the under-rated Cody Franson and the AHLer Mark Fraser. I'm going to chalk this one up to soft minutes but they are 53.6% in corsi events this year. Just like on forward, you have to get down to the depth players to see positive results.

Power Play

van Riemsdyk-Bozak-Kessel

Phaneuf-Kostka

Kadri-Grabrovski-Kulemin

Franson-Liles

Leafs are getting some decent puck possession from their power play so far, with a middle of the pack 48.4 shots per hour as a team. Their goals for is a pitiful 3.96 though. The year before they were a generally above average PP squad. The mystery of Mike Kostka continues with his top unit usage when Liles and Franson are also options.

There really isn't that much to say about them as a overall unit. So far they seem to be an average team in performance that's had some crummy luck with conversion into goals and tend to be strongest with Kessel and weakest with Kulemin on the ice. They probably miss the services of in terms of Joffery Lupul in terms of turning possessions into goals.

Penalty Kill

McClement-Bozak

Komarov-Kulemin

Phaneuf-Kostka

Liles-Holzer

The Leafs kill leans heavily on Jay McClement and their top pairing of Phaneuf-Kostka to play the bulk of the penalty kill. This seems like a sensible strategy, given that they give up very little when McClement is on the ice (-56 corsi and 3.28 goals against per 60, elite numbers) while getting lit up in his absence (they are 18 corsi events per hour worse and give up almost 18 goals per hour without him).

One man's Herculean efforts is enough to bring the Leafs to about league average in shots against (46.7 per hour, 15th in NHL). A persistent lack of 4 on 5 goaltending ability that has been a reoccurring problem for the Leafs sinks them to 23rd in goals against per hour. Over the past 5 years the Leafs have had the leagues worst 4 on 5 save percentage with .842, about 40 points below the mean of .880. It doesn't look like that trend is changing in Hogtown.

Matchup game

None of the Leafs units are particularly dangerous. Make sure that a good defenseman is out there against their most dangerous scoring forward in Phil Kessel and your probably fine to run lines for the most part. One important thing will be to not take their 3rd line lightly and avoid giving them depth forwards and defensemen to play against when they have an offensive zone draw.

The Leafs are the only team to both beat and out-chance the Canadiens so far this year. But I think there is enough evidence of how these two teams stack up otherwise to chalk that up to being practically a pre-season game. Habs should hold the advantage 5 on 5, may or may not do better on special teams, and have a massive talent advantage in net with Carey Price.

Global Performance

Leafs were a 47.2% Fenwick and 48.6% goals close team last year. This year a very similar team is 45.1% close on Fenwick. They don't have the goaltending to save them from a weak lineup and should be expected to be a soft opponent 5 on 5 just as they have been for many years into the past. And their special teams have usually also been in the red. Overall they just aren't a very good team. One might be tempted to blame their top players like Kessel, Grabrovski and Phaneuf, but the reality is that while these are top 30 players for their position, none of them are such great stars that they can carry a team and should not be expected to do so. To be a good team they'd need another Grabrovski and another Phaneuf to make up for the fact that they are very good but not truly elite. Likewise, the Leafs have generally lacked the goaltending or special teams efficency to save them from a weak 5 on 5 game.

This isn't a very good team and that isn't liable to change in the near future unless a number one C falls into their lap. Maybe if they get their hands on O'Reilly or draft MacKinnon or Barkov this summer things will change.

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