Maple Leafs vs Predators Preview: Meet the Bizarro Preds

TORONTO, CANADA - NOVEMBER 5: Matthew Lombardi #15 of the Toronto Maple Leafs is stopped by Tim Thomas #30 of the Boston Bruins during NHL action at The Air Canada Centre November 5, 2011 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)

Tonight the Nashville Predators welcome in another high-profile Eastern Conference opponent in the Toronto Maple Leafs, a team which has been struggling for years now to find their way back into the playoffs, while dealing with the tremendous burden that comes with playing in the largest hockey market in the world. Despite having the greatest financial resources in the league, the Maple Leafs haven't qualified for the post-season since before the Great Lockout of 2004-2005, and although they got off to an encouraging start, their play of late (including four straight losses on home ice) has some wondering if they're in another tailspin.

As Sam mentioned to me yesterday... they really are "the Bizarro Preds".

Follow after the jump as we profile what should be an exciting game...

Tale Of The Tape

Toronto (10-6-2) at Nashville (9-5-3)
TOR Offense vs. NSH Defense NSH Offense vs. TOR Defense
GF/60 SF/60 Shoot % GA/60 SA/60 Save %
 TOR Offense 2.6 (9th) 28.1 (21st) 9.4 (6th) 2.7 (19th) 29.3 (15th) 908 (20th)  TOR Defense 
 NSH Defense   2.4 (13th)   32.5 (29th)   927 (11th)   2.4 (14th)   26.2 (26th)   9.3 (7th)  NSH Offense
GA/60 SA/60 Save % GF/60 SF/60 Shoot %
Special Teams
GF/60 SF/60 Shoot % GA/60 SA/60 Save %
 TOR 5-on-4 6.7 (7th) 39.4 (29th) 16.9 (3rd) 9.1 (29th) 46.6 (10th) 805 (28th)  TOR 4-on-5
 NSH 4-on-5 3.4 (3rd) 55.2 (25th) 939 (3rd) 4.9 (20th) 42.5 (25th)  11.6 (15th)   NSH 5-on-4
GA/60 SA/60 Save % GF/60 SF/60 Shoot %

The real opportunity here is when Nashville gets on the power play, as the Toronto PK continues to be a real weakness. By the traditional measure of PK%, the Leafs rank 30th this season, following up on a grand tradition that builds upon a 28th-place finish last year, and rankings of 30th30th29th27th and 24th in the preceding seasons.

Seriously, how does a team stay that bad in a key component of the game for that long a time??? And before you ask about the Nashvile power play, its rankings have been 19th, 26th, 24th, 25th, 27th, 18th and 10th, a paragon of success compared to that Toronto penalty kill.

Anyways, moving on...

Toronto Maple Leafs

Much like the Predators, the Maple Leafs have had to deal with their fair share of injuries lately, including to their high-price free agent pickup from this summer, center Tim Connolly, who is expected to return to the lineup tonight.

Of course, being the Bizarro Preds, the Maple Leafs naturally boast the NHL's leading scorer at this point, a pure sniper in the prime of his career:

Phil Kessel

#81 / Right Wing / Toronto Maple Leafs



Oct 02, 1987

2011 - Phil Kessel 18 13 12 25 9 4 3 0 3 63 20.6

Per TSN, the Leafs lines in practice the other day were as follows:

Kessel - Bozak - Lupul
Kulemin - Connolly - Crabb
Lombardi - Steckel - Brown
Rosehill - Dupuis

Gunnarsson - Phaneuf
Liles - Komisarek
Gardiner - Schenn





Of course, this game also marks the return of two former Predators to Bridgestone Arena, just like Tuesday vs. Washington. In this case, it's Matthew Lombardi and Cody Franson coming back to town, under wildly different circumstances. Franson has been scratched often in the early going and is struggling to find a spot in the Toronto lineup, while the hockey world was stunned to see how quickly Lombardi recovered from his post-concussion symptoms once he got traded to the Leafs.

Again, the Bizarro Preds could use their financial might to take a gamble on Lombardi's ability to play, and even though he's not lighting up the scoreboard yet, his return is a superb story and a boost to their forward depth.

Nashville Predators

It looks like "steady as she goes" for the Preds, as neither Teemu Laakso or David Legwand are expected to be ready for duty. 

These teams' last two meetings have been wild affairs; last season, the Preds coughed up a 3-goal lead to lose on the road, while in 2009-2010, they staged a comeback from down 3-0 to tie the game, only to lose it late.

Considering Toronto's high-powered offense and porous PK, we could be in for another wacky, high-scoring affair tonight. Unless, that is, this guy has anything to say about it:

Pekka Rinne

#35 / Goalie / Nashville Predators



Nov 03, 1982

2011 - Pekka Rinne 16 930 9 4 3 34 2.19 504 470 .933 3

As always, I encourage you to surf through the "More Predators Sites" box on the left sidebar of the main page for more game previews, just about every hockey blog in town will have one for tonight's game.

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