The Nashville Predators will attempt to establish some home-ice dominance tonight against the Toronto Maple Leafs, having just notched their first victory of the season on Tuesday at home vs. Minnesota. The Leafs bring a very different type of challenge, however...
Last Season's Stats
|Toronto Maple Leafs||Nashville Predators|
|5-on-5 Save %||.919||15th||.915||17th|
|# of PP's/Gm||3.46||10th||2.92||27th|
|# of PK's/Gm||3.27||13th||2.90||3rd|
We'll pick up with current-season stats next week once teams have more performance to evaluate, but last season's numbers still tell an interesting story. The Maple Leafs were a lousy puck-possession team that enjoyed a fortunate shooting percentage (11.0% in 5-on-5 play, tops in the league). The Predators did the same thing back in 2011-12 and experienced a gut-wrenching fall back to Earth in 2013. Will the Leafs suffer a similar fall this, um... fall?
Toronto Maple Leafs
After starting the season with three straight wins, the Leafs suffered their first loss Tuesday night at Colorado, 2-1. Toronto boasts an impressive bunch of forwards who can create scoring chances. Joffrey Lupul and Nazem Kadri can certainly dangle, but the most dynamic presence is the guy whose jersey my oldest son will be wearing at tonight's game:
#81 / Center / Toronto Maple Leafs
Oct 02, 1987
|2013 - Phil Kessel||4||1||2||3||-1||0||0||0||0||22||4.5|
Eyebrows were raised around the NHL when Kessel was signed to an 8-year, $64 million contract extension recently by Toronto, but you won't find many more consistently productive offensive players in the entire league.
Kessel is expected to be complemented by David Clarkson, Toronto's splashy free agent pickup, but a 10-game suspension earned during the pre-season has him sitting out tonight.
One other Leafs acquisition is Jonathan Bernier, who has enjoyed considerable success against the Preds over the course of his career. He's played against Nashville more than any other opponent in the league, and boasts a 7-1 record with a .932 save percentage and 1.88 GAA when facing the Predators. Stay tuned to see whether he gets the start tonight...
Meanwhile on defense, it's sure interesting how nobody really talks about Dion Phaneuf as a Norris Trophy contender like they used to, eh? Their top-scoring blueliner was none other than onetime Predator Cody Franson, who signed a one-year contract this summer as a restricted free agent. With another strong outing this year, he could hit the jackpot in July as the league's salary cap is expected to rise and provide spending room for a number of teams.
#4 / Defenseman / Toronto Maple Leafs
Aug 08, 1987
|2013 - Cody Franson||4||0||2||2||0||2||0||0||0||9||0.0|
For more on the Leafs, make sure to head over to our SB Nation buds at Pension Plan Puppets.
The power play broke through in fine fashion Tuesday night, an encouraging development for a team which needs to bank every goal they can. One question that's been debated quite a bit in the comments recently has been the play of Craig Smith - he's received an ample amount of ice time so far (averaging 15:42 a game, 3rd among forwards) and is second in the team in shots on goal with nine; but if he doesn't break through with a goal relatively soon, will he earn a trip back to the dog house?
#15 / Right Wing / Nashville Predators
Sep 05, 1989
|2013 - Craig Smith||3||0||1||1||0||2||0||0||0||9||0.0|
Defensively things are a bit of a jumble with Roman Josi out of the lineup. While fans are understandably giddy watching Seth Jones on the top pair alongside Shea Weber, there are risks associated with throwing a rookie into deep waters right away. So yes, let's enjoy the highlight moments and look forward to the defenseman Jones can develop into, but remember that rookie mistakes can lead to some extra scrambles in the defensive zone along the way.
Up front, there could be a bit of a shuffle as well with Nick Spaling declared ready for action after missing Tuesday's game. Now that he and Filip Forsberg are healthy, the team has to make a choice on who gets scratched.
Game Time is 7:00 at Bridgestone Arena, and whatever you do, don't park at 8th & Demonbreun tonight! I got a rude surprise when I dropped in there Tuesday to find their rates had skyrocketed to $15. You can park at the Music City Center for the same, under much better (and closer) conditions, or find any number of cheaper alternatives.
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