Almost a year since a 9-2 drubbing in Toronto, the Nashville Predators and Toronto Maple Leafs will face-off for a November tilt in Nashville. The Preds are coming off of a wild 7-5 win over the Senators, while the Leafs are fresh off a very helpful 3-2 regulation win over the Dallas Stars.
Hard to know what to expect out of these Leafs. Will we see the Leafs team that beat the Stars on Tuesday? Or the Leafs team that struggled against the Jets a week ago? Or what about the Leafs team that stayed competitive in tough Eastern Conference matchups over the weekend vs. Detroit and Washington? This year's Maple Leafs are not the same "roll over and take it" team we saw last year in two games. They have a competitive edge under new coach Mike Babcock. Could be a good one.
The Toronto Maple Leafs
Before I heap too much praise on this Toronto team, let me back up--this team isn't very good from a talent perspective. They just don't send a very skilled squad out on the ice on a consistent basis. They've managed only 2.13 goals/game, which puts them 27th in the league (the Sabres, Devils, and Blue Jackets are all better than the Leafs from a scoring perspective). On the defensive side, they allow 2.93 goals/game, which is 25th in the league.
But as I mentioned, they do seem different from last year's team. They don't seem to have the same internal issues and their locker room seems poised to compete every night. Babcock seems to be pushing the right buttons, and there are reasons to be hopeful if you are a Leafs fan. Morgan Rielly is very good and he leads the team with 11 points. Joffrey Lupul and James Van Riemsdyk are shooting and scoring at rates you would expect, which is more than they did last year. Tyler Bozak is playing good enough to be a trade commodity at some point this season. James Reimer is, uh, improved... I guess.
Every time the Predators play the Maple Leafs, I call upon a long time friend of mine, and life-long Leafs fan, for his take. He always has a unique perspective, growing up a tried-and-true Leafs fan, and he can always be counted on for interesting tactical analysis of the Leafs as both a fan of the team and of hockey. I reached out to him for comment. Here is what he had to say:
They are the worst team in the history of professional sports.
There you have it folks! #analysis
The Nashville Predators
There was a lot to like about the offense we saw on Tuesday, even if handcuffed with what we didn't like about the defense and goaltending. In particular, I loved seeing Sissons get his first of the year, Ryan Ellis's incredible pass to set up Ekholm's goal, and watching Gabriel Bourque leap excitedly into the arms of much taller players. The Predators scored 7 goals and the Neal-Fisher-Forsberg line only ended up with 2 points. We all want Neal to get his 30 goals and we all want Forsberg to continue his Calder Snub Tour 2015 with fervor... but not needing them to score every night is key as well. Spreading the scoring around is fun and neat. And the defense had 9 points!
On the other end, it wasn't fun or neat watching Rinne struggle in net. While he had some traffic to handle, allowing 5 goals in the first 13 shots is vomit-inducing. BUT...at even-strength, Rinne stopped 17 of 19 shots, including 4 of 5 medium & high danger shots. Here's a 5v5 shot chart for your eyes:
That's not terrible, by any stretch. You'd like to see him stop that Karlsson goal (mostly because I think we all hate Erik Karlsson, right?) but it was a medium danger shot and the defense hadn't quite set up yet. The even-strength Zack Smith goal came with traffic in front.
I don't want to come across as a Rinne apologist here... but it maybe wasn't as bad as the scoreline looked. Three of the Sens' goals came on special teams. Rinne stood tall on numerous high quality chances (including at least 2 breakaways) in the 2nd and 3rd period when the Preds had clawed their way back into the game. So there's no need for panic. He could easily have a bounce back game against the Leafs tonight.
Reasons To Watch
- It's about time we had a Weber face-wash and I think Nazem Kadri would be a perfect candidate.
- Speaking of which, isn't Rich Clune on the Leafs now? I doubt we see him tonight... but there's a tribute video I want to see.
- MORE JOSI DANGLE, MORE JOSI NORRIS TALK
In honor of 11/18/14. Never forget.
The Important Details
Puck drops at 7pm local time. TV: FS-TN. Radio: 102.5 The Game